San Francisco SROs
April 27, 2022 1:13 PM   Subscribe

 
McSpadden added, she would rather see people inside than on the streets, even if it’s in a building that “isn't quite as good as it could be.”

I have to say, I’m so cynical about the trajectory of these things now that I really do have a hard time imagining that outcry over conditions won’t ultimately lead to more of these places being closed down without replacement and more people on the streets. Not that I believe that this is what the reporters are going for, it’s mostly targeted in the right directions, but certain bits like focusing on how many overdoses there have been feel like “the problem got worse when we put it where we could see it” thinking.
posted by atoxyl at 1:51 PM on April 27 [8 favorites]


I've been in a few SROs in the tenderloin. (To be clear, I've never needed to live in one.) They could be a lot better. They certainly could be better publicly funded. But, I'd also much rather see people overdose in a safe but grimy place with a blanket than on the street. This sure reads like a mean hit-piece designed to encourage fewer services. What's the proposed alternative? A "metrics-driven system to hold its nonprofit operators accountable" without additional funding isn't going to help.
exiting by passing away
As opposed to the rapture? What's the problem here?
posted by eotvos at 1:57 PM on April 27 [13 favorites]


A "metrics-driven system to hold its nonprofit operators accountable" without additional funding isn't going to help.

I don’t really find it difficult to believe that the existing funding may not really trickle down to helping the people it’s meant to help. What exactly can be done to ensure that is another question.

exiting by passing away

As opposed to the rapture? What's the problem here?


Yeah this is another weird bit. It’s called permanent supportive housing, in the same sentence? If we’re calling out this claim

HSH says its goal is to provide some residents with enough stability to enter more independent housing.

is that a criticism of the bullshit goal (realistically it should be expected that many residents require, well, permanent support) or the organization’s failure to meet the bullshit goal?
posted by atoxyl at 2:37 PM on April 27 [3 favorites]


Eotvos, I also didn’t see “they spent their last days housed” as an automatic policy failure.
posted by Selena777 at 2:52 PM on April 27 [4 favorites]


Much of the instability stems from a small group of tenants who do not receive the support they need.

this is key. a ton of homelessness policy failure is driven by the failure to separate those with the most violent tendencies, connections to criminal groups, mental illness, and severe addiction--issues that are often intractable even among people with tons of resources--together with folks who are just down on their luck but who would be capable of reentering society with some help.

when these groups are mixed, a smaller but more volatile group can make life and policy solutions impossible or inefficient for everyone.
posted by wibari at 3:08 PM on April 27 [9 favorites]


Every other major West Coast metropolis — Los Angeles, San Jose, Seattle, San Diego, Portland, Sacramento — bases 30% to 68% of its long-term housing for homeless people in “scattered site” programs, according to a Chronicle review of U.S. Housing and Urban Development data.

Maybe this is technically true of all Los Angeles, but we still have a very large cluster of SRO hotels in Skid Row which share many of the problems they report here. Trying to contain these types of housing to particular neighborhoods is part of the problem.

And with our housing shortages, you don’t even have places for the non-profit staff to live, so the staffing issues only get worse.
posted by jimw at 3:24 PM on April 27 [5 favorites]


okay, hi, I have deep experience with this, this is not a bad article, but it fails to understand that a lot of people are going to be missing context for the article.

First: Permanent housing is not actually "permanent" housing - this is one of the bullshit words cities have nonprofits use to differentiate and make things sound cooler and like programs are working better. "Permanent" housing means that it's semi-stable - so like, you have a lease, and can be expected to be there for at least a year. The goal is supposed to be getting people to independent living, sustainably. That's why it's a problem that people are exiting the program through death - because they're supposed to be exiting through having a good job and getting a good apartment that they can expect to keep for years and years and years.

