Local Research & Resources

San Francisco has a history of responding to a crisis with pragmatic, cost-effective, and timely solutions. Case in point, 5,000 small wooden cottages (10x14 feet to 14x18 feet) were quickly built and housed over 16,000 San Francisco residents in the shelter crisis following the 1906 earthquake.

Budget and Legislative Analyst Report "Homelessness and the Cost of Quality of Life Laws" 6/2016

San Francisco's Budget and Legislative Analyst found in 2016 that using SFPD officers and citations as a tool to deter homelessness was too expensive and that unsheltered homelessness actually increased by 16% when ticketing became more aggressive.

  • "The City incurred approximately $20.6 million in 2015 for sanctioning homeless individuals for violating quality of life laws."
  • "One of the main goals of quality of life laws was to preserve public spaces in the City. However, the number of homeless individuals considered to be unsheltered has increased from 3,016 in 2011 to 3,505 in 2015, an increase of 16 percent,
    limiting the effectiveness of quality of life laws."


San Francisco's 2015 Point-In-Time Count and Survey

71% of survey respondents reported they were living in San Francisco at the time they most recently became homeless, an increase from 61% in 2013. Of those, nearly half (49%) had lived in San Francisco for 10 years or more. 11% had lived in San Francisco for less than one year.


311 Shelter Waitlist; San Francisco Homelessness Q&A (Chronicle 6/28/2016)

The shelter system has 1,200 shelter beds—clearly not enough to provide housing for the some 7,000 who are homeless. The shelter waitlist recently reached a high of over 1,100 people.

"A homeless person can get a one-night emergency shelter bed quickly," as reported in a San Francisco Chronicle article. "But anything else — supportive housing, longer-term shelter beds, mental health care, substance abuse services — requires a waiting list. If the waiting list is even taking new names. Some are so long, they're closed."

What's more, "Not only are there too few shelters," Zordel says, "But many don't feel safe — especially the nearly 30 percent of people experiencing homelessness who are LGBT. So not only do we need more housing, we need more safe spaces to keep our LGBT community experiencing homelessness safe. Especially our transgender community."


311 Data tracking for complaints (includes encampment cases)

Data for "Illegal Encampment" 311 complaints for the month of January 2017

  • 2,062 opened cases for "Illegal Encampments" between 1/1/2017 and 2/20/2017
  • Also searchable by "Homeless Concerns_Wellbeing Check_Request for Service" and "Homeless Concerns_Aggresive Behavior_Request for Services"


Cost and Components of  Pier 80 Temporary Shelter

The City of San Francisco's Human Service Agency provided a 60-day budget for the Pier 80 Temporary Shelter per a sunshine request earlier this year. The cost was estimated at $1,115,405 with a peak client count of 180, averaging just over $3,000 per month for each unhoused resident to receive temporary shelter, food, water, and access to toilets (no case management services were provided by Saint Vincent DePaul).


DPW Encampment database 

This is an internal tracking tool used by DPW to identify and track conditions and open 311 cases for homeless encampments that was obtained through a public records request by the Coalition on Homelessness.

DPW Encampment Database (February 2017)

DPW Encampment Database (November 2016)

DPW Encampment Database (August 2016)



This Navigation Center data shows that the vast majority of encampment residents who are targeted for a 30-day Navigation Center stay by the Encampment Resolution Team (ERT) of the City's Department of Homelessness & Supportive Housing (DHSH) return to the streets (aka "unstable exits") during or at the end of their 30-day stay.

Local Code: San Francisco Case Study 2009-2001

This San Francisco Digital Mapping Project identified 1,500 underutilized City-Owned remnant parcels of land that the City cannot sell and are challenging to find suitable uses for. Many of these sites are already utilized by unsanctioned tent encampments. 

Assembly Bill 2176:  Shelter crisis: emergency bridge housing communities (San Jose)

The law, authored by Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, as Assembly Bill 2176 and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 27, goes into effect in January and sunsets in five years. It allows the city to temporarily suspend state building, safety and health codes for the purpose of building “unconventional” housing structures — everything from wood-framed sheds to tiny homes. The city will adopt its own regulations, the law says, based on some minimum standards.

