S.F. Has a Plan for Homeless Problem

By Lee Romney, LA Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — City officials announced an ambitious 10-year plan Wednesday aimed at one of the nation’s most intractable homelessness problems, saying they hope to “abolish chronic homelessness” by replacing emergency shelters with permanent housing that includes supportive services.

The new plan, which Bush administration officials have praised as a potential national model, would try to move the most desperate street people out of shelters and into permanent housing where they could receive treatment for addiction, mental illnesses and other chronic health problems.

“It’s a significant day in San Francisco,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom, who campaigned last year on a pledge to attack the problem aggressively. “We’re moving … toward a goal and desire not to manage but to end homelessness. It’s brilliant in its simplicity, if we have the courage to change.”

For years, San Francisco has poured funds into social and medical services for the homeless while dealing separately with the issue of housing. That approach, officials say, has proved to be inefficient.

The city government spends about $200 million a year on helping the homeless. Of San Francisco’s estimated 15,000 homeless, 3,000 who are defined as “chronically homeless” use up about 63% of the money, said former San Francisco Supervisor Angela Alioto, who led the effort to develop the new plan.

The care of one chronically homeless person using shelters for housing, hospital emergency rooms for medical treatment, or jails, where inmates also receive medical services, costs $61,000 a year, city officials estimate. Permanent supportive housing, including treatment and care, would cost $16,000, they say.

Providing services more efficiently for the chronically homeless would free funds that could be used to help the other 12,000 people who are homeless for shorter periods of time, officials hope.

Mark Trotz, who directs a small, but highly touted, supportive-housing program for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said the trick would be reallocating money from the criminal justice and emergency medical systems to pay for more supportive housing.

“It’s a matter of us waking up and realizing that we’re spending the money anyway, but we’re spinning our wheels,” he said.

(To read the rest, click the title)

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