Homelessness in the Media

The walls of Jamahl Mackey’s two-bedroom apartment in Sacramento are bare except for a framed poster of San Francisco and a third-grade school portrait of his son. There isn’t a lot of furniture — a couch, a kitchen table, chairs, just the essentials. But it’s home.

A little over a year ago, after he was laid off from a solar company, home for the single father and his son was a Mitsubishi Galant parked on a rotating list of San Francisco streets, or occasionally a relative’s couch or a motel if there was enough cash. Parking under streetlights, he promised his son he would make things better.

A visit to AT&T Park tends to revolve around the fun and lighthearted — the pungent smell of garlic fries, glimpses of Lou Seal, griping about the price of beer, cheering on the Giants even if this year’s team has been less than inspiring.

But this season has also included a more serious component: homelessness. I got an up-close look during Wednesday’s game against the Rockies (4-0 win for the Giants!) at the sixth pregame ceremony this year that revolved around family homelessness and highlighted the Giants’ partnership with Airbnb to give $300,000 to the cause.

Marsha Sanders, a cosmetics and fragrance manager at Bloomingdale’s in San Francisco, is accustomed to making people feel good about themselves with makeup and skin care. But every year, she helps to make hundreds of homeless kids happier, too — by helping them get ready for school.

She is a quiet but major force behind a backpack drive held by Hamilton Families, a local nonprofit that serves families with children. Among the 15 corporations, schools and other organizations enlisted to assist in the campaign, Sanders’ efforts provide the most — more than 330 last year. Starting in June, she and willing employees are assigned the name of at least one child for whom to shop and a list of goods they’ll need to start school on the right foot. By August, the homework is due: Backpacks filled with pencils, erasers, markers, loose-leaf paper, notebooks, binders, scissors and staplers, among other things.

In a goodwill gesture, the home rental company will donate upward of $250,000 to a local community organization this season.

Airbnb continues to try to mend its relationship with the city of San Francisco, and it may have finally scored a home run.

The home rental company said Wednesday a partnership with the SF Giants baseball club to donate $1,000 for every run scored by the hometown team this baseball season for a maximum contribution of $300,000. Hamilton Families Center, a local homeless services provider, will be the sole beneficiary. Airbnb’s donation mounts to $250,000 and the Giants will take care of the rest, and fortunately for Hamilton Family Center, the SF Giants’ average 300 runs batted in a year.

San Francisco officials made a bold promise Friday, saying that within three years the city will eradicate the problem of family homelessness, housing 800 families and creating a no-wait system of support for those who might face the streets in the future.

It’s a $30 million plan, a public-private partnership with $20 million already in the bank. And city officials and philanthropists all but guaranteed success, despite the considerable challenges ahead.

“This is very straightforward,” said Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, who with his wife, Lynne, are among the major donors to the effort. “It will happen.”

There are more than 1,000 homeless families living in San Francisco right now, but a famous Bay Area CEO and philanthropist wants to all but eliminate the problem in just a few short years by finding housing for families in need.
Salesforce CEO and philanthropist Marc Benioff is actually challenging others to match his $10 million donation to make family homelessness a thing of the past. “There are zip codes in San Francisco that are destinations for success, others a destination for failure,” Benioff said. “We want to make sure every child in San Francisco has the same equal opportunity.”

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is working with technology-industry leaders to raise $30 million for a program aimed at getting homeless families off the streets, seeking to alleviate a problem made worse by soaring housing costs as the city’s economy booms.

Marc Benioff, chief executive officer of Salesforce.com Inc. and a prominent philanthropist in the city, plans to match $10 million in donations for the campaign. The venture already has secured about $10 million from donors including Salesforce and Google’s philanthropic arms; Facebook Inc. co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife, Cari Tuna; Zendesk Inc. CEO Mikkel Svane; angel investor Ron Conway; and the Hellman Foundation, a charity founded by the family of the late financier Warren Hellman.

It’s about time we checked in with Hamilton Families (formerly Hamilton Family Center), the NoPa and Upper Haight-based emergency and transitional housing center for families who are unstably housed. As of last year, the organization has been working toward a lofty goal of ending family homelessness by 2020. And the good news is they’ve made some significant progress.

