New Numbers Show San Francisco's Homeless Population Has Grown by 30 Percent

This is nearly double the increase the city first reported in May.


San Francisco's homelessness problem has gone from bad to worse.

Last Friday, the city published an updated report on its homeless population, finding that the number of people without permanent housing had risen to 9,784. That's a 30 percent increase from the count taken in 2017, and nearly double the 17 percent increase the city first reported in May.

The difference can be chalked up to dueling federal and city definitions of who counts as homeless.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) definition of homelessness includes only those people living on the streets, in vehicles, or in temporary shelters. San Francisco has traditionally used a more expansive categorization that also counts people without a permanent address who are in jail, in the hospital, or in rehabilitation facilities.

The numbers released by the city in May relied on HUD's definition and found that the city's homeless population had risen from 6,858 to 8,011 people (a 17 percent increase). The data released last Friday—which relies on the city's own definition of homelessness—showed a jump from 7,499 to 9,784, adding up to that 30 percent increase.

The city says it initially reported the HUD numbers to allow for a more apples-to-apples comparison between San Francisco and other cities.

"We're looking at the HUD numbers because it helps us work in collaboration with other places like Los Angeles or our neighboring counties," city spokesperson Jeff Cretan told the Los Angeles Times.

Homeless advocates were less than impressed with this explanation.

Regardless of which definition of homelessness is used, the numbers are grim and speak to a worsening problem compounded by the city's dire housing affordability crisis.

The number of homeless people is derived from the city's point-in-time survey, which sees teams of volunteers canvass the city to literally count those sleeping on streets and in shelters. These volunteers also conduct surveys of these people, providing a window into who is experiencing homelessness and how they ended up in that situation.

This count found that half the city's homeless population, some 5,180 people, were unsheltered, 2,381 were in emergency shelters or transitional housing, and another 1,773 were in jails, hospitals, or rehab facilities.

Some 63 percent of survey respondents said that an inability to afford rent was an obstacle for finding permanent housing, compared to 56 percent of respondents in 2017 and 48 percent of respondents in 2015. Another 37 percent reported the lack of a job or income. Nineteen percent reported a lack of money for moving expenses as an obstacle for finding permanent housing.

When asked what was the primary event that led to someone becoming homeless, 26 percent reported the loss of a job. Another 18 percent listed a drug or alcohol problem as the primary factor. Thirteen percent said an eviction led them to become homeless, while another 12 percent said an argument with family or roommates who asked them to leave was the cause. Only 5 percent blamed a straight rent increase for pushing them into homelessness.

The different instigators of homelessness suggest there's no silver bullet for ending the problem.

Allowing more housing construction in the city—which can only be made possible by stripping away San Francisco's many, many restrictions on residential development—would bring housing costs down, and help those who listed high rent as an obstacle.

More importantly, lifting restrictions on development would make it easier for middle-class and working poor San Franciscans to find housing on the private market without government subsidies. That would free up more public dollars to help those who are truly destitute.

For instance, nearly a third of the 645 affordable housing units constructed in San Francisco in 2018 were targeted at people making up to 120 percent of area median income, or $99,500. Another 401 of those units were reserved for people making no more than 80 percent of area median income, or $66,300, which technically counts as low-income in the city.

Some $77 million of the city's last $310 million affordable housing bond, passed in 2015, was spent subsidizing middle-income housing. Similarly, a new $600 million affordable housing bond that will go before voters in November would, if passed, spend much of its money subsidizing new units for people earning up to $68,000 a year.

In a functioning housing market, which San Francisco certainly doesn't have, these folks would be able to rely on private providers for their housing needs. What city taxpayers currently spend subsidizing them could then be redirected to helping the homeless, for whom housing affordability is only one problem among many.

