One of the most serious problems faced by the city of San Francisco is the ever increasing number of homeless people in the city. Many of these homeless include war veterans who have served the country on various occasions such as the Vietnam War or Iraq and Afghanistan War. A weakened economy along with high cost of living has played a major role in the increase in the number of homeless people in San Francisco. About 25 percent of the homeless adults in San Francisco are veterans (Staff Report, 2010). Before proceeding with the discussion on the topic, it would be pertinent to discuss the definition of homeless veterans. The term “homeless veterans” has been explained in two steps in the Congressional Research Service article written by Perl (2011). According to Perl (2011), a homeless veteran is a person who has actively served in the military, naval or air force and was not discharged dishonorably. At the same time a person is considered a homeless veteran if he or she satisfies the definition of “homeless veteran” according to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. According to the Act a person is considered homeless if he does not have a proper nighttime residence or his nighttime residence is temporary or not appropriate for human beings.
In this paper I aim to discuss the veterans homelessness in San Francisco. I intend to explore peer reviewed books and articles for an in depth analysis of the literature, history and current status of the homeless veterans. At the same time the city policy towards the homeless shall also be discussed. Towards the end some of the main causes of homelessness among veterans shall be discussed.
Homelessness has been a problem in the US since 1980s. However with the American involvement in the Iraq and Afghan war the problem has become much stronger as scores of veterans that have served the country are found dying on the streets. Veterans suffer all kinds of homelessness but their number is greater in the chronically homeless category when compared with the non-veterans. According to a survey carried out by the VA and quoted by Stone (2008), there are about 2, 075 homeless veterans in San Francisco. Out of these, 533 have been categorized as “chronically homeless”. A chronically homeless person is an individual who has a disabling condition, is homeless for more than a year or has four episodes of being homeless in three years. The needs of the homeless veterans are almost similar to the demands of the general homeless population of San Francisco. According to the similar survey the following demands of the homeless veterans were brought forward:
10 per cent demanded detoxification treatment.
8 per cent demanded treatment for emotional and psychiatric problems.
10 per cent demanded treatment for dual diagnosis
17 demanded education
10 per cent demanded job training
23 demanded help with SSI/ SSD processing
23 demanded help with VA/ Disability pension problems
11 per cent demanded emergency shelter
23 per cent demanded half way house or transitional housing and
66 per cent demanded permanent housing (Stone, 2008).
In another survey the characteristics of homeless veterans in San Francisco were discussed. According to Rosenthal (2007) homeless veterans in San Francisco included 95 percent men with an average age of 51. Only 4 were 65 years or older. 50 homeless veteran population included Caucasians, 37 African Americans, 8 Hispanic and 5 others. As far as their marital status is concerned 55 are either divorced or separated, 35 were single and 10 were either married or did not reply. Approximately 70 came under the category of literally homeless. Almost 40 had been in a homeless situation for about one year or more. 80 had either psychiatric or substance abuse problem and 40 had both problems. About 25 receive some form of residential treatment.
History of Homelessness and Veterans Homelessness and the City Policy:
An online article “History of Homelessness and Veterans Homelessness and the City Policy” (n.d.) gives us a detailed account of the issue under discussion. Homelessness has been considered as the most politically debated issue in San Francisco in the past twenty five years. The early 1980s saw the problem arising with homeless people becoming associated with the landscape of the city. San Francisco’s attractive environment and lenient policies, social and economic changes, popularity of various addictive drugs and a large number of displaced Vietnam veterans are generally considered some of the reasons for the problem of homelessness in the city. The Agnos Administration (1988-92) took up the issue by allowing the homeless to shelter in the Civic Center Park which gave it its title Camp Agnos. He was replaced by Frank Jordan in 1992 because of his lenient policy. In 1992 the Jordan administration was successful in passing the Prop J which outlawed aggressive panhandling. McGarry (2008) states that in 1993 the MATRIX program was launched which aimed at displacing the homeless through severe police action. According to this program all the places that were previously used by the homeless for shelter were shut down for them. Sleeping, camping and drinking in public were banned and the Transbay Bus Terminal, which was home to scores of homeless people, was also shut down. A program that dealt with the treatment of the mentally ill patients of the Terminal was also shut down. Anyone found serving food to the homeless people was also arrested.
Going back to the article “History of Homelessness and Veterans Homelessness and the City Policy” (n.d.) in 1994 panhandling around ATM machines was prohibited. Jordan implemented the Prop V according to which all the single adult welfare recipients were fingerprinted. Parking from 2 am to 6 am was prohibited by the Port Authority on a street in China Basin which was home to a number of homeless people. The Mayor declared that the homeless people were actually criminals who transported weapons in their shopping carts. SFPD was ordered to arrest all the people in possession of the shopping carts.
