Homelessness Is Freaking Everyone Out. Here’s What SF’s Homeless Czar Is Doing About It
Jeff Kositsky will be pitching his new approach at a community meeting near you.
Last June the late Ed Lee, who had turned his attention to homelessness and housing in his second term as mayor, put this challenge before San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors: We’ll need a facility to serve the homeless in all 11 of the city’s districts. A few supervisors appreciated his remarks; most others, not so much.
One person who underscored the mayor’s message was Jeff Kositsky, Lee’s director of the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. Every part of the city has exposure to the homeless issue, but Kositsky said “there’s no district except District 6 that’s really carrying its weight” with the planned facilities, known as Navigation Centers. (District 6 includes South of Market and the bulk of the Tenderloin.)
In the ensuing months, Kositsky has continued to work on the city’s master plan for homelessness. Now he’s heading to you to make his pitch. It’s worth checking out.
I attended his debut presentation to the community, in District 6 itself. The meeting took place almost seven days after Lee had collapsed and died of a heart attack. The event host, Supervisor Jane Kim, spoke for everyone about how San Francisco was still in shock.
Yet the sheer magnitude of the problem means the city has to soldier on. So Kositsky fired up his slide deck. His talk was stuffed with data, but here are two salient points:
First, he outlined how San Francisco had five different departments, 15 different databases, and up to 75 organizations dealing with homelessness, making contact with as many as 20,000 people in a year, housed and not housed. This tangle made life difficult not only for people in need of services, but also for the groups and agencies that want to be effective. Kositsky’s working to create a single system that assesses and creates a record of individuals once, and only once.
Second, the current infrastructure can move 2,000 people a year through the system. It’s not nearly enough, when according to Kositsky up to 3,000 people could be coming in for help at the same time. That’s why homelessness seems intractable in San Francisco. Kositsky reports that 50 percent of our homeless are from outside the city, almost all of those coming from around the Bay Area. What’s more, regions across the state are seeing increases. For California as a whole, the homeless population is up 30 percent over the years.
When I queried Kositsky about the impact of the housing crisis, he didn’t mince words or offer a generic response about how it made his job harder. “The problem is baked in as of a decade ago,” he tells me — where for years soaring rents and the scarcity of available housing have deeply affected the city’s vulnerable populations.
The good news: San Francisco’s efforts so far have translated into double-digit reductions in youth, family, and veteran homelessness. But our housing shortage compounds many social ills. To keep bending the curve, Kositsky says we need to continue hooking folks up to the housing ladder, spotting “superusers” of services, and minimizing the ways people would enter into the system.
What we don’t want to do, according to Kositsky, is “tell people to move without somewhere to go.” We have a civic and moral duty to those in need and to each other to keep moving on this issue. Start by speaking up when Kositsky comes to your neighborhood to present the city’s plan. Let him know your thoughts, and let us know too.
Follow Anthony Lazarus on Twitter: @Sr_Lazarus