San Francisco's Newly Approved Homeless Plan 'Most Expensive' Ever: Legislative Analysts

The San Francisco City Council voted Oct. 3 to approve a plan extending the lease on a safe parking site at Candlestick Point, south of downtown, for 35 vehicles and those living in them at a cost of nearly $13 million over two years, with residents receiving access to meals, wi-fi, and laundry services.

A homeless man in San Francisco on Feb. 23, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Legislative analysts, in a report, recommended the extension, but suggested the council explore cheaper options next year.

We have a responsibility to keep communities clean and safe,” and this provides us an opportunity to do both,” Shamann Walton, San Francisco supervisor said Sept. 29 in the Homelessness and Behavioral Health Select Committee meeting, which voted unanimously to approve the proposal. “This is an expensive endeavor, but we cannot afford the alternative.”

At issue is the Bayview Vehicle Triage Center, established in January 2022 to provide a safe parking space with amenities for some homeless individuals living in their vehicles.

Officials say they hope, in time, up to 69 vehicles and their owners can use the space, once fire suppression methods and power—only diesel generators, thus far, have been available for limited use—are installed.

Space at the triage center is assigned by invitation only, with the city’s Healthy Streets Operation Center and the San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team managing the process.

Statistics from the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing—the city agency overseeing the site—indicate that 96 individuals from 73 households stayed at the site in the fiscal year 2022–23, with an average stay of 218 days.

The department contracts services with two San Francisco-based nonprofits, the Bayview Hunters Point Foundation—focused on homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health services—and Urban Alchemy, founded to address homeless and transform distressed communities, and is the recipient of several multi-million dollar city contracts for a variety of projects. The groups operate the facility, coordinate referrals, and support groups and activities to facilitate exit strategies for those living there.

Homeless people in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco on Feb. 22, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The former provides two daily meals—prepared fresh and delivered to the site because the lack of power prevents people from cooking—and offers case management, engagement, and exit planning.

Also noted in the analyst’s report were several findings last year that brought into question the role of the foundation. It is one of two contracted nonprofits in the city listed as a cause for “elevated concern” by the city controller, though the report concluded that steps are being taken to address issues raised—including high turnover, lack of compliance with grant agreements, and invoicing for costs not yet incurred.

Urban Alchemy receives the bulk of the funding, with nearly $8 million slated between January 2024 and January 2026. The group is responsible for site maintenance, laundry services, storage, and entry and exit processes.

A representative of the nonprofit spoke at the committee hearing of the need to keep the facility operating, for the benefit of those living and working there.

“This program really, really works. They need this. We need this. Because we all bond together,” Otis Hughes said. “I could be homeless in a situation just like them, but fortunately, I’m not. They help me be a better human being.”

The agreement with the San Francisco-based organization, which was founded in 2018, includes $312,000 in annual rent and approximately $12.2 million in operating costs. Another $900,000 is anticipated for law and parking enforcement costs.

Funding is provided by Proposition C, a gross receipts tax on businesses with revenues of more than $50 million in annual revenue passed by San Francisco voters in 2018.

$400 per Car per Night

Calling the proposal “by far the most expensive homeless response intervention,” the analysts’ report described the cost per vehicle as approximately $140,000 per year, or $400 per night.

Analysts noted the city paid $105 a night in 2021 for a similar site in a different location on San Jose Avenue. However, they said the site—which is now closed—did not have on-site case management, which they estimate at an additional $117 per night.

Critics point out the disparity between paying nearly $12,000 per space as compared to market rent prices in San Francisco—with a median cost of less than $3,000 for a one-bedroom apartment, according to online real estate listing company Zillow.

While the report recommended supervisors explore options to lower costs next year, analysts ultimately decided to recommend the proposed resolution because it supported established city guidelines.

The triage center in question was developed from a 2019 ordinance passed by supervisors directing the homelessness department to establish what they called a Safe Overnight Parking Pilot Program.

Following through, the city identified the parking lot at Candlestick Point State Recreation Area. Approximately $4.6 million in grant funds were spent to prepare the site, including installing perimeter fencing, solar lighting, potable water, portable toilets, and a guard shack, among other things.

There’s a lot that goes into making it a safe, dignified location,” said Emily Cohen, deputy director for the homelessness department, at the committee meeting.

San Francisco City Hall on Feb. 22, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

More than a dozen individuals spoke in support of extending the lease, in person and on the phone, with several telling supervisors that the site has been life-changing for them.

“It makes me feel safe,” one man said. “For me, it works, and we need more of these.”

Several supporters talked of reducing costs when capacity is expanded to allow more vehicles, though one caller questioned the logic of such an assumption.

It’s not working, folks. When has that ever happened in San Francisco?” Bay Area native Russel Marine said. “It costs more per site than my mortgage in San Francisco. The cost is going to go up.”

He also said the spot the city chose is detrimental to public safety, as it is near a park where children play.

Of concern to some opposing the extension of the safe site is the lack of an environmental review for it. The California Environmental Quality Act requires that all projects that could impact the environment undertake a rigorous review process, and none was ever conducted for the site before it was developed—though no comment was made during the committee meeting about such.

One Bayview resident said that things are no better now than before the triage center opened, with inhabited vehicles still parked, though no longer in the same locations.

“All of the things we experienced before are still there,” she said. “They’re just spread across the Bayview.”

Point-in-time count statistics from 2022 revealed 4,400 unsheltered homeless in the city, with 24 percent sleeping in vehicles. A July 2023 count found 1,058 inhabited vehicles.

 Authored by Travis Gillmore via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

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