San Francisco’s Homeless Population Is Much Bigger Than Thought, City Data Suggests – The New York Times

Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Good morning.

Today, we’re starting with a dispatch from my colleague Thomas Fuller, who’s based in the Bay Area:

Many cities across California this year announced sharp increases in homelessness. Yet data from San Francisco suggest the real picture might be a lot worse.

For years, city governments have measured homelessness by sending out volunteers on a single night to count, as best they could, the number of homeless people they found on the streets or in shelters. By this method San Francisco this year reported 8,011 homeless people, a 17 percent increase over 2017, the last time a count was conducted.

[Read more about why homeless populations in cities around the state have surged.]

But San Francisco has another, arguably more comprehensive, way of measuring homelessness, and the results are even more alarming.

Over the course of a full year, the city counted twice as many homeless people — 17,595 people, a 30 percent jump from the previous year.

The data, which are rarely cited in debates on homelessness, come from a city database of homeless people who receive health care and other services from the city.

The latest data are from the 2019 fiscal year, which ended in June. If people sought services multiple times during the course of the year they are counted only once.

The 30 percent jump was by far the largest increase of the last eight years, according to the city’s data. Rachael Kagan, the spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Public Health, says this is partly because in the 2019 fiscal year the city conducted an assessment “blitz,” proactively seeking out homeless people at shelters and hospitals.

For around 1,272 people, it was the first time they were entered into the city’s databases.

There is no perfect way to measure homelessness, which by nature is transient. Ms. Kagan believes the higher numbers are the “most complete picture that we have” of homelessness. But she says it is still likely to be an underestimate.

“It does not include people who did not seek services, so it is still an incomplete picture,” she said.

[Read more of Thomas’s work here.]

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My colleague Nellie Bowles is a sixth-generation San Franciscan. She wrote that she’s been feeling down about her hometown as inequality and raging debates about the influence of tech divide it.

She walked the new 17-mile trail that cuts across town, along with the guy who helped create it, to see if it would change her perspective — make her see the city’s neighborhoods anew. It did. Read about it here.

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Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.