San Francisco Spends Even More Money Criminalizing Homelessness

San Francisco criminalizing homelessness

Despite San Francisco’s record spending on homelessness, the crisis worsens due to the city’s focus on costly homeless encampment sweeps instead of providing housing.


Then Wonders Why They Can’t Solve It…

An article in the San Francisco Chronicle raises a pertinent question: Why is homelessness in the region on the rise despite the city’s record-breaking spending on the crisis? The answer lies in the staggering amount of money—hundreds of millions of dollars—that the city has allocated toward homeless encampment sweeps. This money could have been used to provide housing, a more effective and humane solution.

It would be silly to spend most of your paycheck on cigarettes and then wonder why your cancer keeps getting worse, but this is the hypothetical equivalent of what’s been happening in San Francisco and, on a broader scale, the entire state of California. Here, you will find the highest rates of housing prices in the country and, subsequently, the highest rates of homelessness nationwide.

This is not a coincidence. It is the blueprint, a flawed and hostile design. What’s worse? It’s not only the blueprint for the Sunshine State. Creating an unaffordable housing atmosphere and then arresting people because they can no longer afford housing is increasingly becoming the blueprint for the whole country. This means that in the future, we can expect more tents and even fewer solutions, not to mention mass spending in all the wrong places.

Homelessness in San Francisco: What’s Really Going On?

The San Francisco housing and affordability crisis is not just a statistic, it’s a wave of suffering that has engulfed more than half the residents here, as revealed by the latest UC Berkley Measurements.

To understand the severity of San Francisco’s housing crisis, consider this: 55% of California residents would find it ‘difficult to get by ‘ living there, while another 14% would be barely scraping by. This means that only about 16% of Californians, who are already earning a higher income than people living in other states, could comfortably reside in San Francisco. These are not just numbers but actual people struggling to make ends meet.

For a large portion of the population, discomfort could easily be tantamount to unsheltered homelessness. California continues to hold the number one spot for homeless rates across America, and San Francisco is one of the most notorious cities on the map in that regard. To put things into perspective, the Chronicle highlights that despite a sizeable increase in city spending on homelessness, the homeless population count just went up seven more percentage points since 2022, according to data released in May 2024.

Spending Money Criminalizing Homelessness Rather than Solving It Is Counterproductive

According to journalist Brian Barth, who shared his research with Invisible People, California has spent over $100 million on dismantling homeless encampments. This action, known as a sweep, is a costly endeavor that involves private firms and law enforcement. Yet, it has proven to be a futile effort, with encampments often reappearing shortly after they are cleared.

For example, a recent LA report found that roughly 81% of encampment sites engaged by LA’s homeless outreach teams repopulated after sweeps were conducted. Additionally, more than 700 of the 1,800 individuals returned to the former encampment site within two weeks of a sweep.

Another study conducted in New York found that homeless encampment sweeps led to approximately three instances of permanent housing placement out of a whopping 2,308 homeless encampment evictions. You read that right. Three out of 2,308 is not exactly a recipe for success. So then, why do it?

According to Brian Barth’s findings, sweeping homeless encampments has become a booming business for private firms. While it isn’t solving homelessness, it makes some small and mid-sized corporations rich. It is also temporarily pushing homelessness out of sight, a smokescreen tactic designed to fool the public into thinking this is a genuine solution.

When we look at strategies that have effectively reduced homeless populations, we usually find a system that addresses homelessness at its root cause, which is affordable housing. That’s when we’ll see a system that fosters community connections where city leaders work toward a common goal.

Experts With Proven Track Records for Reducing Homelessness Do Not Spend Their Funding on Criminalization

“At Open Door, we’ve been working with the unhoused community for decades, and we have seen the ineffectiveness of criminalization firsthand,” explained Jeremy Toevs, who serves as the Executive Director of Open Door HousingWorks, a company involved in a 35% reduction of unsheltered homelessness in Washington County, Oregon. “Cycling someone through jail for minor offenses isn’t helpful for our law enforcement partners, and it makes it more challenging for us to build the rapport needed to move people inside.”

Beth Sandor of Community Solutions, an organization that has helped 42 communities achieve a measurable reduction in homelessness, also feels that money spent criminalizing homelessness would be more effective if funneled into other non-punitive programs.

“There is no evidence that investing in criminalization results in population-level reductions in homelessness,” she said. “We must instead invest in increased access to affordable housing through both existing units and new developments. Communities across the country that are driving reductions in homelessness also invest in strategies connected to improving their local housing system’s ability to prevent individuals from entering homelessness in the first place – and respond quickly if and when they do.”

“We also need to invest in support systems to help navigate those who have fallen into homelessness from shelters or the street into permanent housing,” she continued. “That requires a homeless response system that identifies everyone experiencing homelessness by name and circumstance in real-time, and comprehensive case management that provides personalized support to help individuals navigate housing, employment, healthcare, and social services.”

At The Heart of This Failure is Flawed Legislation. Talk to Your Local Lawmakers

What’s happening in San Francisco is not just a mismanagement of funding allocated toward solving homelessness. It is also the result of faulty legislation and laws that criminalize homelessness rather than prioritizing housing.

Talk to your local legislators to advocate for a shift toward permanent housing, personalized services, and social support. These strategies have proven to be the most effective and cost-efficient in addressing homelessness. Let’s make this our shared goal.


Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith

     

Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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