Secondly: we know that SROs without their own bathroom and kitchen do not work. We absolutely know this. We know that people who have had little privacy in their lives desperately crave and need privacy and security. But the problem is the political situation - unfortunately, the citizenry tend to get to a certain point where they look at the apartments, and if they're too nice, they think, "How come those guys get to live here for free?" And that's the other reason they charge for some of these places - which, honestly, they shouldn't. The resident's income is so low that charging them 500$ a month, while significantly under market rate rents, is highway robbery - it's about half of SSI, which is the only income for the majority of residents like this.
posted by corb at 3:48 PM on April 27 [33 favorites]


the problem is the political situation - unfortunately, the citizenry tend to get to a certain point where they look at the apartments, and if they're too nice, they think, "How come those guys get to live here for free?"

Heartbreaking truth.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 4:22 PM on April 27 [3 favorites]


Secondly: we know that SROs without their own bathroom and kitchen do not work. We absolutely know this.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding the point being made, but as stated this isn't correct. SROs worked to house lots and lots of people in marginal economic situations. Then, zoning and building codes were used to close them down (along with boarding houses and other congregate living environments), so that today there are very few SROs remaining.

No one is saying SROs are great -- they aren't -- but they are clearly much better than not having SROs. Would I prefer that we fully fund supportive housing for everyone who needs it? Yes, of course, but in the meantime I would hope that we don't continue to lose SROs, because they are providing a socially valuable function.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:23 PM on April 27 [6 favorites]


(I hope someday that thought, which is real and human and valid for anyone without independent wealth, hiccups and transforms into, "How can we set up our government to ensure that everyone lives a life free from want and assured of dignity?")
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 4:25 PM on April 27 [4 favorites]


This short documentary - Home is Hotel - is about an SRO in San Francisco's Chinatown. It's really really good. It's probably one of the top films I use to teach. And I fully co-sign that we should keep SROs available. Tearing them down in the name of progress is just exacerbating housing insecurity.
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:29 PM on April 27 [10 favorites]


Maybe I'm misunderstanding the point being made, but as stated this isn't correct. SROs worked to house lots and lots of people in marginal economic situations.

Correction: SROs as they currently exist do not work for people who need wraparound services, and they do not work for people with post-traumatic stress, which living on the streets creates and a majority of houseless individuals possess to some degree.

Also: like, I would like to call a huge heaping "no" to the idea that the problem is people with mental illnesses. The problem is we are not willing, as a society, to pay for the supports that would actually be helpful and necessary to people with mental illnesses that make it hard to live independently, in part because so many people in our society need them and don't have them.
posted by corb at 4:37 PM on April 27 [17 favorites]


Correction: SROs as they currently exist do not work for people who need wraparound services, and they do not work for people with post-traumatic stress, which living on the streets creates and a majority of houseless individuals possess to some degree.

Absolutely yes -- SROs are no substitute for full-spectrum, wrap-around, inclusive housing, and for many (most?) people the wraparound services would work better. However, SROs were mostly eradicated, and are still being targeted for removal, without new housing options being created (i.e., thereby helping to creating the trauma you describe). Without SROs, in most places there are simply no housing options for people who can't meet the behavioral and/or income criteria of other housing options. Probably the closest equivalent these days in many places are the grittier weekly-rent motels, located more in the periphery and farther from social services.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:32 PM on April 27 [4 favorites]


Drug addiction is treatable, and managable. Mental illness is treatable, and manageable. Lots of folks leave violence and gangs behind. Many formerly incarcerated folks go on to live meaningful crime-free lives, given the opportunity. Plenty of folks, if they had the proper support in the first place, wouldn't have been homeless.

What it takes though, is giving people who have bigger problems more resources; whereas I think some folks want to treat this as a cost-benefit analysis, and cut people off as fundamentally damaged if the rate of return isn't good enough. Not suggesting that's anyone in this thread, to be clear.
posted by Chrysopoeia at 10:34 PM on April 27 [4 favorites]


"a ton of homelessness policy failure is driven by the failure to separate those with the most violent tendencies, connections to criminal groups, mental illness, and severe addiction ... together with folks who are just down on their luck"

You seem to be very confidently positing some sort of clean dichotomy between redeemable homeless people and unredeemable homeless people, with mental illness and drug addiction in the unredeemable camp, and the word "criminal" thrown in for good measure.

