[Hpn] Head count shows jump in homeless

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Wed, 08 Nov 2000 10:51:01 -0700


Published Wednesday, November 8, 2000, in the San Jose Mercury News

Head count shows jump in homeless
Mercury News 

Homelessness in San Francisco has jumped a whopping 30 percent over figures
from last spring, according to the latest one-night head count of families
and single adults living on the streets, in shelters, hospitals, jails and
treatment centers, the mayor's office said.

The report, which contains the first district-by-district count of the
homeless population, found the largest number of people living on the
streets of District 6, which includes the affluent loft havens of the South
of Market area and the single-room occupancy hotels of the Tenderloin and
Civic Center area.

In all, 5,376 people were counted by the Mayor's Office on Homelessness,
2,033 of them on the streets. This is about 1,300 more than the 4,100
counted in the spring by the mayor's office. While the count is in no way
scientific, the mayor's office concedes, it allows the city to develop a
strategy for serving the population.

``We're happy with the numbers,'' said George Smith, director of homeless
programs for Mayor Willie Brown. ``We covered the whole city as best we

Smith attributed the increase to a more organized search of the city. By no
means, he contended, did those numbers suggest that homelessness in the city
is getting worse.

The mayor's office used about 200 volunteers, who combed the city's
doorways, parks and underpasses the night of Oct. 26.

Shelters accounted for 1,504 adults and 505 families -- including those on
waiting lists. Those families included 292 children.

Volunteers counted 1,004 homeless people, the largest number, in District 6.
This is partly because of the number of drop-in services available in the
Tenderloin and the presence of freeway overpasses in the South of Market
area, which draw more homeless encampments. District 10 -- Bayview-Hunters
Point -- was a distant second, with 412 people.

Last May, after the city's first homeless count, 4,100 people were tallied,
1,805 of whom were on the street.

Critics of the one-night census say it is an inaccurate measure of the true

The Coalition on Homelessness said Tuesday that the city's counting system
-- a three-hour session in which groups of two or three volunteers pick and
choose who's homeless -- leaves many on the streets unaccounted for.

``Basically, you have a bunch of volunteers saying, `He's homeless, he's
not,''' said Chance Martin, editor of the coalition's newspaper, the Street
Sheet. ``It's not like they're wearing a sign around their neck. There are a
lot of people that you just don't know are homeless.''

Undercounting alleged

Martin estimates that the number of homeless in the city is far greater --
at least 12,500.

City officials, however, said they don't believe they undercounted by more
than 50 percent.

``That's ridiculous,'' Smith said. ``I don't doubt that we missed some
people. Even the U.S. Census can miss some people. But did they ever do a

Martin fears such counts do little to solve the actual problem.

``None of this counting has anything to do with getting people off the
street,'' he said. ``The mayor's office has a better use for its

`Nuts and bolts' need

With $60 million earmarked for homeless programs annually, Martin advocates
using it for more affordable housing, living-wage jobs, and access to
education, ``basic nuts and bolts stuff,'' he said.

In the past, Smith said a huge chunk of that money has been spent on
emergency services, such as general assistance programs and drug and alcohol
treatment centers.

But now, the city has started a master-leasing program at some low-cost
hotels in the Tenderloin and other neighborhoods, where it takes over the
buildings and runs supervised housing for the homeless.

``My whole focus for the homeless programs in San Francisco is efficiency,''
Smith said. ``And for the people that need that 24-hour care, we want to
target them.''

Contact David Cragin at dcragin@sjmercury.com or (415) 434-0370.

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