May 7, 2024 - News

SF's tent count hits new five-year low, mayor says

Photo of homeless tents lining a street sidewalk

A homeless encampment in the Tenderloin District last year. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

San Francisco's quarterly count of tents used for sleeping outside hit a five-year low after dropping 41% since July, Mayor London Breed announced Monday.

Why it matters: San Francisco has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country, per a July report from the city's controller office. The tent count is one way to assess the city's efforts to clear homeless encampments and place people in shelters.

State of play: The count, conducted at the end of April, recorded 361 tents and structures across the city.

  • That's down from 609 in July last year, which was the last count before the city was embroiled in a legal dispute over its ability to clear encampments.
  • The city also said it has placed 460 people directly from encampments into shelters since the start of 2024.

What they're saying: "This is not easy work, but it is making a difference," Breed said in a press release. "We are continuing to use all of the resources we have and working to add more, but there is a lot more to do."

Yes, but: Local homelessness advocates have claimed in lawsuits that the city violates unhoused people's rights by seizing and destroying their property, threatening their physical and mental health and "punishing residents who have nowhere to go."

  • The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area has also accused the city of underinvesting in emergency services for people "who cycle in and out of homelessness while trying to get back on their feet."

The big picture: A federal judge issued an order last year temporarily limiting San Francisco's ability to clear encampments. An appeals court later ruled that the city can do so if a person experiencing homelessness rejects a specific shelter offer.

What to watch: The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on whether it's constitutional for cities to ban homeless residents from sleeping outside when shelter space isn't available.

  • In a March amicus brief, City Attorney David Chiu said that while San Francisco does not bar sleeping and lying in all public spaces at all times, Eighth Amendment protections for unhoused people do not strip local jurisdictions of their authority to regulate use of public property.

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