We spoke with Rachel Kenemore, ‎senior development associate at Hamilton Families, who explained that the organization is working to service a backlog of homeless and at-risk families that has lingered since the recession. From 2007-2013, the number of unstable families in San Francisco more than doubled. In 2013, the number stabilized, but the city was never able to catch up with the increase, leaving a backlog of about 800 families who remain homeless for up to 14 months on average.

A San Francisco-based nonprofit has quadrupled the budget of a program aimed at housing homeless students in The City with the goal of finding 800 families a place to live in the next three years.

Hamilton Families connected 237 families with housing in the 2015-16 school year, according to Debbie Wilber, the nonprofit’s director of development. Throughout the same school year, 2,400 homeless or transitional youths attended class in the San Francisco Unified School District — a little over 300 more than the school year prior.

According to the common stereotype, San Francisco tech companies are full of white guys who grew up in the burbs, went to expensive colleges, and are here only for the high-paying jobs and bars with fancy beer.

Every few months, a new insensitive comment about homeless people goes viral on social media, leading to a new round of recriminations.

In this 360 video, reporter Alex Kantrowitz and BuzzFeed Open Lab fellow Ben Kreimer visited a shelter for homeless families in San Francisco, owned and operated by Hamilton Families. LeAnne Jones told us her story and carried our 360 video camera while taking us (and now you!) on a tour. The shelter houses up to 50 families at a time, helps homeless families transition into permanent housing while providing on-site crisis counseling, therapy, medical services, employment and life skills training, and housing search and financial assistance. ‪#‎SFHomelessproject‬

Maritza y sus 3 hijos, fueron desalojados de su vivienda hace 8 meses, a través de este reportaje te mostraremos cómo gracias al apoyo del Hamilton Families hoy esta familia cuenta con un albergue donde resguardarse cada noche.

San Francisco Homeless Project, forma parte de una campaña mediática donde a partir de hoy, más de 65 medios de comunicación locales, entre los que participa Telemundo 48, harán reportajes especiales para hacer conciencia sobre la terrible problemática de los desamparados en el Área de la Bahía #SFHOMELESSPROJECT.

“How many homeless people are in San Francisco?” “How do people become homeless?” “How can I help homeless people?”

These are just some of the questions people ask Google about homelessness in San Francisco, according to Google Trends. Many of these questions don’t have simple answers, and decades of efforts have not significantly moved the needle. There are more than 6,600 homeless people in the city, many of whom are children. People who experience homelessness often struggle from chronic stress, trauma, and frequent moves, and are unable to take advantage of many educational or economic opportunities.

This Friday, the city of San Francisco will launch a new Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing with Jeff Kositsky at the helm. Kositsky, who has advocated for homeless rights for more than twenty years, most recently headed Hamilton Families, an organization supporting homeless families. We’ll talk with Kositsky about his priorities as the department’s inaugural director, including the city’s goal of establishing six navigation centers to serve homeless around the city in the next two years.

The home is sacred — a practical and spiritual shelter that sustains life.

Yet, every year more than 3 million Americans, many of them children, lose that sanctuary and become homeless, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. They turn car seats into makeshift beds, find temporary respite at crowded shelters, sleep on concrete under garbage-bag tents.

These scenes are so familiar that homelessness in America can seem incurable. In San Francisco, where estimates indicate at least 6,600 people are homeless, finding an affordable and permanent place to call home in the city’s exorbitant housing market is increasingly akin to winning the lottery. Those grueling odds exact a physical and emotional toll on the people who endure them.

San Francisco media is collaborating this week to highlight the causes of and solutions to local homelessness. Multiple local events are also happening today (learn about HandUp’s and Lava Mae’s below). Follow the social media conversation at#sfhomelessproject.

So much of the media we see about homelessness, and specifically the interaction between the technology sector and homelessness, is negative. But in our work every day, we see agencies succeed in helping clients find and stay in permanent housing. Organizations are also using the innovative technology for which the Bay Area is famous to increase their impact.

On a single night in January 2015, the U.S. Department of Housing and Development estimated in its 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report there were 564,708 homeless people in the country. Out of that staggering number, 115,738 were in California, and 6,775 in San Francisco.

San Francisco harbors the seventh largest homeless population among major cities in the United States, with New York and Los Angeles heading that list. So what does being homeless really mean?

