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Homeless encampment numbers reach ‘new low’ as city continues clearing tents, mayor says

An alley with tents, a person rummaging through belongings, scattered trash, and cars in line.
Mayor London Breed attributes the reduction in tents to a legal clarification that allowed police to resume the enforcement of anti-camping laws. | Source: RJ Mickelson/The Standard

Mayor London Breed is touting new numbers that show a record low in homeless encampments and tents across San Francisco.

There were 360 tents and structures counted during the city's quarterly count at the end of April, representing a 41% reduction since July 2023, Breed said in a press release Monday. During a count in late February, the city counted 385 tents.

The average number between the two counts in 2024—373 tents—is the lowest recorded since the city started tracking the data point in 2018, according to the Mayor's Office.

Breed attributed the reduction to a federal legal clarification that allowed police to resume the enforcement of anti-camping laws when a homeless person has reasonable access to shelter. She also credited the addition of new shelter beds and efforts to fill vacant housing units.

Person in yellow vest pulls on blue tent sitting in front of wall with graffiti
A San Francisco Department of Public Works employee removes a tent during a homeless encampment clearing. | Source: Philip Pacheco for The Standard

"This is not easy work, but it is making a difference," Breed said in a statement. “We are continuing to use all of the resources we have and working to add more, but there is a lot more to do."

Since the first of this year, the city has conducted 242 encampment-clearing operations, during which outreach workers made contact with 1,530 homeless people, the Mayor's Office said.

Following a federal ruling that limited the city’s ability to forcibly move homeless encampments in December 2022, the city saw the number of homeless encampments rise—though more people were entering shelters, according to city data.

In October, following clarification from the federal court that permitted the city to enforce anti-camping laws against people with "reasonable" access to shelter, the police department resumed its enforcement operations.

The city subsequently saw a decrease in the number of people visibly living on the city's streets, but data didn't show a corresponding increase in shelter occupancy.

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, which sued the city over its encampment sweeps, cautioned that the claims of a reduction in tents "does not necessarily mean a reduction in homelessness."

"There is still great unmet need with long waitlists for shelter and housing," Friedenbach said in a statement to The Standard. "Touting a reduction in tents as a result of sweeps is mere political theater."

According to data provided by Breed on Monday, the share of encounters that resulted in a person refusing shelter has spiked by roughly 11% since the first six months of 2023.

Data collected during the city's encampment clearing operations in 2024 shows shelter offers were accepted 30% of the time and refused 60% of the time. The other 10% of the time, people were already sheltered or housed.

During the first six months of 2023, following the federal injunction limiting enforcement of anti-camping laws, a record-low 49% of people reportedly refused services during these outreach operations.

There were 155 people on the waitlist for individual shelter beds Monday morning. Another 372 families were on a separate waitlist for family shelter beds as of last Tuesday.