When San Franciscans talk about housing and shelter for the homeless, they sometimes lump many different types of facilities into one bucket.
In reality, the city uses many different types of sites to keep people off the streets, depending on their needs. These range from vehicle and tent sites to low-cost hotels, while the city’s limited permanent housing stock is considered the ultimate landing place for those who successfully navigate the city’s homeless response system. The majority of those facilities are located in the city’s Tenderloin, SoMa and Lower Nob Hill neighborhoods.
The Standard broke down the different types of subsidized living situations that can be occupied by the city’s homeless or formerly homeless individuals.
The city has 1,084 beds spread out across nine navigation centers—a type of temporary shelter aimed at eventually transitioning guests into permanent housing. The first navigation center opened in 2015 with the goal of providing a secure place for unhoused people to find case management and medical help.
Prior to the pandemic, navigation centers showed mixed results in transitioning guests to permanent housing. Out of 4,563 people who stayed in navigation centers between March 2015 and February 2019, only 14% of them found permanent housing. Another 28% were reunited with friends or family through the city’s Homeward Bound program, while 54% exited back to the streets, according to the latest data available from the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.
The city rents out individual rooms as part of its Scattered Sites program, which provides vouchers for tenants to live in market rate units, for guests who are deemed too unstable for shared facilities. The city temporarily houses those individuals in one of its permanent housing facilities.
The city first introduced safe sleep sites, or sanctioned tent villages, at the onset of the pandemic after a lawsuit from UC Hastings called for a quick solution to a growing number of encampments in the Tenderloin.
The sites quickly drew controversy: Advocates criticized the sites as an inadequate solution, while others balked at the hefty price tag per tent. Though the city has largely moved on from the concept, recently shuttering the first tent village in Civic Center, the city sees tiny home sites as a possible evolution of the idea. One such site, located at 33 Gough St., began welcoming new residents in March 2022.
The city opened its first vehicle triage site in 2019, sanctioning an empty parking lot to provide a place for people to live in their cars and RVs long-term. Since then, the city has opened a number of similar sites that provide vehicle parking, showers and case management services.
Motivated by the pandemic, and under the promise of state and federal reimbursements, the city began leasing privately-owned hotels to temporarily house those living on the streets in April 2020. At the peak of the program, the city provided 2,288 rooms in 25 hotels.
The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing contends that it will shutter the program by late September. Forty-five percent of guests in shelter-place-hotels have ended up back in shelter or to an unknown location, according to data from the department.
Permanent supportive housing is a housing model that provides tenants not just with a roof over their heads, but with access to case management and other services. Tenants pay no more than 30% of their household income.
The city owns more than 11,000 units of supportive housing, but its system of placing people there has inefficiencies: A recent report found that more than 800 were sitting empty.
Single Residency Occupancy units are similar to supportive housing units. Formerly homeless residents who do not need the same degree of on-site help sometimes wind up in the city’s SROs, which are often older buildings in and around the Tenderloin: Eighty-eight percent of the city’s SRO rooms are located in six of the city’s eastern zip codes, according to a 2017 Department of Public Health report.
David Sjostedt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org