San Francisco Homeless Project

On June 29, more than 70 media outlets in the San Francisco Bay area are teaming up to spend a day flooding the news cycle with stories about homelessness. #SFHomelessProject is an opportunity for the media and public to raise awareness about homelessness in San Francisco and beyond. Join the the movement online.

  1. Learn about homelessness in San Francisco and beyond, including solutions.
  2. Email your local media outlets and ask them to cover homelessness on June 29.
  3. Share posts about homlessness on Facebook.
  4. Tweet about homelessness on Twitter.
  5. Contact your local representatives and tell them that ending homelessness matters to you.

Homelessness in San Francisco

What does homelessness look like in San Francisco? ▼

In January 2015, there were 6,775 people homeless in the city of San Francisco on one night. Of those, 6,175 were individuals, 600 were people in families, and 1,473 were unaccompanied youth (under the age of 25).

The rate of homelessness in the city of San Francisco on a given night is 81 homeless persons per every 10,000 people in the general population. For comparison purposes, the rate of homelessness nationally is 18 people experiencing homelessness per 10,000 people in the general population.

The rate of homelessness in the broader San Francisco metro area is the fourth highest in the nation, with 34 people homeless per 10,000. Only the New York City, Portland, and Los Angeles metro areas have higher rates.

Chronic homelessness, homelessness among individuals, family homelessness and unsheltered homelessness are all over-represented in San Francisco:

  • In San Francisco, 23 percent of the homeless population is chronically homeless on a given night. Nationally, on a given night, about 15 percent of the homeless population is chronically homeless, meaning an individual has experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years (must be a cumulative of 12 months), and has a disability.
  • In San Francisco, 91 percent of the homeless population is individuals. Nationally, on a given night, about 63 percent of the homeless population is individuals.
  • In San Francisco, 64 percent of people experiencing homelessness on a given night were unsheltered. Nationally, on a given night, about 31 percent of the overall homeless population is unsheltered, meaning they are sleeping outside or in other places not meant for human habitation such as cars or abandoned buildings.


Is homelessness increasing in San Francisco? If so, why? ▼

Homelessness in San Francisco, in contrast to national trends, is increasing. The 2007 and 2009 point-in-time counts in San Francisco hovered around 5,800 people. The 2013 and 2015 point-in-time counts were approximately 7,000—a roughly 20 percent increase. This increase has occurred entirely among the unsheltered population: in 2007 and 2009, approximately 3,000 people were unsheltered on a given night; in 2013 and 2015, there were approximately 4,300 unsheltered persons. This represents an approximate 43 percent increase in unsheltered homelessness in the city.

Why is this happening? One of the leading reasons is that the nation is facing a long-term and worsening affordable housing crisis. There are shortfalls in affordable, available units and widespread housing cost burden for low-income renters. This means housing is difficult to access and maintain for those living in poverty.

This is particularly true in San Francisco, where the fair market rent (FMR) for one- and two-bedroom apartments have drastically increased sine 2007. In 2007, the FMRs for one- and two-bedroom apartments were $1,239 and $1,551 respectively. In 2016, they were $1,814 and $2,289. San Francisco is the most expensive city in the country. What this translates to is a large number of people who are unable to access housing for a period of time and, therefore, experience homelessness.

View our chart of trends in homelessness from 2007 to 2015 in the San Francisco Bay Area

Homelessness nationally

Is homelessness a new issue? ▼

No. Homelessness in this country is a direct outgrowth of the shortage of affordable housing that began in the 1980s. In 1970, there were about 300,000 more low-cost rental units than there were low-income renters. By 1985, there were approximately 3.3 million fewer low-cost rental units than there were low-income renters. In 2016, the National Low Income Housing Coalition reported the shortage of affordable and available rental units grew to 7.2 million. Too many individuals and families face homelessness primarily because of the lack of affordable housing. Numerous studies point to the correlation between affordable, available units and homelessness.

What does homelessness in the US look like? ▼

The January 2015 point-in-time count identified 564,708 people experiencing homelessness. Though the vast majority of the homeless population (391,440 people) lived in some form of shelter or in transitional housing at the time of that count, approximately 31 percent (173,268 people) lived in a place not meant for human habitation, such as the street or an abandoned building.

The largest subpopulation experiencing homelessness was individuals, comprising almost 63 percent of all homeless people (358,422 people). About 37 percent were people in families (206,286 people in 64,197 households). Individuals who were chronically homeless represented almost 15 percent (83,170 people) of the homeless population, while people in chronically homeless families made up approximately 2 percent (13,105 people) of the homeless population.

Veterans (47,725 people) made up about 8 percent of the homeless population. Unaccompanied youth and children accounted for 6.5 percent of the total homeless population (36,907 people).

Since 2007, homelessness has decreased overall (13 percent) and across every subpopulation. The most dramatic decreases in homelessness have been amongst veterans (35 percent decrease since 2009), people living in unsheltered locations (32 percent decrease since 2007), and people experiencing chronic homelessness (31 percent decrease since 2007).

For more information on homelessness nationally or in individual states, see the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ State of Homelessness in America 2016.

Solutions to Homelessness

What are homeless systems in the United States doing to end homelessness? ▼

Homeless systems are ending homelessness by connecting people to housing as quickly as possible. Permanent housing provides a stable foundation for formerly homeless peoples to address issues like unemployment, financial instability, or behavioral health problems.

