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Searching for the Hows, Whats and Whys of Homelessness

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A homeless man begs for change on December 10, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

As part of SF Project Homeless, a week of coordinated media coverage on homelessness in the Bay Area, KQED asked our listeners what questions they have about homelessness. We received more than 1,200 responses, with questions ranging from what are the root causes of homelessness to how to respond when someone is passed out on the sidewalk. In this hour, we’ve gathered a group of people who work with the homeless across a variety of disciplines to answer those questions.

Interview Highlights

On What Causes Homelessness

“We have a poverty problem in this country. Thirty percent of Americans are at or near the poverty level. When you have that level of poverty, you’re not going to eliminate homelessness; you’re fixing homelessness on the other end. If we had the kind of affordable housing funding we had way back, decades ago, it’d be a different picture. If the minimum wage paid what it paid decades ago, instead of half what it did in 1980 in terms of buying power, we’d have a different picture. So we’re essentially bailing the tide out.” – Kevin Fagan

On Other Cities Sending Homeless People to the Bay Area

“Through my years of coverage, I’ve visited homeless enclaves all over the country. Every city says that people are sending their homeless people to them, even cold cities. The weather’s good out here, so you get a few more. But I don’t think there’s a giant influx of people coming out here … I just don’t buy the idea that if you do better, you’re going to become the Disneyland of Homelessness.” -Kevin Fagan


Kevin Fagan, reporter, San Francisco Chronicle

Scott Prentice, program coordinator, SF Homeless Outreach Team

Ken Reggio, executive director, Episcopal Community Services

Dr. Pamela Swedlow , director of behavioral health, Tom Waddell Urban Health Clinic


On Why San Francisco’s Homeless Problem Seems So Bad

“It is very visible here, I think in part because we’re in such a small confined space. The more we develop the city, the more people will come out of the shadows and become more visible.” -Scott Prentice

“We have the most visible homeless problem in the country, because it’s right downtown.” -Kevin Fagane

On Whether to Call 9-1-1 or 3-1-1

“If [the person] appears to be in any type of distress whatsoever or you have any doubts whatsoever, just call 9-1-1. An ambulance can respond much faster than the homeless outreach team. If the person’s okay, the ambulance or police responder may just call us afterwards.

Personally, I’m more interested in connecting people to services. I encourage people to call 3-1-1 and get in touch with the [Homeless Outreach Team] if they’re concerned about someone on the street.” -Scott Prentice

On How SF’s Homeless Outreach Team Responds to Calls

“We’ll send somebody out, hopefully that day, to check on them. We’ll come back in, we’ll discuss them, we’ll reengage them time and time again until we’ve built a relationship with that person, and then we’ll try our best to either get them into a shelter or medical care.” -Scott Prentice

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