What the Fuck is Wrong With San Francisco? – Homelessness

Henlo frens. I’m on day 8 of this elimination diet (no dairy, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, gluten, corn, soy, citrus, or nightshade vegetables) and I’m honestly angry, tired, and irritable all of the time. Plus headaches and joint pain. If you know me at all, you may be asking what’s different about that? Nothing, except all the things I rely on to bring me joy in this dark, horrid place are now off limits. Except for my vape pen. And dick. Luv u both.

So, this is probably the perfect time to start a X-part series I’m calling What the Fuck is Wrong With San Francisco? This is a guide for people who are new to SF politics. It’s extremely biased, and will focus on the things I think are important from my perspective. I hope you enjoy it. Part one addresses our homelessness epidemic.

What the Fuck is Wrong With San Francisco? – Homelessness

Nearly 10,000 people are currently homeless in SF, according to a 2019 Point in Time (PIT) count. Between 2017 and 2019 SF’s homeless population grew 30% and our “chronically homeless” population, aka on the streets more than a year, increased by 35%. The vast majority of SF’s homeless are chronically homeless. PIT counts may underestimate homelessness by between two and three times. About a third of our homeless live in shelters, a third on the street, and the rest are split among their cars or mental hospitals or rehabs or other options. 

People sleeping in their cars, RVs or vans made up around two thirds of the increase in unsheltered homeless people in SF between 2017 and 2019. A recent SF survey of the homeless showed that 35% of unsheltered homeless people lived in about 600 vehicles, up from 13% in 2015. 

Who are SF’s homeless?

Contrary to popular belief, almost no one moves to SF to become homeless to take advantage of our “generous services.” 

In 2017 89 percent of people experiencing homelessness in the Bay Area reported living in their county for one or more years. In 2018 Tipping Point hired researchers to survey 300 homeless people. Tipping Point found that of SF’s homeless:

  • 21%+ were born and raised in San Francisco
  • 50%+ had lived in San Francisco for at least a decade
  • 66%+ of Black homeless San Franciscans had lived in San Francisco for at least a decade

Also, what generous services? Our mental health services are underfunded and hard-to-access. Our shelter system always has a 1,000-person long wait list. Maybe you mean the police, who routinely steal homeless people’s tents and throw them away. 

Another myth is that most homeless people have a substance abuse disorder or a mental illness. While rates are higher than average, they’re still not over half. And many people who work in homelessness point out that homelessness itself causes and exacerbates substance abuse disorders and mental illness. 

Why is homelessness so high in SF?

Because regular housing costs so damn much that poor folks can’t afford it and SF refuses to build enough shelter beds or permanent supportive housing to make up the difference. 

McKinsey: “The combination of a long-standing housing-affordability crisis, insufficient inventory, and a lack of system-level and regional coordination means the Bay Area has failed to sufficiently stem inflows, increase exits, and effectively navigate those experiencing homelessness to lasting solutions. At its core, the solution to homelessness is a home. The Bay Area must expand the housing supply available to extremely low-income households to keep people in their homes and increase exit opportunities into permanent housing solutions.”

“In the city’s exceedingly expensive housing market, it’s hard for anybody to move up the housing ladder, let alone formerly homeless people,” Heather Knight wrote for the Chronicle. 

San Francisco’s homeless agree:

We don’t have enough shelter beds for the same reason we don’t have reasonably priced apartments: NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard). 

Every. Single. Time. SF officials propose a new homeless shelter or “navigation center” aka a fancier homeless shelter with services neighbors try their hardest to block it and often succeed. 

The costs of community opposition is part of why SF’s only added 400 units of permanent supportive housing since 2017. And it’s part of why every unit of permanent supportive housing costs an average of $700,000 and can take up to seven years to build. The city spends nearly $100 million on around 8,000 rat- and mold-infested units, plus rent subsidies and eviction prevention.

Why are neighbors allowed to stall or block new homeless shelters on land they don’t own? That’s a great question that we’re going to get to in the “Discretionary Review” part of What the Fuck is Wrong With San Francisco? Stay tuned. 

Remember earlier when I said I hoped you will enjoy this series? I was lying. I hope it makes you really, really angry. Angry enough to get involved in efforts to oust our lying, sack-of-shit “progressive” Supervisors.


This is part one of a series. See parts onetwothree, four, and five.


  1. Nicholas Weininger

    I have only one quibble with this: when evaluating claims like “generous services” it is always good to ask, compared to what? Like, do other cities have more or less fully funded mental health services? How long are their shelter waiting lists relative to homeless population size? Are their police more or less likely to harass homeless people and take their stuff?

    Honest questions. I have no data source.

  2. Dale Fletter

    Good start. More citations would be nice. For example last time I did a deep dive into SF homelessness I came up with a figure of about 66% who had either substance abuse or mental health conditions. Now that may be due to the fact that merely being homeless will precipitate one or the other.

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