Critics Warned the Largest Tax Increase in San Francisco History Would Be Ill-Spent. It’s Now Funding $60,000 Tents for the Homeless.
When San Francisco voters were considering a 2018 ballot measure that would impose the largest tax increase in city history to fund homelessness services, critics warned that the initiative’s spending plan was vague and unaccountable. Now, a chunk of that money is going to fund some very expensive tents.
On Wednesday, staff for the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing went before the Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Appropriations Committee to request $20 million over the next two fiscal years to continue operating six “safe sleeping” tent encampments.
This safe sleeping program was launched early in the pandemic as a way of getting people out of crowded shelters, and into open-air, socially distanced camping sites where the homeless had access to showers, meals, and around-the-clock security.
The total cost of the program in its first year was roughly $18.2 million for around 260 tents, which the San Francisco Chronicle notes is about $61,000 per tent per year or twice the median cost of an apartment in the city.
Those high costs, and city staff’s proposal to continue funding what was supposed to be a temporary, pandemic-era program, raised eyebrows among supervisors at Wednesday’s meeting.
The $20 million being requested for the program “seems like an exorbitant amount for something that we’re trying to transition [away from] as quickly as possible,” said Supervisor Ahsha Safai at the hearing. “When you factor in 260 beds at $15 million for year one, that’s $57,000 per tent.”
Gigi Whitley, a Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing staffer, told Safai that of the $18 million the city had spent on safe sleeping sites, about $1.2 million was for the showers, $3 million was for providing meals on-site, and $13 million was going to provide round-the-clock staffing and security.
That $13 million was needed for the city to be “good neighbors and good stewards,” said Whitley, telling Safai that 24-hour staffing was “necessary so that someone doesn’t leave the site and go into the neighborhood and maybe establish their tent there.”
The $15 million the department was asking for over the next fiscal year reflected expected cost reductions, she said, citing assumed savings from streamlin
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