Two program models have proven effective in ending homelessness by connecting households with permanent housing:

  • Rapid re-housing: Rapid re-housing is immediate, short-term rental assistance and services to help individuals and families quickly exit homelessness and return to permanent housing. Rapid re-housing is the best solution to homelessness among individuals and families who are not chronically homeless. A successful rapid re-housing program helps a homeless individual or family identify housing, provides short-term rent and move-in assistance, and offers case management and support services.
  • Permanent supportive housing: Permanent supportive housing is long-term rental assistance coupled with supportive services such as rehabilitation, therapy, and healthcare. Permanent supportive housing is the best solution to chronic homelessness. A chronically homeless individual is someone who has experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or who has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years (must be a cumulative of 12 months), and has a disability. A family with an adult member who meets this description is also considered chronically homeless.


Homeless assistance programs cannot be responsible for ending homelessness alone. Mainstream and community-based programs have an important role to play in providing supportive services and benefits, including educational and employment support and financial/income support. Communities also have to work hard to address the underlying affordable housing issues causing homelessness. The National Housing Trust Fund is a new resource to accomplish this.

What is the San Francisco Bay area doing to end homelessness? ▼

Many communities like San Francisco are effectively reducing homelessness by taking a systemic approach and implementing evidence-informed housing solutions, despite the lack of affordable housing. In the absence of adequate and accessible affordable housing, communities must operate coordinated, data-driven homeless systems that find other permanent housing solutions in order to keep people from sleeping on the street.

San Francisco is spearheading innovative and effective solutions to find permanent housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness. Programs and initiatives that the Alliance cites as national models include the following.

Hamilton Family Center

The Hamilton Family Center operates with the goal to scale effective programs to end family homelessness in San Francisco by 2019. They are doing so by operating First Avenues, a rapid re-housing program that assists families in securing permanent housing. In the past year, First Avenues re-housed 180 families. 93 percent of families who participated in their rapid re-housing or eviction prevention programs remained stably housed one year after services ended.

Visit the Hamilton Family Center website for more information, and contact them to discuss the work they are doing to end family homelessness.

Abode Services

Abode Services serves individuals and families in the East Bay, Alameda County, Santa Clara County, and Santa Cruz County.

Abode works with clients and landlords to find permanent housing solutions in high-cost Silicon Valley. In 2010, Oakland turned to Abode to help create a program to locate housing for people living in encampments. Since then, that initiative has moved more than 200 individuals from the street into permanent housing. 89 percent of people who entered the program remained housed after a year.

Visit the Abode Services website and contact them for more about progress in the East Bay.

Direct Access to Housing Program

The Direct Access to Housing Program (DAH) provides permanent supportive housing. Referrals are made from local non-profits serving homeless households. Between 2007 and 2015, 408 single individuals were placed into housing in this program. In addition, 1,013 people in 309 families were placed into housing before Jan 31, 2015.

DAH works within the confines of the San Francisco rental market to house formerly homeless people across 36 sites, including single room occupancy hotels, units in new capital developments, units in residential buildings owned by nonprofit providers and units in licensed residential care facilities.

Learn more about DAH at their website, and contact them to discuss their permanent supportive housing rogram.

The Navigation Center

The San Francisco Navigation Center has developed a low barrier approach that allows people from encampments to move with their belongings, family and friends, and pets to a temporary shelter that is service enriched, low barrier, and places people into housing quickly.

In the first six months of programming, 132 clients exited the Navigation Center, 103 to permanent housing.

Learn more about the Navigation Center on their website and contact them for more information about their low-barrier approach to permanent housing.

What can San Francisco residents do? ▼


  • Respect people experiencing homelessness: Often what most people think of when they think “homeless” is someone experiencing chronic homelessness. But the truth is, the largest segment of the homeless population is made up of non-chronically homeless single adults who experience homelessness for a short period of time, and only once.

    Many of the preconceptions about people experiencing homelessness – that they are unmotivated to work, are more likely to commit violent crimes, and are unable to find stable housing because of behavioral health conditions – are myths. Understand that people you see experiencing homelessness are just that, people. Humanizing homelessness is the first step in changing the way the public approaches solutions.
  • Raise money: Many of the programs working to establish permanent housing for those experiencing homelessness are partially funded through private donations. Their ability to provide services and scale with the homeless population are directly tied to their funding. Consider donating or setting up a fundraiser to support the programs that are effectively ending homelessness.
  • Be an advocate: You do not need money to make a difference. Be an advocate in your community for people experiencing homelessness and the programs that serve them. Educate your family, friends, and neighbors about homelessness and the solutions. Go to public meetings and speak up on behalf of community organizations. Support plans that will create more affordable housing. Just keep talking!
  • Volunteer: Your time is invaluable. Dedicate your time and ideas to programs within your community and neighboring areas. Work at a nearby housing organization. Organize or participate in fundraising drives. Provide employment training. Recruit others to join your efforts. Contact your local program and ask what help they need.
  • Vote: In California, voters have the power to change policies that can affect those who are truly the most vulnerable. Registered voters should keep up to date with local ordinances that prioritize affordable housing and programs that effectively serve people experiencing homelessness. Those new to San Francisco should register to vote and become an active participant in the decisions made regarding affordable housing and permanent housing programs.



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