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How do homeless people think San Francisco should solve homelessness?

A homeless tent encampment on Division Street at Florida Street with Salesforce Tower in the skyline in San Francisco, on Thursday, June 1, 2023. The homeless crisis in the Bay Area continues and local residents aren’t sure when and if they should be given money to those asking for it. | Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard
A homeless tent encampment is set up on Division Street at Florida Street. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

Today David Sjostedt, who reports on homelessness for The Standard, answers a frequent question: What do people experiencing homelessness think should be done?

When asked what leaders in San Francisco should do to solve homelessness, many homeless people who spoke to The Standard said the city should stop throwing away their belongings, quickly move them into housing and offer them job opportunities.

Image of speech bubble with "Ask The Standard" inside.

While the root causes of homelessness vary greatly amongst people living on the streets, people interviewed by The Standard said they are often set back by falling on the wrong side of the law or because the city destroys their encampments.

The Standard interviewed nine people who were formerly homeless or still live on the city’s streets about what they would do to solve widespread homelessness if they were in charge of the city.

Several homeless people told The Standard that the longer they spend on the city’s streets, the more difficult homelessness becomes to escape. Many expressed distress over fentanyl killing their friends and said that other traumatic experiences that come along with living on the streets have made it difficult for them to improve their lives.

A formerly homeless man named Kahlua Torres said he had been stabbed several times while living on San Francisco’s streets. With every hospital visit, he said, it became more difficult to follow through with tasks that would ostensibly lead to housing. Eventually, he said, the city granted him housing at the Monarch Hotel. But he said many of his friends still live on the streets while rooms sit empty in his building.

“There’s resources that they’re not using out here,” Torres said. “It just seems random how they pick people.”

According to a June 6 report, 811 rooms that are designated for people experiencing homelessness are sitting unoccupied. The report states that 303 of those units are awaiting a referral, 215 referrals are pending and 293 of the units are offline because they’re in need of maintenance. There are currently over 4,000 people sleeping on the city’s streets on any given night, while 3,187 people are sleeping in homeless shelters.

The city has run into issues when attempting to quickly house and shelter people from the streets, in some cases resulting in property damage and frustrated neighbors. Torres suggested that the city should create housing designed for people who are considered problematic or have been kicked out of other residential buildings.

The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing is currently in the process of revamping the city’s process of prioritizing people for housing, which is often criticized as confusing and slow.

Several people on the city’s streets told The Standard that the city’s social service workers often ask duplicated questions that lead nowhere.

“Why did I have to be assessed over and over again? I was homeless. What else is there to know?” said Pierre Byrd, a formerly homeless man who said he grew up in the city and recently acquired housing. “I feel like they don’t want to solve it.”

Others said they wished the city would provide them with a place to store their belongings.

Solaris Mathison, a 29-year-old homeless man from Ohio who said he came to San Francisco after suffering a traumatic brain injury, told The Standard that he is often set back by having his property stolen or his encampment swept by the city.

The city is currently embroiled in a lawsuit filed by a nonprofit called the Coalition on Homelessness that alleges that the city has violated federal law by destroying the property of homeless people without providing them shelter.

“You work your ass off to get these things, and then you don’t have anywhere to store them,” Mathison said. “They order us around and tell us what we need to do rather than asking how they can help.”

Some said that much of the crisis lies in motivating people to change their own lives while also giving them the resources to do so.

“You’ve got to keep people from getting idle hands,” said a homeless man named Josh Banez. “It starts with community, opportunity and activities.”