New Campaign to Reduce Homelessness in San Francisco Aims to Find and Fill Vacant Housing Units

The 'All In' campaign, which launched on Thursday, aims to identity vacant housing units in the city in an effort to address the homelessness crisis. (Kate Wolffe/KQED)

Roughly 50 San Francisco corporations and organizations, including tech giants Airbnb and Google, and the San Francisco Giants, announced their involvement in an ambitious new effort to alleviate the city’s intractable homeless crisis.

The "All In" campaign, which officially launched Thursday during a rally at Duboce Park, aims to mobilize a broad coalition of community members to develop immediate housing solutions for the city’s chronically homeless population.

At the event, vest-clad members of the carpenters union stood with people in blue Goodwill T-shirts and representatives from the tech sector, a rare show of unity on a controversial issue that has long divided San Franciscans.

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At the launch, the coalition outlined its primary objective: to secure a total of 1,100 housing units in all 11 supervisorial districts of the city for homeless people to move into.

Unlike a number of other recent efforts in the city to house the homeless, this initiative won’t focus on building affordable units. Instead, it seeks to identify and fill existing apartments in large buildings that are currently vacant, or to turn space in underused publicly owned buildings and churches into housing.

"There are vacant units in buildings throughout San Francisco," said Daniel Lurie, CEO of Tipping Point Community, the nonprofit behind the new campaign, which started an effort in 2017 to spend $100 million to halve the city’s chronically homeless population by 2022. "We need to talk to every landlord. If you have a unit available, make it available for those that have housing vouchers, that have the ability to pay.”

The campaign, said Lurie, is unique in the diversity of its stakeholders.

"We’re here today to declare the loudest voices will no longer be those that say 'no' to solutions for those experiencing homelessness, but will be those that say 'yes,' " Lurie told the gathering, referencing several recent bitter battles, including the clash over an Embarcadero navigation center.

Lurie also compared today's homeless crisis to the AIDS epidemic that devastated the city's gay population in the 1980s. Conquering homelessness, he said, requires the same level of community mobilization.

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, the Coalition on Homelessness, Glide Memorial Church and the San Francisco 49ers are among the scores of local companies and nonprofits that have signed on to the campaign.

It's still not entirely clear, though, what exactly the group is planning to do. Some partners may contribute money to subsidize rents and fund additional services, Lurie said. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that at least one nonprofit service provider has also pledged to help identify vacant units and access government housing vouchers for veterans and people with disabilities.

"This notion for getting housing for formerly homeless folks into every district in the city is exactly right on, and I want to be as supportive as I can,” said San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents parts of the Mission, Glen Park and Corona Heights neighborhoods.

Mandelman also said he was sure the other supervisors on the board would be supportive, despite the uneven distribution of homeless people in the city.

The latest point-in-time count of the city's homeless population, conducted in January, identified 8,011 people, based on federal counting standards — a 17% increase since 2017. However, the city noted there were nearly 1,800 additional homeless people found in jails, hospitals and rehabilitation facilities, bringing the total to 9,784 — a 30% uptick since 2017.

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