Monthly rent: $1,600

Such is a listing that very few prospective tenants would expect to find amid San Francisco’s sizzling real estate market, where the cost of living has famously soared higher than any other major U.S. city and the average monthly rent has reportedly topped $3,000.

But for a certain group of residents, this type of post has become a recent lifeline — and has contributed to The City seeing its sharpest decline in the number of homeless families in nearly a decade.

Just yesterday the mayor of Houston Annise Parker announced that her city had ended veteran homelessness. The announcement is getting a fair bit of attention in the press and online (and deservedly so), but here’s one thing those stories aren’t telling you.

Over the last two years, Houston has also reduced the number of families experiencing homelessness on a given night by 39 percent. Houston leaders attribute this progress to their investment in rapid re-housing. If they’re right, the city has more dramatic declines in its future, because they recently tripled their rapid re-housing capacity.

Mayor Ed Lee continues his housing offensive, with a planned Friday announcement that the city will construct a 101-unit building in the Mission Bay for homeless veterans and low-income families.

The site, at 1150 Third St., will become the first veterans’ project in the long-planned mixed-use development that sits between AT&T Park and the planned Warriors arena. Fifty units will go to veterans and 50 to low-income families, plus one manager unit.

A few dozen moms in the Bay Area were treated to a special Mother’s Day event specifically for homeless moms.

The women had a change to get all dolled up for free.

Hamilton Families brought in hair stylists from Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s to give the women a day of pampering.

For these woman, Mother’s Day started with a breakfast prepared by Chef Jason Glover with Dads that Cook.

Eight-year-old Lucho struggles to stay awake during English class, even though it’s his favorite subject. A student at Sanchez Elementary School, he’s been struggling in school since his father, a single parent, lost his job last year and became homeless. Lucho doesn’t sleep well on the hard cot at the shelter and is stressed about where he might be sleeping next.

Since 2000, Hamilton Families has existed quietly on Hayes Street between Central and Lyon. The pale tan exterior blends in with the street so well that it’s easy to miss the entrance, but behind the glass doors there’s a busy program in place that helps to house homeless families.

We met up with Director of Programs Devra Edelman, who showed us around the Center and gave us a little background on the organization, which has outposts in NoPa and the Tenderloin.

San Francisco is far from solving its housing crisis, but at least one area seems to be coming under control: family homelessness.
After reporting a record-high number of families — 287 — waiting for shelter in April 2013, that number has shrunk 52 percent to 137 families as of April 21, advocates said at a city and school district committee hearing Thursday.

Agencies are crediting the waitlist decrease to a greater availability in public housing, along with more eviction-prevention assistance and rapid rehousing. Family homelessness began to swell in San Francisco in the mid-2000s, with the number of homeless students in the San Francisco Unified School District rising from 950 in 2006 to 2,352 in 2014, said Kevin Truitt, an associate superintendent with the SFUSD.

It’s 10 a.m. on a bright December morning in North Beach, and I’m walking down the pedestrian pathway east of the new library on Columbus Avenue. Approaching its northern end, I come upon two shabbily dressed, unshaven, gray-haired men. The first, standing up and loudly holding forth about something or other, looks oddly familiar. He has a strong face and a formidable nose, like a working stiff in a Truffaut film. The other guy has a big gut and a bushy beard and is sitting on a low ledge. Both are holding 16-ounce cans of malt liquor. A third man is fast asleep under a blanket a few feet away.

I ask the two men if they’d be willing to talk to me about being homeless. “Sure,” says the guy with the prominent nose, his eyes a little fuzzy.

More than a million homeless students attend public schools in the U.S., but the highest percentage is right here in California.

Nine-year-old Unique York now has a place to live, but a year ago, she was one of more than 300,000 homeless kids in California public schools.

Unique’s mother Denise Anderson says her daughter was struggling in school and cried a lot.

“She just couldn’t get her mind set, focused to just do the three pages she needed to do for the night,” Anderson said.

They don’t know it yet, but come Christmas morning, when the three wake up on a mat in an emergency shelter or next to a sibling in a borrowed bed at a short-term housing facility, pretty wrapped packages will hold their hearts’ desires.

In San Francisco, Santa doesn’t skip over kids who are homeless. Every year, Hamilton Families makes sure all the families receiving homeless support get gifts.

Gathering and organizing gifts for the 350 children and 300 adults receiving support isn’t easy. Each child gets three to four gifts and each adult one. And each one needs to be wrapped.

