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San Franciscans now more worried about homeless than cost of housing

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Anxiety about homeless crisis explodes in annual poll

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

SF denizens are worried—that much is consistently true. But in just the last 12 months, their concerns have taken a dramatic turn away from their own cost of living and toward the streets outside of their doors, and those living on them.

On Thursday, the SF Chamber of Commerce released its annual City Beat poll, a survey of SF voters conducted every January to find out what’s on their minds.

In the past, problems like the cost of housing have dominated the polling, with concerns about the homeless crisis sometimes exceeding housing woes, but not by much. This time was a different story.

  • Asked to rate overall quality of life in the city, 71 percent said it had gotten worse, and only four percent said it had gotten better. For individual neighborhoods, the numbers were barely less dire, with 42 percent saying their block was worse off this year, versus 12 percent who said better.
  • When asked about the city’s biggest problems, the most popular response by far was homelessness, cited by 71 percent of those who responded. The cost of rent came in second, but it wasn’t a close race as only 33 percent brought it up. Only three percent cited the cost of owning a home as a problem. The broad topic of crime was third at 26 percent.
  • Nevertheless, those surveyed still brought up the cost of living, with 81 percent saying it had gotten worse since the last poll, and 63 percent saying the cost of housing was worse too. Even here, the homeless issue rose to the surface, with 89 percent proclaiming it worse now than before.
  • Perhaps surprisingly, 69 percent of those polled said they would support making a homeless navigation center in their neighborhood, and 72 percent said they support the plan to open one in every city district. (Which means a bare three percent are playing a game of chicken and hoping there will be no locations near them.)

Most questions vary slightly on the poll from year to year, but this is by far the biggest response the chamber has received on the homelessness response in recent memory; in 2019, just 64 percent of people brought up the homeless crisis as the biggest issue in the city, with 44 percent, 60 percent, and 51 percent in the years before, respectively.

On the other hand, concern over the cost of renting dipped way down, from 41 percent in 2019 and 43 percent, 51 percent, and 44 percent in the preceding years. respectively.

So what happened?

Well, odds are the homeless crisis didn’t really get that much worse just in the last year, and the price of renting certainly hasn’t gotten significantly better anywhere, either. However, last year’s point-in-time homeless count was a complete disaster for the city, with the homeless population far and away bigger than two years prior, and since then even more attention than ever has been paid to the problem. Understandably, the crisis is on people’s minds.

Note that EMC talked to just 512 SF voters for this poll, which isn’t a tremendous number, although it is normal for the yearly Chamber of Commerce check-in; last year the number was 500.