The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2016 Homeless Assessment Report has pretty shocking news for San Francisco, although you have to pay a little extra attention to the numbers to realize what it is.
Overall, HUD estimates that at the beginning of this year there were almost 550,000 homeless people in America.
While that’s a disastrously large number by any reasonable standard, lifelong San Franciscans might actually expect it to be higher.
After all, that shakes out to a national homelessness rate of about 0.17 percent. Whereas San Francisco’s HUD-provided homeless census of about 7,000 or so comes to a rate almost eight times that.
If every city had a homeless population equivalent to ours, there would be over 2.6 million homeless people coast to coast.
But of course, only a handful of cities have anything like the equivalent of our homeless population. All told, more than 1.27 percent of all of America’s homeless live just in our one relatively small city.
While it’s hardly news that San Francisco has a huge problem with homelessness, a step back to look at the national picture reveals an alarming perspective.
That 7,000 figure is more than the estimated number of homeless people in the entire state of Texas.
It’s more than in all of Oregon, Georgia, Washington, Indiana, Colorado, Wisconsin, Ohio, Connecticut, and Hawaii too. It’s even more than some pairs of those states combined.
[Update: Nope! As you can probably guess, there are not in fact more homeless people in San Francisco than all of states like Texas. I’m afraid we were misled by those states’ “balance of homeless” statistic, which is different from overall homeless counts.
Another lesson in pitfalls of misreading data.]
While there are one or two cities (New York, for example) with technically more homeless denizens per capita, for sheer density relative to our size no other place in the United States comes close.
And while the nationwide homeless rate is on the decline, every San Franciscan knows we can never seem to chip away at ours.
Note that the city’s most recent homeless count was about 6,700, although that difference is not enough to much affect the terms we’re using here.
But the city’s homeless census methods have always been subject to criticism. The Department of Public Health, for example, estimates that there may actually be nearly 10,000 homeless San Franciscans, 1.8 percent of what would then be a nationwide estimate of nearly 553,000.