More than 20,000 Bay Area schoolchildren are homeless and in California that rate is twice the national average.

So what are school districts and local governments doing to address the crisis?

Every fifth child in this San Francisco schoolyard starts the day not in a warm and cozy home, but instead on a friend’s couch, or in the backseat of a car or—like 10-year-old Rachel (not her real name)—a family shelter, where getting ready for school in the morning is anything but routine.

Mayor Edwin M. Lee  announced that Google will be giving $2 million in grants to nonprofits working on the behalf of the city’s homeless.

“With this show of 21st Century philanthropy and the many other meaningful gifts including Free Muni for Youth and improving digital connectivity for our residents with free WiFi in the Parks, Google has demonstrated an understanding of the needs of our City and our residents,” Lee said in a statement Thursday.

The money will be divided up between Hamilton Families, Larkin Street Youth Services, and HandUp, according to the Office of the Mayor. All work to “improve conditions for homeless residents.”


After the number of homeless students in San Francisco’s public schools has more than doubled in the last decade to over 2,000, one nonprofit has formed a partnership with the school district to directly respond to those in need through campus visits.

School social workers and teachers now have a hotline to call when learning a student is homeless or facing eviction. Within three days, case managers with Hamilton Families, a nonprofit providing emergency shelter and services for homeless families, will arrive at the San Francisco Unified School District campus to meet with the family in need.

One out of every 25 San Francisco schoolkids is homeless.

In other words, if you put all those 2,100 students together, they would fill 70 to 80 classrooms and outnumber the student body at Washington High School.

Overall, of the 54,000 students in the system, one in 25 — or 4 percent — is homeless.

That said, the number of students without stable housing is a bit lower than last year’s October count of 2,350, but well above the pre-recession 844 in 2005.

Late last month, one Wednesday night, two large families spent the greater part of the night on the corner of Third Street, calling out for help. They had 11 children between the two families, of all ages from babes to teens. They were turned away from a local church that allows families to sleep on their floor. One of the children, a freshman in high school, was particularly upset.

When Makda Beyene arrived in the United States less than four years ago from Eritrea, the only English she knew she picked up from television shows.

That was more than her mother and three siblings, which meant she was the family translator, filling out her mother’s job applications and calling homeless shelters looking for somewhere to sleep.

When she enrolled at Mission High School in San Francisco, she refused to take classes for English learners, choosing instead to take her courses in mainstream classes.

As many as 200 families spending their nights in city shelters, sleeping in cars or on the streets will be moved into public or subsidized housing, with many of them in their new homes by Christmas, said Mayor Ed Lee. The $3 million for the program will come from city money and a $1.5 million contribution from Marc and Lynne Benioff of Salesforce.com, a fast-growing San Francisco tech company.

Lynne Benioff said as soon as she read the Dec. 4 Chronicle story about the plight of the growing number of homeless children in the city’s public schools, she knew something had to be done.

Rudy Nguyen, 10, is homeless.

Last week, he was sleeping on the floor at a San Francisco drop-in homeless shelter with his parents and 3-year-old brother Danny. Thin mats kept them off hard linoleum.

In the last two months, he spent three nights at a bus shelter and a week on the streets, sleeping on his parents’ laps in a park.

Nearly 2,200 of San Francisco’s public school students are homeless, enough to fill five or six elementary schools or an entire high school.

That’s nearly 400 more homeless schoolchildren than a year ago.

The spike reflects an alarming increase in families across the city sleeping in cars, shelters, cramped single-occupancy hotel rooms or a series of couches or floors. Some are occasionally on the streets.

Scott Pelley brings “60 Minutes” cameras back to central Florida to document another form of family homelessness: kids and their parents forced to live in cars

For a few hours at the mall here this month, Nick Griffith, his wife, Lacey Lennon, and their two young children got to feel like a regular family again.

Never mind that they were just killing time away from the homeless shelter where they are staying, or that they had to take two city buses to get to the shopping center because they pawned one car earlier this year and had another repossessed, or that the debit card Ms. Lennon inserted into the A.T.M. was courtesy of the state’s welfare program.

They ate lunch at the food court, browsed for clothes and just strolled, blending in with everyone else out on a scorching hot summer day. “It’s exactly why we come here,” Ms. Lennon said. “It reminds us of our old life.”