A data-driven approach to ending homelessness

  • by Jeff Sheehy
  • Wednesday June 28, 2017
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Supervisor Jeff Sheehy speaks at a news conference<br>earlier this month announcing money for transitional youth housing programs.<br>Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
Supervisor Jeff Sheehy speaks at a news conference
earlier this month announcing money for transitional youth housing programs.
Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

For 17 years, I worked at UCSF's AIDS Research Institute helping tell the story about groundbreaking research on HIV prevention and treatment. That experience led me to help found the Getting to Zero Initiative, which is dedicated to ending new HIV infections in San Francisco, ending preventable HIV deaths, and ending HIV stigma.

Through our Getting to Zero work, we have seen firsthand that the toughest challenges in HIV prevention and care are linked to issues related to housing instability. Homeless individuals face far greater barriers to accessing primary health care services and taking the necessary steps to prevent new infections. The co-morbidity of homelessness and injection drug use contributes to countless hepatitis C infections and hinders our efforts to end new HIV infections.

As I began this job as District 8 supervisor, I realized just how few decisions on homelessness are made based on data and proven approaches. If we want to end homelessness in San Francisco, we must review the data and act on it. The best report in our limited data inventory is the Point-In-Time Count, a federally mandated report that is updated every two years. Here are my observations on the report, and its impact on our LGBTQ communities.

Young people are more likely to be LGBTQ and from outside of San Francisco. Of the 1,363 youth under 25 years of age on our streets, 49 percent identify as LGBTQ. Only 56 percent of these youth said San Francisco was their place of residence at their time of housing loss " 28 percent reported another county in California and 16 percent come from out of state. Among all homeless individuals, 69 percent were from San Francisco originally.

Of note, 50 percent of homeless youth reported living with one or both parents prior to experiencing homelessness. It is worth noting that each situation is unique and many of these young people are fleeing some type of abuse.

Nevertheless, 38 percent of youth reported having a supportive adult in the Bay Area. For some of these young people, immediate interventions like Homeward Bound can end the cycle of homelessness. In Fiscal Year 2015-2016, some 880 homeless individuals benefited from this crucial program that links homeless people to a parent or other caring person and pays their transportation to return home.

Another interesting data point shows that just 18 percent of unaccompanied youth 24 and under are sheltered, compared to 97 percent of families and 42 percent of single adults. That's why I believe it is so critical that the city's next Navigation Center focus on transitional age youth. This requirement was written into the Board of Supervisors' legislation mandating Navigation Centers. The location of a transitional youth Navigation Center is less important to me than the commitment to address a group where more than four of five people are living on our streets.

Finally, the budget process provided a bit of relief for homeless young people, especially those in District 8. Together with Mayor Ed Lee, we funded $1.54 million of localized services in District 8 " dedicated youth outreach, expanded service and meal hours at the LGBT Community Center, and subsidies that provide exits from homelessness for these youth. While the funding is important, I also believe we are bringing much greater attention and focus to these young people.

Although the Board of Supervisors' phase of the budget is not yet over, I worked hard on the budget committee to focus our recommendations to the full board to further tackle the homelessness crisis based on data:

Ÿ During the hearing I called on homeless youth earlier this year, we learned that there are no dedicated beds in residential substance abuse or mental health treatment specifically dedicated to transition-age youth. The budget committee recommended $800,000 for this purpose.

Ÿ After meeting with LYRIC at its Collingwood Street space, I became convinced we should do more on youth employment. As part of our district budgets, I proposed $175,000 of additional funding in District 8 for this priority.

Ÿ Working with Theresa Sparks, the mayor's senior adviser on transgender issues, and community members, we committed to fund greater support as trans people leave incarceration and require specialized re-entry assistance. We invested $300,000 for in-custody trans services and another $330,000 to assist once trans individuals re-enter society. These investments will prevent homelessness in this very vulnerable population.

Ÿ Earlier this year, I told the Bay Area Reporter that I supported subsidies for seniors and adults living with disabilities. The Dignity Fund provided $500,000 and the board added $1.5 million to meet this critical need identified by leaders in our LGBT community.

Spending more money on homelessness without demanding real results must not be our approach. However, these new and targeted investments recommended by the board give us a chance to finally use data as we develop a plan to end homelessness in San Francisco. I look forward to reporting to the community on the impacts of these vital investments in the years ahead.

Finally, I always welcome your views on homelessness policy and my office is prepared to provide direct assistance to neighbors, business owners, and homeless individuals in District 8. Please don't hesitate to call (415) 554-6968 or email me at jeff.sheehy@sfgov.org.


District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who was appointed by Mayor Ed Lee in January, is running in the June primary to serve out the term.