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Homelessness down in San Francisco, says HUD

But we still have one of the worst rates in the country

An apparently homeless man sitting on a bench and looking at the bay. Photo by meunierd/

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released its Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to congress last week, assessing the homeless crisis from coast to coast.

In a surprising turnabout, HUD estimates that, while homelessness in general rose all across America (thanks to increases in major metros with high housing prices), the number of people chronically without housing declined year over year in San Francisco—albeit it by a small margin.

And yet, San Francisco’s housing woes are still so drastic that more than one percent of America’s homeless live within the small confines of San Francisco.

Here’s some of the report’s key findings:

  • Estimating the homeless population remains a tricky and elusive process. The HUD count is noticeably different from the city’s own bi-annual homeless count and from figures provided by groups like the US Conference of Mayors. The HUD count, conducted on a single night in January, yielded a figure of 6,858 individuals in SF. That’s a lot less than the city’s own most recent count of 7,499 around the same time. But since point in time head counts are in imperfect tool at best, it’s almost impossible to say which figure is closer to the truth.
Photo by Stefan Kramer
  • More than 1.23 percent of all homeless people in the US live in San Francisco. Overall, HUD counts 553,742 homeless Americans nationwide, meaning that San Francisco hosts a shocking (but at the same time not at all surprising) percentage of the entire country’s homeless population. Of course, other cities have a larger slice of the dispossessed population. New York City’s HUD homeless count is 76,501 this year, and LA’s 55,188. But of course, those are much larger cities, both in terms of population and geographic area.
  • Yes, HUD says homelessness is down in SFbarely. Last year’s count was slightly higher, by a margin of 138 people. At face value, that’s good news—especially since the same report holds that homelessness is up for the first time since 2010 nationwide—but in practice it’s such a small number that it might not be a real difference at all. Since the city only conducts the homeless count every two years, we don’t have any local 2016 figure for the HUD comparison. However, SF estimated a similar decline between 2015 and 2017.
  • If a decline did happen, the long-term trend is still bleak. The 2017 count is down from 2016, but up from 2015, 2014, and 2012. Back in 2013 the HUD estimate spiked suddenly to over 7,000 and has been technically declining ever since then. They’re shallow drops at best.
  • SF also has more homeless residents living on the streets. New York City has tens of thousands more people without permanent homes than SF does—but HUD reports that only 5.1 percent of New York’s homeless neighbors are actually “unsheltered,” i.e., “people whose primary nighttime location is a public or private place not designated for [...] accommodation.” In San Francisco it’s 88.2 percent, one of the worst rates in the country.
  • The rest of California isn’t doing well. Overall, California cities account for 25 percent of America’s homeless population, despite being only about 12 percent of the nation’s population overall. The HUD count for homeless in San Jose/Santa Clara county was 7,394 this year; in Oakland, 5,629.
Photo via public domain