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  1. The city government is amazed to find that paying bums to move to SF increases the bum population!
    So, in order to reduce the population, the city is now proposing to build (free) shelters on the Embarcadero with stunning waterfront views. That will certainly convince those folks to go find a job and rent an apartment!
    I am proud to say there has never been an elected official in the SF city government who has ever gotten my vote.

    1. Some of the most expensive land in the world, dedicated to drug addicts and wards of the state.

      1. And mentally ill people who should be wards of the state!

        The ACLU type argument that “they aren’t hurting anyone” to prevent state hospital lock up of the mentally ill falls flat. If they are in such a mental state as to be unable to take care of their own basic needs, they are hurting someone. Themselves.

        Although I generally loath the state having this kind of power over people, just as with prisons, there are situations where it is appropriate.

        Without, we have situations like this. Blaming the high cost of housing in a particular locale for the plight of mentally ill people on the street is like blaming the owner for the actions of a rabid dog.

  2. This is obviously Drumpf’s fault. As Paul Krugman predicted, his election caused a global recession with no end in sight. No wonder so many people cannot even afford a place to live.


    1. Pretty sure it was the aluminum tariffs that done it

      1. That and the mean tweets and the “vulgarity”.

    2. I honestly believe that San Fransisco is deliberately encouraging homelessness in the city so they can blame Trump for it. And not just San Fransisco, but the rest of the Bay Area as well. It’s a passive aggressive policy to be able to blame Trump.

      Expect to see homelessness used to campaign against Trump in 2020. “OMG! Homelessness has skyrocketed under his watch!” Count on it.

      I say this as someone who has no love for Trump. The Left really is this deranged.

      1. (A much more sinister theory) I’m convinced this is funding the infiltrating communist machine in big cities and congress through drug cartels in socialist countries.

  3. If you subsidize it they will come.

  4. Who cares?

    1. Bums and people in SF who don’t like bums.

      1. I am pretty sure the second group is a null set.

  5. Good for San Francisco. They like it this way.

  6. When I lived in SF lo these many years ago, I was temporarily involved with an inpromptu group trying to do something with the homeless, and discovered that a lot of them simply liked being homeless, or rather, they liked living with no responsibilities — no home to take care of, no family to take care of, no boss, no job, no nothing except maybe that shopping cart, and even if they lost that, so what, no big deal.

    Of course, there was weather and food to worry about. But there were so many suckers feeding them and giving them clothing and shelter on really cold wet days, that they could always find some way to survive, and when it was over, they’d go back to their carefree lives, wandering the street, causing trouble, laughing at cops.

    The “homeless union” once laughed at some idea of better homeless shelters. They wanted houses, individual houses. Nothing less would be good enough for them. I suspect they said it just to be cantankerous. If they’d gotten houses, they’d have trashed them and gone back to the carefree streets. They did not want enclosed shelter unless it was really cold and wet.

    1. That is a perfect description of the 75% of the “homeless” in every US city. Homeless come in three varieties. First, are people who really are down on their luck and not homeless by choice. Those people are homeless for a few weeks or months and eventually find a job or help and get out of where they are. They are about 10% of the homeless population at any given time. The second group are people who are legitimately mentally ill and are on the streets because we don’t have state hospitals anymore and they have nowhere to go. They are about 15%.

      The rest are the type of worthless bums that you describe. Liberals and sadly a good number of Libertarians just can’t fathom the reality that some people would rather do drugs and live in their own shit sponging off of others than support themselves. For those people, the more comfortable you make their lives, the more of them you will have, as San Francisco shows.

      1. “”For those people, the more comfortable you make their lives, the more of them you will have, “”

        You get more of what you reward. Even if Trump doesn’t drop them off in LA, SF, or NYC, they will eventually end up there.

        1. Why not. Free food, a wonderful climate, no responsibilities and good access to drugs is pretty enticing for a lot of people. And think, Reason wants to set up safe injection sites for them. Make things even easier and better for them.

      2. Liberals and sadly a good number of Libertarians just can’t fathom the reality that some people would rather do drugs and live in their own shit sponging off of others than support themselves.

