The SF Homeless Project -- 5 Questions About Homelessness In San Francisco

Former NBA athlete Delonte West -- who played for several different teams before spending time in China and the NBA's D-League -- was recently spotted with a cardboard sign and less-than-flattering attire, leading many to believe that his mental condition (West was diagnosed as bi-polar in 2008) and lack of career prospects resulted in West being left homeless. While further investigation revealed that West was simply helping a disabled homeless man in his neighborhood, the immediate assumptions and fears around Delonte's predicament help shine a light on a problem that the media in San Francisco have decided to take very seriously.

This week, over 70 news outlets (including The San Francisco Chronicle and the Google News Lab) will take part in The SF Homeless Project, an effort to increase media exposure of the homelessness epidemic that is affecting more than just the Bay Area. Among other things, the project hopes to help answer some of people's most common questions about the homeless population of San Francisco and the rest of the United States.

Why are there so many homeless in San Francisco?

San Francisco is dealing with more than just their homeless residents. According to the 2015 San Francisco Point In Time Homeless Count, just 71 percent of the homeless population living in San Francisco were living in the county at the time that they became homeless. Nineteen percent came to San Francisco from other counties in California. Ten percent of the San Francisco homeless population were living in states other than California at the time they became homeless.
As reported by KQED, while there are, in fact, some people traveling to or being sent to San Francisco and California after becoming homeless, the Bay Area's problem may just be more visible than it is in other places. Large cities are naturally a draw for the homeless because more services are available for the homeless in large cities. But compared to San Francisco, there are larger homelessness problems in cities like Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Nearly two-thirds of San Francisco's homeless population live in District 6, which includes downtown, one of just twelve districts in the county.

How many homeless people are in San Francisco?

As detailed in the Homeless Count, approximately 6,686 homeless people lived in San Francisco County in 2015. Of those, 853 were homeless youth.
To put that into perspective, according to the US Census, it is estimated that around 865,000 people live within the city of San Francisco (although the population of the SF metropolitan area is estimated at more than 4.6 million).

How can I help homeless people?

As with any problem worth fighting, advocacy is a need that often goes unmet. The problem has become so widespread and common that many people feel as though nothing can be done. Without someone helping communicate the specific needs of the homeless to those with the power to make a difference, the problem would ultimately remain unresolved.
As reported by Mercury News, people like Anthony King of San Jose have been able to escape chronic homelessness. King now works for Silicon Valley DeBug, communicating directly with public officials who can provide change for the homeless population of places like Santa Clara County in California. For those who don't feel a full-time calling to serve the homeless, the video above describes how simple it is to create a "blessing bag" that can provide some essentials for those currently living without a home.

How do people become homeless?

For many Americans, the idea of becoming homeless is so foreign that they're unsure why so many people end up without a home. Many people like to assume that those they see on the streets are either junkies or are just plain lazy. But according to the 2015 San Francisco Point In Time Homeless Count, 25 percent of the homeless population reported the loss of their job as the primary reason that they were homeless – not an unwillingness to work. A relational problem was given as the primary reason for homelessness by 23 percent –separation from spouse, fight with a family member or friend, etc.. Drug or alcohol abuse was the primary reason for 18 percent, while loss of home – eviction, rent increase, etc. – accounted for 13 percent in 2015.

How to solve homelessness?

As the media delves into the homeless problem in San Francisco, many people wonder if a permanent solution exists. While providing food or donating change can help meet a small, immediate problem, many advocates want to see the problem addressed on a larger scale. And to that end, many see universal housing as the only realistic solution.
As explained by Todd Gloria of the Voice of San Diego, the "housing first model" prioritizes putting the homeless in permanent housing, rather than simply providing a temporary shelter or other non-permanent means of escaping the streets. Joe Mathews of The Desert Sun makes the same point. He discusses a $2 billion bond that will potentially be used for housing the mentally ill in California, as political leaders in San Diego, Fresno, Sacramento and Orange County have made ending homelessness a priority. Universal housing is a part of all of those plans.

Over the next week, as part of the SF Homeless Project, the problems of homelessness in San Francisco and beyond will continue to be highlighted by the 70+ media organizations dedicated to bringing awareness (and an eventual solution) to the crisis of homelessness.

[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]