In 1995 Mayor Jordan introduced MATRIX II which aimed at taking back the property from the homeless. They were displaced. Prop M was unsuccessfully introduced which prohibited the homeless from sitting and lying in the commercial districts around the city. Willie Brown succeeded Jordan in 1995.
1996 brought an end to the MATRIX program by the mayor Brown. 50 homeless people were evicted from a shelter called “Land of the Lost” in Bay View. “Operation Park” was introduced by SFPD in which 2-6 police officers were deputed on each shift to look for homeless people in parks all over the city. 1997 saw a massive sweep of the Golden Gate Park. The Mayor requested the Oakland Police Department for a night vision helicopter to look for homeless people illegally sleeping in the parks. The request was however denied. A massive clean sweep program was launched which cleared the temporary shelters of the homeless from under the bridges and the parks. Homeless were not even allowed to take their belongings. In 1998 “NO LOITERING, NO SLEEPING” signs were placed in parks all over the City. The outreach workers of the City helped the government, and the Board of Supervisors made it illegal to drink in the parks where poor people gathered. They also passed an ordinance which helped the police to arrest people residing in UN and Hallidie Plazas. Caltrans took control of places under bridges and highways. An anti-panhandling campaign called “Create Change” was initiated which encouraged people to give their money in charity rather than to the homeless. The District Attorney initiated “3 strikes and you’re out” policy for drinking in public places.
In 1999 a scrapbook containing pictures of the homeless and habitual drunkards was created by the North Beach District. The photographs were distributed among local merchants ordering them not to sell alcohol to anyone found in the picture. Drinking in parks where poor gathered was once again declared illegal. Mission Rock Shelter was closed. Anti-Panhandling legislation called “Pedestrian Safety Act” was introduced by Supervisor Amos Brown. The Act was however rejected by the Board of Supervisors.
In 2000 the City Attorney began prosecuting the homeless people in traffic court for Quality of life offence. The program costed $250,000 and was a huge failure. Permanent fences were built around DPW stations at McAllister and Larkin Street when a homeless person was found dead due to over dose. In 2001, the UN Plaza was remodeled. Parks and fountains were closed and benches were removed in midnight attacks. The whole operation costed $24,000 to the city. All belongings of the homeless were thrown away. The media made a huge cry over the situation. 75 people lost their property and fences were erected by Caltrans. City Attorney was replaced by the District Attorney in prosecuting the Quality of life offences. California Penal Code 647(j) was introduced which made it illegal to reside on public or private property. Homeless were sent to jail and approximately $30.8 million were spent to incarcerate homeless people. In 2002, about 100 people were displaced from Berry Street and fences were built by DPW. Approximately $13, 644 were spent on this operation which excluded the cost of the police used for the operation. Day Laborers were driven away from the Cesar Chavez Street by SFPD by giving them tickets for petty offences. Operation Scrub Down was initiated by the DPW. The operation targeted the downtown streets and alleys. Workers would hose down nasty chemicals on places encroached by homeless making it impossible for them to return. The operation costed $11,000 per day to the City. The Board of Supervisors passed another law which prohibited urinating and defecating in public. However no new public toilets were introduced. SFPD shot dead 3 dogs in three months that belonged to the homeless people.
In 2003 signs such as “No Habituating in your Vehicle between 10pm and 6 am” were posted in China Basin and Bay View Districts. Homeless population behind Laguna Honda Hospital was relocated. People were electronically photographed and fingerprinted if they utilized any services. Homeless population living in Deloris Park was evicted by SFPD. A drop-in center was also closed for an indefinite period.
In 2004, the Newsom Administration introduced “Care not Cash” policy for the homeless. General Assistance checks were brought down from $349 per month to $59. Anti-panhandling laws were passed but instead of giving tickets social workers were sent to help pan handlers. Street cleaners hosed the homeless and their property three times in a night while they slept. Fingerprints of the homeless were taken if they stayed in shelters. No permanent solution was introduced for the homeless as a result of which they squatted houses of people gone on vacations. A plan was chalked out to build supportive houses for chronically ill people.
In 2005 the number of homeless families in San Francisco was 4, 439. However there was a 22 per cent decrease in this number and the number of homeless decreased to 3, 443 in 2007. The decrease was due to the provision of permanent housing, supportive housing and an improvement in the method of counting the homeless. However a 2008 survey stated that there was an increase in the list of homeless people seeking for shelter by 50 . This increase was also due to the influx of homeless from the neighboring cities into San Francisco (United States Conference of Mayors, 2010). In 2007 about 6, 377 homeless were reported in San Francisco out of which 2100 were veterans (Rosenthal, 2007).
