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Scathing audit paints damning picture of San Francisco homeless outreach teams

Men talk on a street.
The Homeless Outreach Team and other city service workers talk with people during a sweep of tents on the sidewalk on Mission and Seventh Street in San Francisco on Oct. 13. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

San Francisco’s budget and legislative analyst released a scathing audit of the city’s drug and homelessness outreach teams on Tuesday, finding that the city fails to set or reach meaningful success metrics while interacting with people in crisis.

The damning report says the city launched a wave of “street teams” in 2020 without creating infrastructure for the teams to measure success and collaborate. 

The audit further alleges that the nonprofit Harm Reduction Therapy Center performed work for the city’s Street Overdose Response Team for over 18 months without a proper contract with the Department of Public Health.  

The audit issued 20 recommendations to improve the outreach teams and named four city departments–the Department of Emergency Management, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, the Department of Public Health and the San Francisco Fire Department. 

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Police officers are seen from above walking past tents.
San Francisco Police Department officers walk by a homeless tent encampment along Willow Street in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco in 2020. | Source: Nick Otto for The Standard

Findings from the audit include:

  • "Metrics ... do not demonstrate success or progress at achieving their team goals."
  • "Some teams report metrics that do align with their goals, but have limited success in achieving those goals."
  • "[Departments] use at least eight different data collection systems to manage and record street team encounters and client care, but are unable to easily share or link client and team activity data between departments or across teams."
  • "The lack of data sharing also means that the city cannot analyze meaningful longitudinal data about street team client outcomes or the impact of the street teams overall."

Supervisor Dean Preston, who requested the audit, called for a hearing following its release. 

“Our city’s street teams are essential for responding to crises and connecting people to the help they need," Preston said in a statement. "We should be making sure the city is setting these teams up for success by providing the necessary oversight, management, and ensuring that we have adequate treatment beds, shelters, and other services available for referrals.”

In response to the audit, several departments said they’re actively working to improve data tracking and collaboration. The Department of Emergency Management noted in a statement that the alternative outreach teams have greatly reduced the city’s reliance on police.

The Department of Public Health said it “was actively working” to devise a contract with the Harm Reduction Therapy Center during the 18-month span they were providing uncontracted services. The department noted that the two entities are now operating with a contract.

The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing and the fire department have been contacted for comment.

David Sjostedt can be reached at david@sfstandard.com