Despite spending many millions of dollars to address the issue of homelessness in San Francisco, the city got some disappointing news Thursday with the release of the latest (preliminary) point-in-time census count of the homeless.

Preliminary data has been released ahead of the full accounting of the city's homeless population, as observed on one night in late January 2024. It shows a scant 1% decrease in the number of unsheltered homeless people — 4,355 down from 4,397 in January 2022 — who were living in tents or cars, with the number of those residing in vehicles rising nearly 40% in two years.

The worse number comes in the overall count, of homeless individuals both sheltered and unsheltered as of that January night. That was 8,328, up 7% from 7,754 in 2022. An increase in shelter beds has meant that the number of sheltered homeless rose 18% in that time.

Charts via SF Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing

The overall increase indicates both that all the homeless "exits" the city has touted over the last two years, including placements in supportive housing, have been offset by new arrivals and/or people newly experiencing homelessness who were already in the city. And it means that quite a few more new homeless individuals were in the city this past January on top of that.

"More people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco are in shelter than ever before," says the city's Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH), trying to spin the news in a positive way. Overall, the department notes, 39% more homeless people are sheltered in 2024 compared to 2019.

But, again, there are about 300 more of them, overall, than there were in 2019 — 8,328 compared to 8,035 five years ago. And almost 600 more than were counted in January 2022.

This all stands in comparison to Berkeley, which announced a 45% drop in its unsheltered population today, and a 20% overall decrease in homelessness — but, similarly to SF, Oakland saw a 9% increase in overall homelessness since 2022, according to their preliminary count.

Now we know why Mayor London Breed was quick to pull out another, more positive figure to publicize last week, which is that the number of tent encampments in the city is at a five-year low. That is based on a quarterly count by the city's Healthy Streets Operations Center, which found that there were 360 tents and encampment structures citywide as of April — a 41% decrease since July 2023.

The point-in-time count preliminary report also cites that the number of individuals residing in tents and makeshift structures was down 13% compared to 2022, but that is offset by the rise in vehicle-based homelessness.

HSH spins this as the "lowest street homelessness level in ten years."

Chart via HSH

The number of homeless youth — defined as those under the age of 24 — also rose slightly overall in San Francisco, from 1,118 to 1,193. But HSH stresses that the unsheltered youth population was down 9%, and the sheltered number was up 87%.

And the mayor had teased out the figure on homeless families on Wednesday, noting that it has nearly doubled in two years. The count of homeless families in the city was up 94% to 437 — which HSH attributes partly to "new targeted efforts to better identify homeless families."

The number of individuals being described as chronically homeless also increased by 9% this year compared to 2022, to 2,928 people.

"We are working every day to move people off our streets and into shelter, housing, and care," said Mayor London Breed in a statement following the release of the numbers. "Our City workforce is dedicated to making a difference, and we will keep working to get tents off our streets, bring people indoors, and change the conditions in our neighborhoods."

These latest numbers are of course bad news for Breed's reelection campaign, given the hundreds of millions of dollars the city has been throwing at the homelessness crisis since her tenure began in 2019. As the Chronicle notes today, spending on homelessness rose from $284 million in the 2018-19 fiscal year to $676 million in 2022-23, and even hit $1 billion at the height of the pandemic with the aid of federal funds.

A damning city audit came out last November that found a widespread lack of oversight of HSH funds, and a lack of coordination between nonprofits and street outreach teams. It also found that the Department of Public Health failed to adequately monitor its contracts in recent years, with one street team operating without a contract for over a year.

Stay tuned for some immediate attacks to fly in from Breed's challengers in the November race, and for the above figures to get thrown around by the other campaigns on a weekly or daily basis for the next six months.

Previously: Mayor Breed Touts New Numbers Saying SF Tents and Encampments at a Five-Year Low

Photo via UCSF