Is this proposed dichotomy based on any particular expertise in this area, or is it armchair musing?
posted by splitpeasoup at 8:38 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]


Is this proposed dichotomy based on any particular expertise in this area, or is it armchair musing?

just from living and working adjacent to skid row in LA and similar areas around the city and near encampments for a few decades. anecdata, sure, but this is a blog, not a peer reviewed study.

anyone who tries to downplay severe mental illness or addiction in this area or handwave it away as treatable if we were only willing to spend more money is missing the point in my book. sorry if i didnt couch my prior comment with the requisite throat-clearing of "nothing i am about to say is meant to denigrate anyone or imply that anything is the fault of anyone, etc..." so please consider that added now.

that said, it is simply a fact that gangs peddle drugs to many encampment occupants and take advantage of them. you will see that some individuals are dangerously unstable and terrify everyone in the area. it is common sense that there are different types of people there, and one size solutions don't fit all.
posted by wibari at 9:16 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


"Critically, the homelessness crisis in San Francisco has worsened."
  • To conclude that SROs are not working and shut them all down, turn to page 138.
  • To conclude that we need more of them, turn to page 117.

Page 117: It is impossible to build new SROs because of building codes that deliberately exclude low-rent housing units. The end.
Page 138: Former SRO tenants still cope with rodents, violence and neighbors dying of overdoses, but now they live in tents. The end.

posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:23 PM on April 28 [4 favorites]


just from living and working adjacent to skid row in LA and similar areas around the city and near encampments...anyone who tries to downplay severe mental illness or addiction in this area or handwave it away as treatable if we were only willing to spend more money is missing the point in my book

Hi again! To be clear, my experience is working as a case worker for the unhoused and going into those same encampments.

To say these things aren't treatable with more money is absolutely either missing the point, or still placing limitations on how much money we are talking about.

When you say you don't think severe addiction can be addressed: are you including the idea of, say:
1) several month inpatient stays at nice, comfortable, fancy treatment facilities
2) fixing the situations that cause despair significant enough to lead people towards highly addictive drugs
3) Providing other easier, nicer, and more convenient forms of stress relief that are not drugs?

When you think severe mental illness can't be affected by more money, are you considering:
1) Months long inpatient treatment with multiple hours of therapy a day, cozy rooms, and fun activities
2) Personal assistants
3) Cleaning staff
4) Meals provided regularly without having to be cooked

Because in my experience, the difference between what people think of as "severe mental illness" and "regular mental illness" is usually the difference in aggravating factors.
posted by corb at 3:14 PM on April 28 [12 favorites]


or still placing limitations on how much money we are talking about.

yes, you are absolutely right. i am assuming reasonable limits. we had $2b in prop 2 / 63 funds (statewide california), another $1.2b in los angeles HHH funds, and that's just over the last five or six years, no?

yes of course you're right. certainly if every person in severe need was provided absolute top notch treatment, comfy, safe and well-built free housing in areas convenient to them, and money were no object, then i'm sure we could do better. but that would cost... what? $50b? $100b? more? i don't think it's politically feasible (or sensible as a matter of fairness, considering the state has other priorities too) to say money is no object.

in a world with limited resources, every area of policy has to pick priorities and make compromises, right?
posted by wibari at 6:52 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


in a world with limited resources, every area of policy has to pick priorities and make compromises, right

That's certainly what we are told, right? That reluctantly, sadly, politicians are simply unable to do everything. But I think there's a lot of room for How We Do Better, and actually a lot of money left on the table - the priorities we pick are based in our morals.

For example:

Prison spending in California costs 15 billion dollars a year
California currently has a budget surplus of 68 billion dollars

We spend over 100K a year on each prisoner - many of whom are locked up because of quality of life violations that a home and support structure would solve.

And how much income might California bring in, for example, if it hit landlords for being slumlords? Or if it charged vacancy taxes for landlords failing to rent out their housing?
posted by corb at 7:46 PM on April 28 [6 favorites]


in a world with limited resources, every area of policy has to pick priorities and make compromises, right?

