Back in May a coalition of editors from 70 newspapers, blogs, radio stations, and TV channels met to discuss how to “flood” San Francisco on a single day with coverage concerning issues around homelessness. (many other publications also published their own content independently). The San Francisco Chronicle has collected many of the stories on a separate section of its site, and you can also browse #SFhomelessproject. There are timelines, infographics, photo essays, videos, and many heart-wrenching stories about women and children living on the streets. Probably the worst part is seeing how bad the problem was in the '70s and '80s, and how it hasn’t grown better.
The coverage is meant to be solutions-orientated, meaning that in addition to addressing the problem, the stories should propose ideas for reducing the number of people living on the streets. Many of the ideas could transfer to other cities around the world. London, for instance, has around 8,000 sleeping rough every year, while Manchester has twice as many people sleeping rough this year as compared to last.
Some ideas are radically innovative. Some ideas seem misguided at best. Here are a few that caught my eye.
Providing free mobile showers
This project is not new but it’s getting a lot of attention. The Lava Mae is a retrofitted MUNI bus that travels around the city to give private restrooms and hot showers to people who don’t have access to them. The bus uses city water from hydrants and hands out donated toiletries.
The idea here is that giving homeless residents access to this kind of basic sanitation, no questions asked, not only provides a compassionate public service, but it also might be able to help people feel more confident about attending school or going to a job interview. [SF Gate, Lava Mae, AJ+]
Opening a community computer centre
Craigslist’s Craig Newmark has done more than just offer a free place online for people to find cheap places to live. He chimes in on how he built a tech lab in San Fran's Tenderloin neighbourhood, where many services for homeless residents are located. The lab provides free internet access and career counselling and also trains people in tech-related fields like computer repair. [CNBC]
Addiction is treated alongside homelessness
In most cities, supportive housing will only accept residents who are clean — those who have already graduated from addiction programmes. If they relapse, they’re back on the streets. There’s another, more radical approach, named “Housing First”, where all homeless residents are admitted into transitional housing, then work to treat their addiction issues. This approach has been famously championed in Salt Lake City, where chronic homelessness has been virtually eliminated.
A "Wet House" in Seattle allows homeless alcoholics a place to stay and keep drinking. Could it work here? pic.twitter.com/Jrt3telqFh
— carolyn tyler (@ctylerabc7) June 28, 2016
For alcoholics, this kind of housing is called a “wet house” or “bunks for drunks” and ABC7 visits one in Seattle that could work as a model for San Francisco. Residents praise the programme not only for giving them a comfortable place to live while they deal with addiction, but also for providing a safe place to drink where they’re not exposed to more crime. Apparently, this type of approach works even if residents don’t get sober, simply because the city saves so much money on services. Too bad SF Mayor Ed Lee is against it. [ABC7]
Housing people with an algorithm
You have to hand it to Mother Jones for attempting to tie together the tech world and the homelessness crisis with the grabbiest headline. “Could This Silicon Valley Algorithm Pick Which Homelessness People Get Housing?” sounds like a weirdly cold and determinate way to decide who gets housing. But the idea is much like the argument for how paying for preventative care reduces medical costs down the road:
The algorithm, known as the Silicon Valley Triage Tool, draws on millions of pieces of data to predict which homeless individuals will use the most public services like emergency rooms, hospitals, and jails. The researchers behind the project calculate that identifying and quickly housing 1,000 of these high-cost people could save more than $19 million a year—money that could be rolled into providing more housing for homeless people.
It makes sense. By selecting and housing the individuals who are more likely to drain the city of funds through public services — an estimate from the study claimed that chronically homeless residents cost cities an average of $83,000 (£61k) per year, much more than it would cost to house them—the city can save enough money to put those funds towards more long-term solutions. [Mother Jones]
Give people vouchers for subsidised rent
A federal programme called Section 8 is known for giving out vouchers that allow lower-income residents to live in any apartment — not just designated public housing projects — at rents that are up to 70 per cent lower than the market rate. This has been proven to work in many communities, but the programme is underfunded at the federal level and many Bay Area landlords refuse to accept the vouchers. [Fusion]
Turn homelessness into a game
I applaud BuzzFeed for what they are trying to do. I think they are attempting to create empathy with this game, which is kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure for pretending that you’re homeless and need to find a place to sleep.
— BuzzFeed SF (@BuzzFeedSF) June 29, 2016
I see that the project is trying to address the lack of emergency shelters but that’s not really what I got from it. I found the execution to be more than a little tone deaf. [BuzzFeed]
Build more housing
This solution is very obvious, but there isn’t a great deal of agreement when it comes to how the city can add critical density to its streets. Here’s a simple budget proposal from the Coalition on Homelessness, along with the financial guidelines for how the city can develop a revenue source that fuels the construction of permanent housing solutions, and gets families into homes fast. [48hills]