SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Homeless people consume illegal drugs in an encampment along Willow St. in the Tenderloin district of downtown on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022 in San Francisco, CA. London Breed, mayor of San Francisco, is the 45th mayor of the City and County of San Francisco. She was supervisor for District 5 and was president of the Board of Supervisors from 2015 to 2018. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images


Rising Crime, Homelessness Leave Residents Of San Francisco And Oakland On Edge

San Francisco has been in the throes of a homelessness and drug crisis that has come with rampant crime for years now. The city by the bay consistently struggles to make a dent in the humanitarian crisis unfolding every day on the streets.

Homelessness has only gotten worse since before the pandemic.

About 38,000 people are homeless in the Bay Area on a given night. That’s up 35% since 2019. More than 7,000 people are homeless in San Francisco itself.

Crime and open-air drug use often accompanies the homeless issue, causing businesses to flee San Francisco’s downtown, where foot traffic has thinned.

Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

While overall crime in San Francisco is slightly down this year, certain types of violent crime are up, according to police data.

Murder is up 10% to 22 murders so far. Robberies are up 15% to 1,150 robberies so far. Car thefts are up 5% to 2,889 thefts.

Meanwhile, the drug crisis is still raging, although overdose deaths have dropped from their all-time high in 2020 during the thick of the pandemic.

In 2022, San Francisco saw 620 fatal drug overdoses, down from 640 overdose deaths in 2021. In 2020, overdose deaths spiked to 725 deaths.

Now, San Francisco’s Democratic mayor has an expensive new plan to tackle the homeless crisis, and it involves funding more shelter beds. Mayor London Breed wants San Francisco to spend another $692.6 million on homelessness next year as part of the city’s five-year plan to cut homelessness by half.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 30: Homeless people are seen on streets of the Tenderloin district in San Francisco, California, United States on October 30, 2021. Last week on Tuesday, San Francisco housing project for homeless development is rejected by a majority of the city supervisors with an 8 to 3 vote. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The plan would pay for 600 new shelter beds and 545 new housing units in the next year, as well as help people pay their rent, so they don’t become homeless in the first place. The mayor and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors still have to agree on the specifics of the plan.

The city is facing a budget deficit, however, and a significant amount of designated housing for the homeless currently sits empty.

San Francisco has a two-year budget deficit of $744 million, and the mayor has to sign a balanced budget by August 1. The homeless project will cut deep into the budget.

“Despite a significant budget deficit, our investments in homelessness will continue,” Breed said in May.

Meanwhile, San Francisco has just over 3,000 shelter beds for homeless people, but only about 2,800 people actually sleep in the beds. The city also has more than 12,400 permanent supportive housing units, but 825 of those units remain empty.

Breed also recently rolled out yet another homeless program, this time to have non-police teams respond to certain 911 calls.

The Homeless Engagement Assistance Response Team (HEART) will involve people from the homeless nonprofit Urban Alchemy responding to non-medical, non-emergency 911 calls about homeless people. The police department is currently understaffed by more than 500 officers.

Back in 2020, Breed cut $120 million from the San Francisco police and sheriff’s budgets, even though police warned the cut could affect their ability to respond to emergencies.

Police officers order a homeless encampment at 14th and Mission streets to move on before a Public Works crew can clean and disinfect the sidewalk in San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, March 14, 2017. (Photo By Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

By 2021 though, because the police cuts had impacted their ability to respond to emergencies, Breed flipped on her decision. She made an emergency request to the Board of Supervisors for more police money to crack down on crime, including open-air drug dealing, car break-ins, and theft from stores.

In March, Breed even pleaded for federal assistance to handle the crime and homelessness problems.

Lt. Tracy McCray of the San Francisco Police Officers Association criticized the mayor for reversing her stance on police funding.

“Stop hating what you need,” McCray said in April. “Obviously no one else is going to go and deal with this problem but the police. You throw everything on us. So you know what, stop criticizing us. Stop trying to break us down because you know you need us to deal with it.”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 4, 2013: A homeless man sleeps on a sidewalk in San Francisco's Union Square district. His sign declares that he is 'broke and hungry' and 'needs weed.' (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Understandably, San Francisco residents have been fed up with the situation for a while.

“Fix it,” said one man who spoke to local outlet KRON. “I live in this city. I was born and raised in this city. I have never  seen anything like this in San Francisco, California. Mayor Breed you promised. You promised us. Fix this!”

San Francisco itself is not the only part of the Bay Area with serious homelessness and crime issues.

In Oakland, just east across the bay from San Francisco, about 500 angry residents showed up to a town hall meeting on rampant violent crime on May 30 and demanded city leaders take action to curb it.

Oakland residents described getting violently assaulted in supposedly safe areas. Footage from the town hall went viral online.

One woman in her 50s said she was recently attacked by a teen boy and girl right outside her North Oakland home.

In Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood, considered one of the city’s safer areas, a 63-year-old woman was attacked in broad daylight outside a bustling indoor shopping mall. The attackers were part of a group of nine teens and pre-teens, police said.

Business owner Adam Stemmler, who owns a pizza shop in Oakland, said his staff has been held up at gunpoint four times over the last six years. He said it feels like the “Wild West.”

Even progressive residents showed up to the Oakland town hall to complain about the lack of consequences for criminals. One trans-identifying man said he and his partner were robbed twice in two weeks during the day. He said he has been involved in extremely progressive community-organizing activism, but letting people continue to commit crimes is harmful to everyone involved.

Violent crime in Oakland is up 8% so far this year, according to police data.

Oakland police said they are working on having more visible patrols around the city. Oakland Councilmember Dan Kalb, a Democrat, said he wants consequences for repeat offenders and would also push for funding in the city budget for police overtime pay.

San Francisco city leaders held a less heated community meeting on public safety in April, where residents expressed their fears and frustrations about crime.

In the Bay Area, the overlap is significant between homelessness, drug use, and crime, which come with an untold amount of human suffering.

So far, the progressive approach of spending more city funds on shelter beds simply has not gotten to the root of the city’s most stubborn problems.

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