Some asshole just paid $44 billion for a website that has never been profitable. "Limited resources" is a policy choice just as much as the priorities and compromises.
posted by Etrigan at 7:50 PM on April 28 [10 favorites]


We spend over 100K a year on each prisoner - many of whom are locked up because of quality of life violations that a home and support structure would solve.

that is false. most state prisoners in california are in for violent crimes, and the left propaganda to the contrary hurts the cause because it is not true.

how much income might California bring in, for example, if it hit landlords for being slumlords? Or if it charged vacancy taxes for landlords failing to rent out their housing?

that is a very fair point.
posted by wibari at 11:05 PM on April 28


Someone who derides propaganda probably shouldn’t quote the part that says “many” and then rail against “most”.
posted by Etrigan at 3:49 AM on April 29 [5 favorites]


it is simply a fact that gangs peddle drugs to many encampment occupants

shocking reality fact: drug dealers deal drugs to drug users
posted by atoxyl at 9:51 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


I’ll lay out my anecdotally-derived biases here, though - I’ve seen the inside of drug-heavy SROs in my past as a drug user, and spent time with people who were living there, but I wasn’t living there. My core thought is that most people don’t understand that the folks living in these very marginal circumstances still could be a couple of rungs worse off, and that the decline of such accommodations likely correlates with the increase in people living in street encampments instead.

I don’t find it hard to believe that funds meant to improve basic quality of life in SROs may be misallocated, though, nor do I think it’s a good idea for such places to be the housing solution.
posted by atoxyl at 10:23 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


I'm wondering if this is part of it - - So if funding was allocated as corb described, that money has to come out of other buckets. So yes, it would cost less in police hours, jail costs, damage to housing centers, and so on. But the minute anyone says, hey let's reduce the police budget and reallocate to treatment programs I've noticed the PD and some of the city residents are not super into the idea?

I feel like there are so many ways to address this situation but no one seems to want to actually do them. People with the money and resources to fund this through their tax dollars do not want to pay more for this and will fight against increasing taxes in any way. And no department or program wants their budget cut to fund something else.

Heck, I remember during the Super Bowl or XGames or something back in the mid 2010s, which was held in the financial district and the Tenderloin, the solution was to round up all the homeless people in the area and bus them over 2 hours away. They got dropped off in random towns, some were taken as far away as Nevada (!) and had to make their own way back. As you might expect, many did not fare well. But hey at least the VIP parties could have outdoor activities without having to deal with them.
posted by ananci at 11:07 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


shocking reality fact: drug dealers deal drugs to drug users

Further shocking fact: lack of coverage for the medical problem of drug addiction provides as much a reliable path to homelessness as drugs provide a reliable escape from a miserable reality once they arrive, both powerful forces for maintaining addictions and the further-reliable status of encampments and homeless people in general as marketplaces for drug dealers. I realize some people do choose, to whatever degree, a houseless existence, but I think it's fairly reasonable to assert that if you want to get rid of drug dealers at homeless encampments, get rid of homelessness. Which, yes, see rest of thread.
posted by rhizome at 11:12 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


I had to live in the Tenderloin with my now grown kids. We thankfully did NOTvever live in an SRO. Part of the problem I had was the insane rents in San Francisco. Just TRY renting with more than one kid! I dare you! Very hard. I used to ask them which kid They wanted me to drown. A couple pet rats would have been less of a problem for a renter. When thank God we left the aBay Area, I found out my monthly rent for a roach ridden studio could rent me a decent whole ass house where I now live.
Some of these predatory landlords are begging on their hands and knees for Second Amendment solutions.
The rent is too damn high everywhere now.. A combination of invisible disabilities and one visible one weren’t enough to get me on SSI. All I had was welfare.
Leaving was painful because there are things I miss to this day. The museums, a great zoo and aquarium, nice parks, but leaving was still the best thing that could have happened to us.
I even found work,and was able to improve our lives.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 3:42 AM on April 30 [1 favorite]


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