        This kind of thinking seems to be an endemic in western society these days. I think it is a byproduct of living in a very wealthy civilization. We’ve forgotten that there really are lazy good-for-nothing people that do not care about themselves, where they live or how they treat themselves or other people. Some people do not want to improve their lives or the lives of others.

        Some really do need help… but some really don’t want help.

      3. Not sure I trust your percentages, John, but I do agree with your categorizations.

        Specifically, I think the fraction of mentally ill is probably quite a bit higher than your estimate of 15%. I base that on the rate of increase in homelessness seen within that first couple of years after deinstitutionalization was carried out. Since different cities and states did that at different times, it’s a pretty compelling “natural experiment” showing the relationship between homelessness and mental health policy.

        1. The percentages are a SWAG and no doubt vary from city to city. A city like San Francisco that encourages and rewards bums no doubt has a smaller percentage of mentally ill than cities who do not.

          My experience in Washington is that the majority of homeless are in the bum category.

        2. People can be BOTH mentally ill and bums by choice.

    2. Urban camping. How quaint!

      Wait a minute. Even the city, county, state and federal campgrounds impose limits on time and access to public facilities. How come cities can’t do the same in dealing with resident hobos?

  7. In Seattle, even suggesting powerwashing poop off the sidewalks is considered racist.

    Some committee members expressed concern about addressing the symptoms of the area’s problems without getting to the cause. Councilmember Larry Gossett said he didn’t like the idea of power-washing the sidewalks because it brought back images of the use of hoses against civil-rights activists.

    Oh, BTW, snopes called this report “FALSE”, not because Larry Gosset DIDN’T say what he said, but because Seattle does in fact clean poop off the sidewalks. Remember kids, technically correct is the best kind of correct.

    1. I was in Seattle a couple of years ago and every bum I saw was white. I have been to Seattle four times for several days each time and I don’t think I have ever actually seen a black person of any kind there. So, how could homeless policy be racist?

      1. They’re there, but it’s not a high percentage. I believe that their percentage of homeless people is higher than the percentage of the total population– so there’s a social justice issue to navel gaze about for sure, but yeah, most of the homeless I come across daily (hourly really) are white. Or uh… Hispanic White or something.

        1. This is clearly all the fault of “the enemy”, Jeff bezos.


    2. AND, people can be mentally ill and also be successful politicians – at least in left-leaning constituencies.

  8. So more spending is no more of an answer to homelessness than it is to ‘bad schools’?
    Either build old style barracks and force people into them, or give it up and live with the consequences of electing democrats over and over. There is no middle ground on this one.

    1. “”Either build old style barracks and force people into them,””

      Old style barracks is basically what a homeless shelter looks like in NYC. Many of the occupants are low level repeat offenders.
      It’s dangerous for the occupants so many homeless won’t stay in them. The NYPD has a Department of Homeless Services division, but they usually hangout at the front door by the metal detector.

      You can’t force people to live where you want. People have freedom of movement unless convicted of a crime. Not having a place to live should never be a crime in a free society.

      1. But notoriously occupying public or private property in violation of use laws as one’s “place to live” is a crime and should be treated as such.

        The biggest difference between today’s “homeless” and the hobos, bums and winos of my youth is twofold: 1) the former choose to move right in among society whereas the later kept to themselves and pitched their camps away from civilized areas. And 2) the nomenclature we use to describe the.

        Your freedom to swing your arm freely through the air as you see fit ends where my nose begins. The “homeless” have every right to their freedom but no right to use my private or, all of our public, properties outside of prescribed use regulations. When they do, calling them “homeless” is a real misnomer for the squatters they are.

  9. Some 63 percent of survey respondents said that an inability to afford rent was an obstacle for finding permanent housing, compared to 56 percent of respondents in 2017 and 48 percent of respondents in 2015. Another 37 percent reported the lack of a job or income. Nineteen percent reported a lack of money for moving expenses as an obstacle for finding permanent housing.

