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Politics & Policy

San Francisco mayor London Breed hails ‘huge success’ in combating homelessness

A woman in a red shirt and plaid blazer speaks into a microphone.
Mayor London Breed hinted at tougher tactics toward homeless people who refuse shelter. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said the city has hit “a new milestone” in addressing homelessness—but hinted at tougher tactics toward people living on the street who refuse offers of help. 

Speaking at the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Breed ticked off statistics that she said illustrated “huge success” in addressing homelessness, saying the city has helped 13,000 people exit homelessness since 2018.

READ MORE: Here’s How Many Homeless Encampments San Francisco Cleared Before APEC

But she also described continuing challenges with people who refuse offers of shelter, alleging that “many are also using tents to sell drugs, for human trafficking and other unfortunate things.”

“The more resources we commit to this, the more we will see the dividing line between those who want support and those who will not or cannot accept help in any way,” Breed added. “So far this year, our homeless outreach teams have conducted operations and brought 1,500 people into shelter. That's a huge number, but that's only 37% of the people they encounter.” 

A collection of personal belongings and tents line a city street.
Two people talk on the curb by a homeless encampment in the Tenderloin. | Source: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Breed’s comments come as the city fights a lawsuit filed by the non-profit Coalition on Homelessness, which accused officials in September 2022 of violating federal precedent and illegally destroying property during encampment sweeps. In December 2022, U.S. Magistrate Donna Ryu imposed an injunction barring the city from enforcing specific laws against sitting and lodging in the street. 

In August, a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel acknowledged that people who refuse genuine offers of shelter could not be defined as “involuntarily homeless” and, as such, are not protected by the injunction.

In late September, Breed then announced the resumption of enforcement of the so-called sit-lie laws against people who decline shelter or are already housed. 

More than 4,000 people sleep on San Francisco’s streets on any given night, according to the most recent federally mandated “point-in-time” count. 

According to a city homelessness data dashboard, there were 508 tents and other impromptu structures in San Francisco in November, compared to 609 in July and 571 in April. 

The San Francisco Department of Emergency Management said earlier this week that the roughly 16% decrease in tents between July and November was a result of ongoing shelter placements, arrests of people for dealing and using drugs, and the new legal guidance issued in October that allowed police to enforce anti-camping laws in some cases.