Be the help that is needed

December is a time of renewing commitments to helping homeless and others in need
Homeless camps abound under the Highway 101 entrance ramp, where Cesar Chavez Street meets Petrero Avenue. Photos: Steven Fromtling; Franco Folini

Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari surprised a lot of people earlier this year when he spent a week living on the streets of Fresno, getting firsthand experience of life as a homeless person. Though some critics took him to task for being able to return to his comfortable millionaire lifestyle after a week on the streets, others praised him for shining light on a persistent problem facing nearly all of our cities, and certainly San Francisco: homeless populations in need of shelter, services, and opportunity.

Despite the tremendous success enjoyed by some in San Francisco, the number of homeless in the city has remained about the same.

In mid-2013, the San Francisco Human Services Agency reported that there were 6,436 homeless people in San Francisco, about the same as the 6,455 in 2011. About half of those homeless were without shelter on the streets, with the remainder in shelters, transitional housing, resource centers, residential treatment, jail, or hospitals.

District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell has made homelessness an ongoing focus of his time in office. He has held hearings on the issue, pushed through legislation to increase the city’s homeless outreach staff and added housing opportunities for chronically homeless, and joined San Francisco’s Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates city efforts. Though it’s a commitment that puzzles some people who don’t expect the relatively prosperous District 2 to be a hotbed of homeless problems, Farrell says it’s a problem facing every section of the city (see Farrell interview, page 1).

Farrell has noted that the city spends $165 million a year on homeless issues, and Mayor Ed Lee’s budget for the next two years includes millions more of additional money. Despite the stubbornness of the problem, it is not because of a lack of official attention. In the June 2014 report on San Francisco’s 10-Year Plan to Abolish Chronic Homelessness, Mayor Lee said the city has actually cut in half the number of the chronically homeless (someone who has experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or who has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years and has a disability) and is “on track to exceed the most ambitious goal of building 3,000 new units of permanent supportive housing.”

But even as San Francisco’s leaders take credit for moving thousands of people into permanent shelter or reuniting them with family who can help care for them, the total number of homeless in the city isn’t dropping significantly.

Clearly, official efforts are not the only ones that can be made with respect to the homeless. December is a month that typically sees renewed focus on the ways that individuals, families, and small groups can help others. It could involve helping out at soup kitchens, dropping off food to local churches and food banks, buying food to leave in the collection barrels at the grocery store, making an online donation, or many other actions that remind people how fortunate they are — and remind the people receiving the help that they are not alone.

The need for help to the homeless, needy, and other disadvantaged groups is permanent, year-long, not just during the holiday season. But the holidays do offer more visible opportunities to provide assistance. For some people, it will be a single annual effort; for others, it will spark an ongoing commitment. Either way, homeless advocates can use the help.

The official steps that the city is continuing to take — including using a “housing first” approach to provide some stability to homeless people, and then adding services to deal with problems such as mental illness or substance abuse — are going to continue, and Supervisor Farrell will continue pushing on that front. “Our city has made tremendous progress, but we know there are still far too many living on our streets and in shelters with no place to call home,” Farrell said in June regarding the 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. “We must continue to challenge the status quo and be bold in our approach and vision to end homelessness in San Francisco.”

How to get involved

There are many services and opportunities in San Francisco that welcome — and need — your donations of money and time. This is only a small selection of the many organizations doing good work in the city.

Money and material items aren’t the only thing these organizations need; they also need volunteers, so ask about opportunities for you and your family to become actively involved.


Tenderloin Tessie

Food Runners

San Francisco Food Bank


Delancey Street Foundation
Services for homeless, substance abusers, and ex-convicts.

Raphael House
Assisting families at risk of homelessness.

The Salvation Army
Goods and services for homeless and needy populations.





In addition, many local churches and other religious organizations serve the homeless, low-income, and other needy populations year-round.

St. Dominic’s Catholic Church
The Community Service ministry assists people in crisis, providing food, rent, and other help.
Sister Anne: 415-675-0432

St. Vincent de Paul Church
The St. Vincent de Paul Conference group provides food and comfort to the needy throughout San Francisco all year long.
Catherine: 415-324-7008


San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program
Provide toys to thousands of local disadvantaged children.

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