“It was huge for the governor to sign this because it’s outside-the-box and no one else has done it,” Campos said. “Other big cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles will be looking at what we do here. We had to do something because what we were doing wasn’t working.”

National Research & Resources

Department of Justice Statement regarding the criminalization of Homelessness

In August 2015, the Department of Justice issued a statement arguing that it is unconstitutional for cities to issue citations to homeless residents who sleep in public places when there is insufficient shelter space. 

As stated by the Justice Department in its filing, “[i]t should be uncontroversial that punishing conduct that is a universal and unavoidable consequence of being human violates the Eighth Amendment. . . Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity—i.e., it must occur at some time in some place. If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless.”

This is what a city can do to accommodate interim sleep and service hubs:    Change local ordinances  Grant temporary use permits  Issue consent decrees  Create new zoning land use categories  Identify and lease public land for temporary use   Loftus-Farren (2011) Tent Cities: An Interim Solution to Homelessness and Affordable Housing Shortages in the United States California Law Review

This is what a city can do to accommodate interim sleep and service hubs: 

Change local ordinances

Grant temporary use permits

Issue consent decrees

Create new zoning land use categories

Identify and lease public land for temporary use

Loftus-Farren (2011) Tent Cities: An Interim Solution to Homelessness and Affordable Housing Shortages in the United States California Law Review

Seattle City Ordinance No. 124747 authorized “transitional encampments” for homeless persons as a permitted “interim” use on City-owned property, private property, and educational Major Institutions according to the standards in Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) Section 23.42.056. Section 23.42.056.A requires the Directors of the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and the Human Services Department (HSD) to adopt a joint rule establishing requirements for community outreach, encampment operations standards, and coordination with the permit process for new transitional encampments on any selected site meeting the requirements of the regulation.

Seattle: An ordinance relating to City responses to people who are homeless living on public property; setting standards and procedures for remedying unsafe conditions and protecting the rights and property of homeless individuals.

Supporting documents:1. Attachment A to Central Staff Memo (9/28/16), 2. CB 118794 Bagshaw Substitute (10/14/16), 3. CB 118794 O'Brien Substitute (10/14/16), 4. Central Staff Memo (9/22/16), 5. Central Staff Memo (9/28/16), 6. Draft Definitions from the ACLU and Columbia Legal Services (9/22/16), 7. Draft Guiding Principles September 2017 (9/22/16), 8. Excerpts from USICH and Focus Strategies Reports (9/22/16), 9. Statement of Principles March 2016 (9/22/16), 10. Summary and Fiscal Note, 11.Central Staff Memo (10/14/16)

"A Right To Dream Too" is a project approved by Portland Oregon's local government that operates a "refuge and a safe space to rest or sleep undisturbed for Portland’s unhoused community who cannot access affordable housing or shelter."  

Their mission is "to awaken social and political groups to the importance of safe and undisturbed sleep.  Our purpose is to create a place where unhoused people can rest or sleep without being rousted by police or private security and without being under the constant threat of violence." 

Dignity Village:  City-Sanctioned Organized Interim Shelter & Service Village on public land in Portland, Oregon

Portland City Council enacted an Oregon State Statute in 2004: In Resolution No. 36200, the City Council designated a portion of Sunderland Yard as a Designated Campground under the terms of ORS 446.265. This State statute allows municipalities to designate up to two sites as campgrounds to be used for “transitional housing accommodations” for “persons who lack permanent shelter and cannot be placed in other low income housing” and may be operated by private persons or nonprofit organizations.

Occupy Madison: Permitted Sleep and Service Hub on private land (church property) in Madision, Wisconsin

City Zoning Approval: The Madison Common Council voted to amend the city's zoning code to allow tiny houses, like the single 96-square-foot trailer-mounted cottageOccupy Madison has constructed so far, to be set up on the property of churches and other non-profit organizations.

Camp Unity Eastside: Permitted Sleep and Service Hub on private land (church property) in Woodinville, WA

State Ordinance: A 2010 Washington state ordinance allows for temporary encampments on church property and limits permit fees to the cost associated with review and approval. City Ordinance: A 2004 ordinance of the City of Woodinville reaffirmed the city manager’s authority to negotiate and execute an agreement for the location of a temporary homeless encampment on certain city-owned property, declaring an emergency, and allowing for immediate effect.