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Homeless count chaos: Staff will now get new training after recount

A person in a reflective vest hands a cup to a seated individual against a weathered wall at night.
A Code Tenderloin volunteer provides a person with Narcan, an overdose reversal drug, during a count of homeless people. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

San Francisco will launch new training for people tasked with counting the city’s homeless population in the wake of The Standard’s reporting that highlighted widespread confusion in the way the city carries out the count.

During this year’s “point-in-time” count of homeless people, the process was mired in bewilderment for many people involved, from the mayor to volunteers counting people. 

After The Standard’s initial report highlighted the chaos, the city decided to recount four areas in the Tenderloin neighborhood, the area worst-affected by the twin homelessness and drug crises. The city later decided not to use the recount data.

The "point-in-time" count is required in every major city to unlock their share of billions in federal funding to battle homelessness. Critics of the count say it’s wildly inaccurate, but supporters claim it’s a relatively consistent way to track trends in homelessness. 

After The Standard’s string of reports on the disoriented count, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing said Tuesday it will issue new training for volunteers and outreach workers in future counts, starting in two years when the next one is carried out. The department has not released further details on what the new training will involve.

In previous counts, the homelessness department has used a “train-the-trainer” approach, which relies on volunteers and outreach workers training one another. 

Volunteers from the nonprofit Code Tenderloin, whom The Standard accompanied through the SoMa neighborhood during this year’s count, struggled to read the maps they were given. At one point, a homeless person walked past the group without being counted as they tried to figure out which way to go.

A group of five people stand by a street at night, some focused on reading a paper one person is holding.
A group of Code Tenderloin volunteers struggled to figure out which direction to go during the point-in-time count on Jan. 30. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Some groups engaged with homeless people, which was not supposed to be done. While others determined whether someone was homeless by their appearance, in line with official guidance. Del Seymour, founder of Code Tenderloin, said there was a miscommunication on this matter. 

“We have concerns that the train-the-trainer approach we used … was not sufficient, and we plan to address that in our training plan for our next count,” homelessness department spokesperson Emily Cohen said in a statement. “We do not think this had any material impact on the results of the count.”

During a count conducted in 2022, the city tallied 4,397 people living on San Francisco’s streets, a 3.5% decrease from the count prior. However, the department estimates around 20,000 people experience homelessness in the city over the course of a year. 

David Sjostedt can be reached at