Current Status of homeless Veterans in San Francisco:
In 2010, approximately 3000 out of the 10,000 homeless people living in San Francisco were veterans. The State of California has the highest number of homeless veterans with majority residing in LA and San Francisco. In 2009, about 100 housing vouchers were allotted to homeless veterans in San Francisco. Another 90 vouchers were allotted to the City in 2010. The vouchers have not only helped the veterans to pay the rent but have also urged them to use the medical services. In 2009 about 80 percent of the homeless population that visited the City’s medical centers was veterans (Staff Report, 2010). According to Applied Survey Research (2011) on San Francisco homeless veterans, the percentage of homeless veterans remained unchanged between 2009 and 2011. 17 per cent of the homeless who responded to the survey were above 18 years of age and were veterans. 36 per cent of the homeless veterans were chronically homeless. 26 per cent cited alcohol and drug abuse as the primary cause of homelessness. 46 per cent of the veterans were sheltered and 21 stated that their mental health problem played an important role in becoming homeless. 39 stated that alcohol was responsible for their homelessness (Smith, 2011). Swords of Ploughshares had been collaborating with the Department of Veteran Affairs and had been instrumental in providing support and care to the homeless veterans (Alioto, n.d.).
Reasons for Veterans Homelessness:
According to a survey homelessness among veterans is a growing problem and a number of factors are responsible for the poor situation. These include increased cost of living, lack of adequate funds to support them. Many veterans are suffering from PTSD and substance abuse. The private health care companies, which are operating at a profit, treat soldiers returning from war and suffering from PTSD. This privatization has contributed to the poor care of the soldiers. Soldiers are diagnosed with personality disorder rather than PTSD to save money. It deprives the soldiers of their right to demand disability pay and medical benefits. Approximately 22, 500 soldiers have been dismissed with personality disorders rather than PTSD. It allegedly helps the military to save money over disability pay and medical benefits but contributes to the problem of homelessness among veterans (Gowan, 2010). The economics of homelessness has drained the city out of its resources that has a meager social services fund (Patterson, 2012).
The City government is working with private set up to deal with the problem of homelessness in San Francisco. The veterans have served the country and should not be left alone in times of need. The root cause of homelessness among veterans must be taken care of in order to get rid of the number one problem of the City.
Alioto, A., (n.d.). “The San Francisco Plan to Abolish Chronic Homelessness,” Ten Year Planning Council, Retrieved on February 22, 2012 from
http://www.destinationhome.ca/uploads/sanfrancisco.pdf “2011 San Francisco, Homeless Point in Time Count & Survey,” Applied Survey Research (2011), Pg. 6. Retrieved on February 22, 2012 from http://www.appliedsurveyresearch.org/projects/2011_Homeless/San 20Francisco/SanFrancisco_ExecSummary_FINAL.pdf
Gowan, T. (2010). “Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco”, University of Minnesota Press. Pg. 47-49.
“History of Homelessness and San Francisco City Policy,” (n.d.). Retrieved on February 22, 2012 from http://www.welcomeministry.org/resources/history/
“Hunger and Homelessness Survey,” United States Conference of Mayors, Retrieved on February 22, 2012 from http://www.usmayors.org/pressreleases/uploads/2010_Hunger-Homelessness_Report-final 20Dec 2021 202010.pdf
“Many Veterans in San Francisco back home without a Hope”, (2010). Staff Report, The Examiner. Retrieved on February 22, 2012 from
http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/many-veterans-san-francisco-back-home-without-hope McGarry, D. T. (2008). “The Politics of Homelessness in San Francisco, 1988-2002.”
ProQuest. Pg. 37-38.
Patterson, H. (Updated 2012). “Homeless Problem becomes Homeless Crises,” Examiner.com. Retrieved on February 23, 2012 from
Perl, L., (2011). “Veterans and Homelessness”, Congressional Research Service,
Retrieved on February 22, 2012 from http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34024.pdf
Rosenthal, R.L. (2007). “At Home without a Home: Homelessness in Veterans.”
San Francisco Medical Society, Retrieved on February 22, 2012 from
Smith, S. (2011). “Homeless Veterans need help from The City Community,”
The Examiner. Retrieved on February 22, 2012 from
Stone, R. (2008). “Homeless Veterans need more Assistance,” Beyond Chron, Retrieved
on February 22, 2012 from