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San Francisco has 363 homeless kids waiting for shelter ahead of Christmas

A child watches as two adults assemble privacy dividers in a school gym.
There are 238 homeless families waiting to enter San Francisco’s family shelters, including 363 children and 323 adults, as of Thursday morning. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

Hundreds of children are waiting for shelter in San Francisco as Christmas approaches, according to a nonprofit that tracks homelessness on behalf of the city.

There are 238 homeless families waiting to enter San Francisco’s family shelters, including 363 children and 323 adults, as of Thursday morning, according to Compass Family Services, which runs a city access point to shelter. The data is from all city access points to shelters, representing the most up-to-date count of homeless families in San Francisco.

Hope Kamer, a spokesperson for Compass Family Services, said the data may include families who found housing or shelter outside of facilities funded by the city.

The city has seen a surge of family homelessness in recent months while the city’s largest emergency family shelter is full, according to the nonprofit that runs the facility, Dolores Street Community Services.

Staff at the shelter told The Standard they’ve been forced to turn away around four families every night due to a shortage of beds and food.

A man holds a child in a firm hug.
A father holds his son at the Stay-Over Program on Valencia Street in San Francisco. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

READ MORE: San Francisco Homeless Shelter Forced to Turn Away Families Every Day

“They’re in crisis. They’re desperate for help. It’s unconscionable,” said Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project. “It’s absolutely ludicrous and disgusting.”

A group of eight organizations focused on homelessness are coming together to allege the city is overlooking the issue.

The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing said there were four beds in dormitory-style living facilities and 13 available rooms at shelters and transitional housing programs available as of Tuesday. 

In response to a follow-up inquiry Thursday about why beds are available as families are on the waitlist, the department said the number of available beds is constantly changing.

“There are vacancies made daily and families placed into those vacancies daily,” the department said in an emailed statement. “The data is not perfect but does generally reflect that there is a high need for family shelter.”

The city funds 13 family shelters with a total of 620 beds as well as 2,323 housing units for families in need. 

Boden alleged the city is less incentivized to help homeless families because the issue doesn’t play as well politically. Homeless families are often less visible than unhoused individuals because they may “double up” on couches or sleep in their cars, he said. 

“The businesses aren’t complaining about homeless families in front of their door, so it’s not a problem,” Boden said. “We don’t see homeless families on the street like we see single adults, so we don’t have a homeless family problem. … We don’t allocate resources to families that desperately need help.”

By comparison, the waitlist for homeless individuals was 427 people long as of Thursday. 

The city’s biennial “point-in-time” count—which estimated the number of people sleeping in shelters and on the streets on a single night in February 2022—found 205 homeless families, 87% of whom were already sheltered or in transitional housing.

However, the San Francisco Unified School District estimated there were 2,370 homeless students enrolled in local schools last year. Data from the State of California’s Homeless Data Integration System shows 4,990 families engaged with San Francisco homeless programs last year.

During a press conference Thursday, representatives from the Chinatown Community Development Center, Compass Family Services, Dolores Street Community Services, Glide, Hamilton Families, Homeless Prenatal Program, SF City Vitals and the Coalition on Homelessness are coming together to demand the city conduct a “real count” of the number of homeless families in San Francisco.

David Sjostedt can be reached at