Homelessness is a top concern for San Franciscans, many of whom blame city leadership, drug addiction and a lack of appropriate services for the seemingly intractable problem.
Asked who or what is to blame for the city’s homelessness crisis, 57% of respondents pointed to a lack of mental illness care and services, while 53% cited a lack of a clear solution to the problem. Fifty-two percent blamed long standing poor management by City Hall, while half of respondents blamed poor management by the mayor, supervisors and homelessness agencies.
Fewer respondents blamed a lack of new housing (32%), other residents who block efforts to create shelters and affordable housing (31%) and poor decisions by unhoused individuals (29%).
The fall SF Standard Voter Poll surveyed 944 registered voters in English and Simplified Chinese about their opinions on the city, its government and its challenges. Fielded by Embold Research from Oct. 1 to Oct. 7, 2022, the poll results are representative of the SF voter population within an error range of +/-3.9%. The study aimed to take a deeper look at the findings from The Standard's Spring 2022 Voter Poll.
Visible homelessness is fueling safety concerns among San Franciscans: Sixty-four percent of poll respondents said they feel less or much less safe in the city versus a year ago; of those, 71% cited seeing more homeless people as the main reason they feel less safe. Sixty percent cited more interactions with "people that made them feel unsafe,” and 33% percent of respondents said they had been a victim of crime.
“I wish it was more safe to walk around, but my husband and I have both been assaulted on the streets by random homeless people having breakdowns,” said one poll respondent.
San Franciscans are overwhelmingly unhappy about homelessness in the city, with 78% saying that it made them sad.
Asked about City Hall’s efforts to solve homelessness, 63% of respondents said that City Hall doesn’t understand how to solve the problem. Fifty-three percent said that the city is spending money on the wrong things, while just 10% said that the city hasn’t spent enough money.
“Apathy is growing and no one is willing to step in to help others because there doesn't seem to be actual help from any government sectors,” said another poll respondent.
Voters also cited drug use as a driving force of the city’s homeless crisis. Half of respondents blamed drug addiction for the homelessness crisis, while 44% blamed a lack of police arrests for drug dealing and usage. Forty-one percent blamed the prevalence of drug dealers as a main cause of the crisis.
“Homeless who are addicted to drugs or mentally ill will not voluntarily move to shelters. It is up to the government to force them to do so, and provide them mandatory drug addiction and mental health treatment when they are there,” said another respondent.
The city’s overdose prevention plans include creating “wellness hubs” where people can use drugs under the supervision of people equipped with overdose reversal medication; the city is also planning to back the creation of supervised consumption sites.
But the public is less enthused about safe consumption sites, with just 35% supporting the creation of a supervised site for drug users to smoke or inject drugs.
On other potential solutions to homelessness, 75% supported launching a CARE Court that places homeless people with severe mental illness into treatment for two years.
Sixty-two percent support deploying additional intervention teams to address overdoses and mental health crises, while 53% support clearing homeless encampments from streets regardless of whether their occupants have anywhere to go.
Liz Lindqwister contributed additional research for this story.
David Sjostedt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org