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San Francisco Homelessness Up 7% Despite Decline in Street Camping

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Tents line Fulton Street near City Hall on April 5, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The overall number of people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco increased 7% to more than 8,300 people since the last count in 2022, according to data released Thursday.

Every two years, the federal government requires cities to survey their unhoused populations for one night, called the Point in Time Count. The data is used to allocate funding to local governments to spend on homeless services, such as shelters, and is generally believed to be an undercount.

Results released Thursday found that while the overall total number of homeless people has climbed, the number of people in San Francisco sleeping in tents, cars and RVs — or what’s known as “unsheltered homelessness” — decreased 1% since 2022 and 16% since 2019. In January this year, volunteers and city workers counted 2,912 people sleeping unsheltered on San Francisco’s streets.

Nearly half, or 48%, of the city’s more than 8,300 unhoused residents are now living in shelters. In 2022, there were 43%.


“As we grapple with the repercussions of the housing crisis, it is crucial that we continue to invest in the city’s homelessness response system that includes programs to problem solve and prevent people from ever having to experience homelessness,” San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) executive director, Shireen McSpadden, said in a statement. “The Point in Time Count’s data will inform our programs and our mission to make homelessness rare, brief and one-time.”

However, HSH also found a significant and disturbing spike in the number of families who are experiencing homelessness. There were 437 unhoused families counted in 2024, up 94% since 2022.

“The loss of COVID protections and end of eviction moratorium absolutely is driving some of these numbers,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness. “We continue to underinvest in affordable housing, and we need to restore the nation’s commitment to low-income housing. We will continue to see homelessness increase until we get serious about this issue.”

San Francisco has increased shelter availability by 60% since 2018, according to HSH. Earlier this year, officials announced they were bringing 300 shelter beds back online, returning the shelters to their pre-pandemic size after cutting capacity to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

As of Thursday, 108 people were still on the waiting list.

“It’s not great to see an increase, but it could have been much, much worse,” said Shanti Singh, communications and legislative director for Tenants Together. She said the city’s right-to-counsel program, which provides all renters access to legal representation, and rent relief program played a role in preventing even more people from experiencing homelessness.

According to city data, over 5,400 San Franciscans avoided homelessness since 2019 because of the right-to-counsel program. The emergency rent relief program prevented 10,000 evictions, a city analysis released in April found.

Along with opening more temporary and permanent housing, city teams placed around 1,500 people from the streets into shelter or housing last year — 22% more than the year before, according to homeless street operations data released earlier this year. It tracked a 17% drop in the number of tents on city streets.

The city made a major push to clear downtown encampments ahead of the APEC summit in November. As of April, the city counted 513 encampments.

“We are working every day to move people off our streets and into shelter, housing and care,” Mayor London Breed said in a press statement. “This is safer and healthier for people on our streets, and it is better for all of us that want a cleaner and safer San Francisco.”

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Those operations have come under fire, however, after advocates for people experiencing homelessness sued the city in 2022 for violating its own policies around how it clears homeless encampments.

That court battle is currently paused until the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a similar case in Grants Pass, Oregon. Still, the Ninth Circuit in 2023 agreed to uphold an injunction that allowed the city to clear encampments so long as it follows its policies, including offering shelter to people and that those who refuse offers of shelter can be required to move.

But helping people afford to stay in their homes permanently to slow the rate of homelessness is an ongoing struggle in the Bay Area’s expensive housing market. Officials at HSH estimate that for every person the department resolves homelessness for annually, three people become homeless.

It’s a dilemma shared by other communities.

A report on Santa Clara County’s efforts found the rate of new people falling into homelessness spiked 24% last year, even as the county housed more people than ever before in a single year. Service providers in Santa Clara County point to ongoing rent increases, stagnant wages and the expiration of pandemic-era protections as the source of the increase.

Meanwhile, across the Bay, total homelessness across Alameda County dipped 3% since the last count — marking the first decrease in nearly a decade, according to preliminary data from its Point in Time count — dropping to 9,450 from 9,747 unhoused people in 2022. Oakland experienced an increase in the total number of people experiencing homelessness, though the increase was at a slower rate than in past years.

After the count in January, teams of researchers in San Francisco followed up with survey respondents to gather more information about their demographics, such as race, gender and sexual identities. That more detailed report will be released later this summer.

“Our city workforce is dedicated to making a difference,” Breed said. “We will keep working to get tents off our streets, bring people indoors and change the conditions in our neighborhoods.”

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