Safe Organized Spaces are transitional villages administered by service providers that: 

➣ Meet California State codes for emergency shelter response; 

➣ Operate in partnership with property owners, neighbors, village participants, & service providers in coordination with City services;

➣ Activate underutilized public/private land with interim permits, license agreements, insurance, baseline health and safety standards, a built-in process for multi-stakeholder input & evaluation, community benefits, and site-specific agreements. 

Since 2015, Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge has been researching, developing, and piloting the SOS policy and operations framework with participation and input from currently/formerly unsheltered residents, service providers, property owners, and impacted neighbors. 

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SOS! SF/Bay Area/CA needs Safe Organized Spaces

Tonight—and for the foreseeable future—thousands of unsheltered residents will sleep on streets and sidewalks of San Francisco without access to safe shelter, locking storage, and basic sanitation services. Tens of thousands of unsheltered/unhoused residents throughout the Bay Area and California are in need of safe organized space to belong on their pathway to healing and housing.

Over 1,000 people are currently on the 311 shelter waitlist in San Francisco, and the majority of people who enter into the City’s shelter system are exited back to the street without designated shelter or housing exits when they reach a maximum stay of 30-120 days at Emergency Shelters and Navigation Centers.

The chart below (SF’s 2017 Point-in-Time Count) demonstrates the number of unsheltered residents currently living in each of San Francisco’s 11 districts.  

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Addressing the shelter service gap with Safe Organized Spaces

  • Whether it is due to a natural disaster, a lack of affordable-housing opportunities, or individual behavior/mental health challenges, cities throughout California have been tasked with developing sufficient emergency shelter response in the least restrictive and most autonomous setting possible.

  • Different needs for different unsheltered populations require adaptable levels of support services and structure


The City is currently allocating upwards of $30 million a year via San Francisco Police Department and the Department of Public Works to address encampments throughout San Francisco. Factor in the resources spent on street engagement and triage services from the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, the Department of Public Health, and San Francisco Fire Department and the total soars above $50 million a year.

The development of code compliant and community-integrated transitional villages with comprehensive support service for 1,000 currently sheltered or unsheltered homeless residents would significantly reduce the need for policing and clean-up services while supporting physical and mental health, transition, and community well-being. Current budget proposals for the development and operations of 50 SOS Villages of 20 residents (or 10 SOS Villages of 100 people) is under $20 million—with approximately $9 million in annual operating costs and $7 million for set-up costs.

Seattle’s public/private partnership models for Transitional Villages—aka “Permitted Encampments”— have proven to be a cost-effective alternative to encampments with support services and structure that supports both community integration and transition. In the first year of operations in 2016, Seattle’s three government-supported, non-profit operated Transitional Villages created safe organized spaces for over 750 people, 121 of whom transitioned into safe, permanent housing. The 12 month budget for Seattle’s New Interbay Transitional Village of 60 individual “Tiny Home” units and 80 Residents-in-Transition was $578,451 (including initial infrastructure set-up costs and ongoing supportive services and operating costs), compared to the $1.1 million spent in just the first 60 days to set up and operate a temporary dormitory style winter shelter for up to 150 unhoused residents at Pier 80 in 2016.


Remember, for some people, the journey back to housing means having a place to get back on their feet with access to safe sleep, secure storage, a bathroom, garbage pick-up, and systems for living in community. For some people it means having a place to stabilize while they work on getting back to their support network in another city. For some people it means recovering from the trauma of acclimating to the street, or getting support for mental health and addiction challenges, or figuring out how to live in community with reasonable agreements, or overcoming challenges to employment, or getting more intensive services, or xyz in support of transition.

There should be enough sanctioned safe organized spaces for the current # of encampment residents with license agreements and insurance that (1) Safeguards the property owner from liability (whether public or private), (2) Standardizes systems of oversight, comprehensive support and structure for participatory and democratic self-management, systems for conflict resolution and restorative justice, (3) Provides sufficient structure and support services in service to participatory resident management, community integration, and mental health/recovery needs, and (4) Creates a feedback loop and advisory counsel that includes shared leadership of residents, neighbors, and advocacy/service organizations.

Sos research and documents

Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge/Safe Organized Spaces (SOS) Transitional Villages

Since November 2015, the Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge (SFHC) has been working with a diverse set of stakeholders (including encampment residents, neighbors, local businesses, community organizations, and City Departments and service workers) to develop comprehensive solutions to end the crisis conditions of street homelessness.

From July 28th 2017 through July 31 2018, SFHC partnered with the Impact Hub and neighbors at 1875 Mission to pilot San Francisco's first Safe Organized Space/Transitional Village with weekly community-integration team meeting, 1 resident-in-transition, a transitional mobile shelter, portapotty, storage, secure perimeter, transition support, community benefits, and service support for transition and mental health. 

Overview of SOS Transitional Village Pilot at Impact Hub:

License agreement for SOS Transitional Village Pilot:

Slide-deck for detailed protocol and budget of SOS Transitional Villages for up to 3,000 residents


Evaluation of Seattle's Transitional Village model (public land leased to nonprofit service provider):

City of Seattle's "Director's Rules" for transitional villages for Planning Department and Human Services:

City of Seattle's Zoning and Coding for fire and health Safety at transitional villages on city-leased land

LIHI Draft Budget for 50 person village:

LIHI's Transitional Village Management Plan

LIHI's Transitional Village Supportive Services Plan

LIHI Transitional Village Intake Service Form

Budget for Seattle's 60 unit/80 person Transitional village with 8x12 units ($213K set up costs and ~$25,000/month operating costs, or $312 per villager/month)

Evaluation of a transitional village model in Seattle (managed by the nonprofit "Low Income Housing Institute"


LIHI's 8x12x10 insulated Tiny House Material List: Home Depot

The SFHC 5x8x8 "mobile SRO" transitional sleep and storage model SFHC's Mobile SRO can be built on a trailer for materials cost of $2,500  or on 6 8" caster wheels for $1,000. Our shelter model is an innovation for ease of mobility, low cost, privacy, and security and meets NFPA standards for small RVs. (Note: The current model lacks insulation, and thus far we have not found a low-cost solution to insulation that allows us to build with basic construction skills and materials):

Sos working group campaign and documents

  • SOS Site Selection and Components V.2 (Working Draft) (link)

  • 9/21 Working Group Slides (link)

  • 10/5 Working Group Slides (link)

  • 10/17 Working Group Slides (link)

  • 10/31 Working Group Slides (link)

  • 11/14 Working Group Slides (link)