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How many people live in San Francisco-owned housing and shelters?

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Light fills a shared sink during a press tour of the 711 Post St. shelter in San Francisco on Tuesday, July 19, 2022. | Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

This installment of Ask The Standard draws from a set of widely held questions about homelessness in San Francisco.

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The city currently provides 12,413 units of permanent supportive housing and housing vouchers for formerly homeless people, but 825 of those units sit vacant, according to the most recent report.

The city has struggled to move people into vacant rooms because the units are either in disrepair or because of issues with the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing’s prioritization system. The department says it is streamlining the process of moving people into available units.

Many of the city’s permanent supportive housing units, considered to be the city’s most dignified form of public housing, are located in the Tenderloin, SoMa and Lower Nob Hill neighborhoods. But many of the older permanent supportive-housing buildings have had their issues, with clients complaining about rodent infestations, broken elevators that sometimes trap people in their rooms and a lack of services to address widespread drug use and mental illness. 

The city also owns 3,169 shelter beds that it keeps at 90% occupancy to make room for emergency admissions from hospitals and jails. 

The types of shelter range from vehicle and tent sites to tiny homes and warehouse-style facilities with hundreds of beds within a relatively confined space. 

Navigation centers, a special type of temporary shelter, are aimed at eventually transitioning guests into permanent housing.

Motivated by the pandemic, and under the promise of state and federal reimbursements, the city began leasing privately owned hotels to shelter those living on the streets in April 2020. At the peak of the program, the city provided 2,288 rooms in 25 hotels. But the program wound down, and it ultimately costed the city tens of millions of dollars in property damage claims. However, many advocates argued that the program was a success in that it helped 1,667 people transition into permanent housing, and some groups are now urging the city to lease out more hotels.

David Sjostedt can be reached at