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San Francisco says it needs $600M more to cut street homelessness in half by 2028

Rectangles designed to help prevent the spread of the Covid by encouraging social distancing line a city-sanctioned homeless encampment at San Francisco’s Civic Center near San Francisco City Hall on May 21, 2020. | Noah Berger/AP Photo

San Francisco has released a plan to cut street homelessness in half by 2028, but says that it’s at least $600 million short of achieving the goal.

The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing released a five-year plan on Friday that sets a target of building 1,075 new shelter beds and 3,250 permanent housing units.

With those additional beds, the department estimates that it could reduce unsheltered homelessness by 50% and decrease total homelessness by 15%.  

However, to achieve that target, the plan states that the department will need an additional $607 million over the next five years as well as $217 million in additional annual funding thereafter. The department’s budget for the current fiscal year is $672 million. 

It remains unclear where the additional funding will come from, as the city faces an upcoming $780 million two-year shortfall and Mayor London Breed is asking department heads to plan for substantial cuts.

In a March 30 letter, Breed asked departments to propose cutbacks of 5% from what they receive from the city’s General Fund on top of 5% cuts previously requested in December.

Shireen McSpadden, executive director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, said that she’s hopeful that with a target in place, the city will work to identify state and federal funding.

Shireen McSpadden, executive director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, speaks at a press conference at San Francisco City Hall on Jan. 3, 2023. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

“It’s just really important that we lay it out there as a goal and then figure out how to make it happen,” McSpadden said. 

The department worked with Focus Strategies to create the plan, paying the consulting firm over $300,000 in a contract that included a $205 per-hour agreement to “plan to plan” by delineating roles and creating a framework for the plan. That alone added up to $32,800 for 160 hours of work.

The new five-year plan comes just a month after the department estimated that it would cost $992 million to completely end unsheltered homelessness in three years. That plan, which placed focus on shelter at the request of Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, was determined unfeasible by the department due to staffing shortages.  

The new plan places more focus on permanent supportive housing than on shelter, which the department contends will help it stay in front of the crisis.

But even with a plan, the disparate visions of city policymakers could stand in the way of the department’s vision.

At a recent hearing to discuss the department’s first plan, tensions flared between city leaders who butted heads over whether the city should continue to prioritize permanent housing over shelter.

The department added over 3,000 permanent units since 2020, which it credits in part for a 15% reduction in unsheltered homelessness since 2019. But some policymakers, most notably Mandelman, have urged the department to add more short-term shelter options as a way to more immediately steer people off the streets. 

On Wednesday, Mandelman urged Breed to allocate funding for 2,000 shelter units in the next two years. 

“Not only do we need shelter, but we need an exit from shelter and we need to keep all those things in scale together,” McSpadden said. “But that doesn’t mean we disagree about needing shelter. […] If that’s where we need to focus first then that’s fine with us.” 

McSpadden said that coming up with a comprehensive five-year plan is important because it will help to navigate the often shortsighted nature of the city’s yearly budget cycles. 

“We’re moving forward with building the infrastructure,” McSpadden said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen with the city budget but that’s just one piece. [There’s] a lot of different resources that can come together to help support this.” 

David Sjostedt can be reached at

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