    The rent is so high in San Francisco, it’s causing a gravitational field and pulling in people from Kansas who can’t afford the rent, I tells ya!

  10. In a functioning housing market, which San Francisco certainly doesn’t have, these folks would be able to rely on private providers for their housing needs.

    Doubt it. We’ve geared our entire tax system around ensuring that land prices keep going up. As long as that’s the case, then we are always going to indirectly subsidize housing that’s a bit bigger than what it replaces. And most every development will have fewer units than what it tears down.

    SF had roughly 90,000 SRO units in the 1930’s. It was down to probably 15,000 recently (housing 18,000 people). And going down like everywhere. SRO is viewed as MUCH better than a ‘group/dorm shelter’ cuz people can store some stuff and can go to sleep without worrying about being attacked or having stuff stolen. It only takes a couple weeks of going sleepless before the mind starts falling apart.

    18,000 is more than all the ‘affordable housing’ and Sec8 stuff and ‘bond issues’ in SF. But those SRO’s are always the first target of being torn down. No one wants them as neighbors and getting those eminent domained is actually profitable for the landowner too. And ever since Robert Moses, the rule of thumb is five will be destroyed for each two built to replace it.

    Apparently America prefers its homeless on the street and visible. Or pushed out way into the countryside in a forest somewhere. Rather than housed in a tiny secure cubbyhole in an SRO hotel.

    1. We used to have what were called flop houses. In the past, you could not live on the streets. The cops would arrest you. But, as you point out, we had areas of cities where there cheap rooms to be had to give people some place to go. Along came gentrification and zoning and put an end to that. Then we stopped forcing people to get off the streets and we have what we have now. Needless to say, it was better in the past.

      1. Flop houses, boarding houses run by widows who’d cook communal meals, etc. So pervasive it’s even shown as the norm in the cowboy movies. 20-30% of the housing stock in most cities at the beginning of the 20th century was either rented by the room or a one-room apartment. Today, 1/3 of households are still ‘non-family household’ with an average size of 1.3 people – but the % of housing stock that fits that demographic is prob well under 10%.

        The median newbuild keeps getting larger from 1000 sqft just after WW2 to 1500 by 1970 to 2200+ sqft now – getting further and further away from the median rental unit 600 sq ft then to 800 sq ft now. So the housing stock can’t even go back and forth from family owner to family renter to non-family renter to owner as easily.

        We’ve subsidized housing for investment/taxes rather than housing for housing. A two-tier outcome is exactly what you’d expect.

        1. The other thing is that the building codes ensure that everything is gold plated. You couldn’t build cheap housing if you wanted to. It wouldn’t meet code. You couldn’t build single room for example because bedrooms have to be so big and have multiple forms of ingress and egress (i.e. both a door and a window).

          1. You could actually just stop with ‘building codes often go beyond what’s necessary for basic safety’. And yeah they have often been used not just to prevent fly-by-night construction that results in massive fire disasters. That WAS the reason building codes were put in place – cuz the construction industry has a long history of cutting corners and ‘the market’ can’t stop that.

            But yeah building codes are also used to run the riffraff out of town by making sure the building deteriorates over time and can’t be fixed. Homeowners will vote for that building commissioner every time.

    2. Apparently America prefers its homeless on the street and visible. Or pushed out way into the countryside in a forest somewhere. Rather than housed in a tiny secure cubbyhole in an SRO hotel.

      No, we want them in shelters and tiny houses, but they keep refusing because he shelters or SROs tend to have rules.

      In the rare cases that they’ve created “low threshold” shelters and living facilities with few or no rules, they eventually have to close the camps due to the resultant second order effects such as crime.

