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San Francisco avoided spike in homelessness during Covid, according to new data

Homeless people in an encampment along Willow St. in the Tenderloin district of downtown on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022 in San Francisco, CA. (Getty Images) | Source: Getty Images

San Francisco reported 7,754 people sleeping on the streets or in homeless shelters this year, reflecting a decrease since its last “point in time” count in 2019, according to preliminary results of the city’s 2022 count.

City officials are hailing a 3.5% decrease in homeless residents as a sign of success in hefty investments made to keep people off the streets during the pandemic. With the help of federal funding tied to the Covid emergency, the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing appropriated more than $1.5 billion over the last two fiscal years toward housing, temporary shelter, outreach, coordinated entry and prevention.  

The number of unsheltered people in the city decreased by 15% to 4,397 between 2019 and 2022, according to results from the one-night count. The number of people who have been homeless for more than a year also decreased by 11% to 2,691, and counts of homeless youth and families also declined.

The city attributed the improvements to efforts to provide more temporary shelter along with investments in supportive housing. The city has added 4,026 shelter beds and placed 1,133 people into permanent supportive housing since July 2020, according to the city’s dashboard

“Our investments in shelter and housing are resulting in improvements in the lives of people experiencing homelessness and conditions on our streets,” said Shireen McSpadden, Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing Executive Director, in a press release.

Members of various nonprofit groups contracted by the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing conducted the visual count on Feb. 23, tallying the number of people who appear to be sleeping on the street, in a tent or in a car on that particular night. 

The point in time count is considered by city officials to be the most accurate estimate of homeless residents on a single night, but the data is limited due to the difficulties of identifying someone as homeless visually and because of the likelihood that there may be one person in a tent. 

The count was scheduled to take place in 2021, but was repeatedly delayed in counties across the country due to the risk of spreading Covid through the survey.  

The San Francisco Department of Public Health found in a previous assessment that more than 18,000 people accessed homeless services over the course of the year in 2020.  

“We have a lot of work to do, but this shows that we are moving in the right direction,” said Mayor London Breed in a press release Monday. “The fact that we were able to make this progress during the course of a global pandemic shows that when the City and our non-profit partners work together, we can make a difference.”

David Sjostedt can be reached at