Blaming the Homeless for San Francisco’s Homelessness Crisis

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

San Francisco, like many US cities, faces a growing housing crisis. The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) is tasked with providing housing but its attempts have not been successful. The housing authority maintains that the high number of vacancies in its supportive housing program is normal and that the department is doing everything it can to fill them. Randy Shaw’s Beyond Chron article documents the backlash HSH has faced, offering a perspective not provided by corporate news outlets.

Shaw focuses on HSH’s Adult Coordinated Entry program (ACE), which is intended to help homeless individuals navigate through the system to fill vacancies through San Francisco’s nonprofit master lease single room occupancy housing, which would provide permanent supportive housing for these individuals. However, bureaucratic roadblocks in the implementation of ACE have worked to prevent homeless individuals from receiving housing units, creating a glut of vacancies that should be available for housing the unhoused. HSH identifies a number of reasons for the problem. HSH claims that housing providers place significant barriers, including document requirements and an extensive leasing process. In addition, HSH points to a high number of units in supportive housing buildings that are currently “offline,” or unavailable. The mechanisms for tracking vacancies in supportive housing are inadequate, and clients already housed in shelter-in-place hotels are refusing offers for ACE housing units.

However, according to the Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC), which has leased rooms for the homeless since 1999, these explanations don’t hold up. The THC clarifies that they have not added any new barriers that would make it more difficult for people to fill vacancies and they frequently notify HSH of new vacancies. The THC also notes that the number of offline units does not really matter when compared to the large number of online units that are, in fact, available for use.

While coverage in the selected independent news emphasized HSH failures in handling the problem of vacant rooms that could be used for the homeless and offered a solution to the problem, corporate news coverage on the issue was less detailed and less truthful about the homeless crisis in California. For example, Christopher Ruffo’s article, published by the conservative Heritage Foundation, uses strong language such as “San Francisco is falling apart” in order to critique progressive policies and instill fear in the public. The article dismisses the ACE policy as one bound to fail and, instead urges a focus on mental health and drug rehabilitation. This approach promotes fears of a failing city and places blame on the homeless population instead of the system. Another story, published by the San Francisco Public Press, sheds more light on the problem with a focus on the mayor, using evidence, statistics, and quotes from the mayor’s office. It concludes by discussing an upcoming ordinance and does well in holding the mayor’s policies accountable for the failure of coordinated placement. By contrast, a third article, published by the San Francisco Examiner focuses on the current HSH director, and includes quotes that attempt to minimize the problem. Corporate coverage leaves room for misunderstandings of the problem by placing blame on homeless people themselves and ignoring problems in the coordinated placement policy.

Source: Randy Shaw, “San Francisco’s Failed Homeless Strategy,” Beyond Chron, February 23, 2021,

Student Researchers: India Berry and Rory Lipsky (Queens College, City University of New York)

Faculty Evaluator: Roopali Mukherjee (Queens College, City University of New York)