Cooking the Books on Homelessness Stats

A civil grand jury in San Francisco (which readers should understand served as an advisory group and was not associated with any court case), recently found (PDF) that "The Homeless Have Homes, But They Are Still On the Street."

In its detailed report (PDF), the grand jury also inadvertently revealed just how wildly overestimated statements made by the media and politicians are about the degree of homelessness in the US.

Among other things, the group found that most of the homeless have a city-funded home. This would mean that they're not, well, "homeless."

In a column about the report, C.W. Nevius noted that city officials agree (bold is mine):

The mayor and others are now admitting what the grand jury reported -- that a majority of those on the streets are not homeless.

The head of the city's homeless program, Dariush Kayhan, estimates that 50 to 75 percent of street people live in supportive housing.

"We just warehouse addicts," said the grand jury's Stuart Smith. "Granted, it is a nicer place for them, but it doesn't address the problem.

The grand jury's detailed report also says that:

... the city is now spending $186 million a year on homelessness, six times what was spent in 1993-94.

That astonishing amount is nowhere near the whole story. The group further noted that the $186 million "excludes the cost of County Adult Assistance Program welfare grants, emergency medical response, hospitalization, jail costs, most city management and overhead functions, and much else." That is, the true cost, if it could be determined, would come in a lot higher.

A bit of number-crunching shows just how out-of-control the city's homeless program spending really is:

  • The report says that the city had 6,377 homeless in 2007 -- a decline, by the way, of 26% since 2002.
  • The direct costs alone to the city per homeless person are ..... (sit down) ..... over $29,000 a year.
  • Yet, Nevius reports that not much has been accomplished beyond the "warehousing" noted earlier. In fact, people are still asking, "... can't someone stop the panhandling? And, given all the programs and services, is it unreasonable to ask those who are being given supportive housing to start making some effort to be self-sufficient?"

This is San Francisco we're talking about, so that question is up in the air.