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Media Roundtable: In San Francisco, hundreds of units sit vacant as unhoused people wait months, or even years, for assisted housing

San Francisco, like many places across the West, face a growing homelessness crisis.
Jeff Chiu
San Francisco, like many places across the West, face a growing homelessness crisis.

On this edition of Your Call’s media roundtable, we’ll discuss a 10-month ProPublica / San Francisco Public Press investigation, which found that in San Francisco, hundreds of units sit empty as unhoused people wait months or even years for assisted housing.

Award-winning journalist Nuala Bishari investigated the city’s methods for getting people out of tents or other short-term shelter and into permanent supportive housing. She found:

  • Vacancies have doubled in the past 15 months in San Francisco’s permanent supportive housing — units it has purchased, leased or contracted out to private service providers. 
  • Filling those empty rooms would cut the waiting list by more than half — and it would be enough to house roughly one in every eight homeless people in the city. 
  • Officials acknowledge that at least 400 people approved for permanent supportive housing have been waiting more than a year.
  • The $598 million annual budget for the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing has tripled since the department was created in 2016. The city now has more than 8,000 supportive housing units, but it’s still not enough for all those in need.


Nuala Bishari, award-winning reporter for the San Francisco Public Press and a fellow with ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network

Web Resources:

The San Francisco Public Press :In San Francisco, Hundreds of Homes for the Homeless Sit Vacant

The Guardian: Unhoused and unequal: a California crisis

San Francisco Chronicle: Proposal would force S.F. to provide shelter to all homeless people. Could it get more folks off the streets?

San Francisco Chronicle: S.F. pledged to end family homelessness. It failed, but there’s new hope with a SoMa building

Malihe Razazan is the senior producer of KALW's daily call-in program, Your Call.
Rose Aguilar has been the host of Your Call since 2006. She became a regular media roundtable guest in 2001. In 2019, the San Francisco Press Club named Your Call the best public affairs program. In 2017, The Nation named it the most valuable local radio show.