Sep 7, 2023 - News

San Francisco looks to scale up interim supportive housing

Photo of the front exterior of the San Francisco City Hall with people gathered in the front

People experiencing homelessness line up to receive food in downtown San Francisco on April, 14, 2022. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

San Francisco is looking to expand a new model for interim supportive housing as it struggles to address ongoing homelessness in the city.

Why it matters: Studies have found that this type of housing can serve as a cost-effective solution that meets demands for safe and flexible housing and continuous service engagement. They also provide a place to stay for those waiting to secure permanent housing, which can take years.

Driving the news: State Sen. Josh Becker (D-San Mateo) is sponsoring legislation advocated for by nonprofit housing developer DignityMoves to make it easier to scale up interim housing on unused land.

Context: In emergency shelters, people often lack a sense of safety or privacy. But moving straight into permanent housing doesn't guarantee long-term stability — the toll of living on the streets can interfere with people's ability to live on their own, according to DignityMoves founder and CEO Elizabeth Funk.

  • "If you're worried about where you're going to get your next meal and whether you're going to get attacked, you're not in the mental and emotional state" to fully access clinical services or interview for a job, Funk told Axios.

Details: The transitional models, which aim to bridge that gap, typically offer a private room and access to support services — such as case management, health care and internet — on a temporary basis, anywhere from a few months to two years.

  • DignityMoves partnered with San Francisco to launch a complex on a lease of vacant land at 33 Gough St. last year.
  • It contains 70 private rooms; each cost around $32,000 to make and comes with a bed, desk, heating and locked door. The site also features a computer lab and dining spaces.
  • The extimated 95 people who live there are expected to stay from 30 to 180 days, Funk said.

What they're saying: "Obviously, permanent housing, we need a lot more of that. Question is: What's going to be our waiting room?" Funk told Axios. "I think it's a very obvious missing tool in cities' toolkits, and it's catching hold fast."

Yes, but: Even this model doesn't necessarily address unhoused people's anxieties and fears about lacking a pathway to permanent housing, researchers note.

The big picture: Other Bay Area cities are operating similar complexes — including Bridge Housing Communities in San José, LifeMoves in Mountain View and Delta Landing in Pittsburg.

  • Deborah Bouck, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, confirmed to Axios that the city is looking to replicate the model in other neighborhoods.
  • In a March statement announcing his state Senate bill, Becker called the model "the most hopeful development I've seen to not just address, but actually put an end to our homelessness crisis at scale and with speed."

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