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SF should just give homes to the homeless, says new poll

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More than three-quarters of those surveyed support housing vouchers as the most effective solution

A pair of hands holding a cardboard cutout of a house. Via Shutterstock

San Francisco voters have opinions about the homeless, foremost among them: Why can’t the city just give them a home already?

Conducted by EMC Research and commissioned by Tipping Point Community, a Bay Area-based anti-poverty nonprofit, the survey asked 1,195 SF voters for their opinions about the city’s intractable homeless crisis.

While the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percent, most of the big takeaways were such landslides that it hardly matters. Among them the results:

  • In perhaps the least surprising of all possible outcomes, 97 percent of those polled characterized themselves as concerned about homelessness, versus two percent who were not.
  • Alarmingly, 29 percent of people said that they’ve either experienced homelessness in the past year or know someone who has, and more than half of those polled say they worry about securing affordable housing for themselves in SF.
  • Of the offered solutions, the most popular (76 percent in favor) was for the city to provide housing vouchers so that our homeless residents could find apartments. This, in fact, is something the city already does, although the program is stuck in limbo right now because of an unrelated budget crisis.
  • Other popular solutions—i.e., those netting support from at least 65 percent of those asked—include providing homes directly to the homeless, private landlords renting rooms and homes to the homeless, and building more homeless Navigation Centers in SF.

It’s worth noting that the proffered solutions on the poll correspond to ideas that Tipping Point wants to pursue—whereas less compassionate responses were not mentioned as potential solutions.

Past polling has shown some similar attitudes—for example, in a 2019 Quinnipiac poll, 60 percent of Bay Area voters said that the high cost of housing was the most likely cause of homelessness. Only 20 percent blamed the homeless themselves.

What if people were just telling the pollsters thinks that they felt made them look good? Matt Menezes, spokesperson for Tipping Point, tells Curbed SF that the data does already reflect some prejudices that make them more confident in the results.

For example, although a majority of those polled said they’d support new homeless housing in their own neighborhoods, that majority is ten points smaller than the response to questions about new housing in general.

(Presumably, respondents motivated to give merely “socially acceptable” responses wouldn’t bother with a conditional lie.)

Another point not addressed in the poll is cost. In 2018, polling about the homeless tax Proposition C (also conducted by EMC Research) found that support for the proposal dropped as much as ten points when voters learned how much it would cost.

Proposition C passed anyway, but that polling still illustrates the difference between agreeing to a policy in principle and supporting it in execution.