New San Francisco Program to Help Addicted Homeless

Officials in San Francisco, Calif., launched a new 10-year plan designed to help homeless individuals by providing support services that include permanent housing and treatment for addiction, the Los Angeles Times reported July 1.

The program, which the Bush administration said could serve as a national model, aims to eliminate chronic homelessness by replacing emergency shelters with permanent housing that also provides social and medical services.

“It’s a significant day in San Francisco,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom. “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.”

Up until now, the city has spent $200 million a year on helping the homeless. According to city statistics, there are about 15,000 homeless people in the city, 3,000 of whom are chronically homeless and receive 63 percent of the city’s spending on homelessness.

San Francisco officials estimate that one chronically homeless person who uses shelters for housing, hospital emergency rooms for medical treatment, or jails, where medical services are also provided, costs the city an average of $61,000 a year.

By comparison, permanent supportive housing under the new plan would cost about $16,000 a year. The remaining funds would be used to help people who are homeless for a shorter period of time.

“It’s a matter of us waking up and realizing that we’re spending the money anyway, but we’re spinning our wheels,” said Mark Trotz, who directs a small, supportive-housing program for the San Francisco Department of Public Health.