      What’s more, we assume that the process of shelters and homelessness services systems aren’t themselves corrupt, and aren’t captured by criminals. When that it turns out they are, that’s when it becomes a “homelessness industrial complex” which yes, keeps people on the street by design. Because the homeless advocates themselves discovered there’s a boatload of money in keeping the problem visible.

      1. FFS. Back in the 1930’s, we had SRO’s – and ‘camps’ too. Those camps were called Hoovervilles and the notion that people have ever preferred a tent is ludicrous. Hell here’s the ones in Seattle.

        1. And an interview with someone who’s actually researched Seattle SRO’s. Not a surprise, Seattle had its first wave of anti-SRO development during the 20’s. Cuz bubbles never end and the best way to get rid of a shitty rowdy derelict Skid Road is to raise the value of the neighborhood. They’ll just go away. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

      2. Also subsidizes the drug cartels that are slaughtering Mexicans and South Americans for poppy growing land. Here we are 2019.

  11. SF is a really pretty place [haven’t been there for a few years so forgive me if I am not up to date on the reported squalor that besmirches it]; Nice climate, not too hot and not too cold for the most part. It also has a very very very … liberal populace, who apparently love to virtue signal their values [especially at the voting booth, given that they will not reap much consequence on a personal level; they may see and walk past the “bums” but can proceed to their comfortable upper middle class enclaves and still feel great about themselves].

    Given those characteristics it is relatively very homeless friendly; they have the most aggressive, and creative, pan handlers I have ever encountered outside of third world situations. It is clear that they feel both entitled and protected from any consequences that might arise from their behavior.

    Add to that their absurd stance toward any sort of development whatsoever, what with appropriating historical 1970s laundry mats and casting a shadow on a playground, and you have the perfect ingredients of a recipe for disaster.

    1. I used to like goign into the city. Nice place. Interesting things to do. Great restaurants. But I can’t do it anymore. People are literally shitting on the sidewalks. In front of the police. Who do nothing. The city reeks of shit and urine.

      1. In past pedestrian travels in the residential areas outside of the financial district, I was always able to discern when I was approaching a park before I even saw it. The smell of urine was so prevalent as to burn my sinuses. Literally.

        I was born in SF. 4th generation of my father’s family there. Today, there is not one family member there and, most disavow being from SF.

        My late father used to tell great tales of his youth in that city. But they were so incongruent with what it had become, it was difficult to visualize them.

  12. At what point do the homeless start driving away business? Is the problem as bad in Oakland? Ready to relocate north of the bridge?

    1. Oakland is pretty bad but not as bad as SF.

      1. When I worked a block of Broadway in Oakland, the problem was pretty bad.

        But business got fed up and the police starting cracking down. Even though the mayors (Harris & Brown) preached liberal theology towards the homeless in public, privately they were encouraging the crack downs and enticing businesses to locate/reopen downtown to give Oakland a fighting chance. The results are much improvement.

  13. San Francisco has a homeless problem?
    The solution is obvious: Just raise taxes on the multi-millionaires and billionaires living there at a rate of about 95% with no deductions or exemptions.
    I’m sure loving and giving rich people like Zuckerberg and Steyer are more than willing to give almost all their money for this most ambitious and noble cause because I’m sure they don’t want to look like a bunch of selfish, liberal hypocrites who want other people to spend their money on social issues and not their own.
    So, go ahead, City Fathers of San Francisco.
    Tax away all your problems because as we all know, money solves all problems.

    1. Nah. They do not at all mind being selfish liberal hypocrites. They have mechanisms, media and procedures to ensure that anyone who points out their selfishness and hypocrisy is discredited as being “right wing”, or worse, “alt-right adjacent”. Such people will be de-platformed, denied employment or, scariest of all, access to the brave new cashless world they are pushing.

      Just because the Hollywood sci-fi movies about dystopian futures run by a technocratic elite are bad movies does not mean we aren’t headed in that direction.

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  21. […] This is nearly double the increase the city first reported in May. […]

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