Finding HOPE in San Francisco’s Homeless Count

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Homeless Sleeping in a Parking Lot The phone rings nonstop with people in emergency need of food and shelter. Others stop by the office of HOPE to find help. The stories would break even the strongest of hearts. Staff and interns at San Francisco’s Office of HOPE (Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement) are constantly trying to find solutions to help people; all while doing their normal day-to-day work at an important city office.  Bevan Dufty, the Director of HOPE, allowed me unprecedented access to a behind the scenes look at the operations of a city government. For three days I did my best to keep up with Bevan as he ran from updating the Shelter Monitoring Committee to meetings on ending veteran homelessness to a hearing on family homelessness. I sat in his office listening to him make calls trying to find food vouchers for an individual that was in desperate need a food. I watched him somehow balance the often challenging world of politics right along side the madness that can come from homeless services. I even tagged along as Bevan spent his lunchtime addressing managers of local Walgreen’s stores.

This week gave me a new understanding for people in the positions often referred to a “Homeless Czar”.  It’s one of those jobs that you spend most of the day putting out fires. Behind the scenes countless amount of people are helped, but there is little thanks or appreciation for the efforts.  It’s one of those jobs that you genuinely have to love people because it’s that love that gets you through the day.

This week the City of San Francisco released the numbers of their yearly point-n-time count on homelessness. I’ve been involved in point-n-time counts ever since I started Invisible People, but this is the first time I was able to see much of the behind the scenes of a large city and county government.  Personally, I have never given much attention to these mandated point-n-time counts. At best they are a good guess. I do believe we need to count and we need to measure,  but when reviewing this data we must never forget that the homeless population is nearly impossible to count, especially homeless families. My point is the data of these counts may give a snapshot of homelessness, and some insight into trends, but the crisis of homelessness is always far worse than the numbers show.

This is the first year homeless youth were counted, but what seems to be getting the most attention is that this is the fist year the question of sexual orientation was asked. 29% of homeless population identified as LGBT. This is important to note because services need to adjust for this population. Often gay and transgendered homeless people have a very hard time receiving services. Even if the program is LGBT friendly, often times other residents of the shelter will make it challenging. Obviously, San Francisco attracts LGBT people who have often been thrown away from their own homes and come here to find support and a safe community. As a city San Francisco needs to make sure our LGBT homeless friends can get the help they need.  Here is a post on this topic I wrote after my last visit: Transgender Homelessness And My Visit With TRANS: THRIVE.

In the following video I talk to Bevan about the homeless count, and the soon to be released survey on panhandling, which I cannot wait until it’s released because the results are probably not what you would have expected. This week when speaking to the Walgreens managers, Bevan said that anyone who lives and visits San Francisco is an expert on homelessness. If you have spent any time here I think you know what he means. Homelessness is very visible here. The good news is that the city and homeless services community is aggressively taking action to get people off the streets and the help they need.  I do see the results of that impact and I do believe there is lots of hope for our homeless friends in San Francisco!

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