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A Regional Homeless Housing Solution

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A New Solution to Housing the Homeless

The way America deals with homelessness is broken. Every year, cities spend more to try and manage homelessness at a local level, and every year they come up short. In the past 8 years, US spending on homelessness has doubled, yet homelessness itself has only decreased by 10%.



US Government funding on homeless assistance 2007-204 compared with homelessness during the same time.


Instead of blowing billions MANAGING homelessness city by city, governments should be exploring homeless housing SOLUTIONS on a regional level, investing in locations where rents are cheaper and land is more available. By giving homeless people the opportunity to be housed outside the city, I predict homelessness could decrease 25% by 2016 and save America billions in the process. Don’t believe me? Read on.

Re-Thinking Homeless Solutions 

Before I go further, let me start by saying homelessness, gentrification, and welfare are not easy topics for people to discuss. Personal feelings aside, we all have to recognize that in the current system there are people dying every day on the streets and it’s time we stopped trying to manage homelessness and instead focussed on practical ways to ending it for every single person who falls on hard times. If you agree, then join the Regional Housing First Change.Org campaign.


Where I live in San Francisco, housing prices are so insane that there is zero chance of ending homelessness within the city.  And it’s a similar story around the country. The 30 cities below account for almost 50% of homelessness in America.


The 30 biggest homeless cities in the United States of America. They also have the fastest rising rents

The Big Idea

Many factors contribute to homelessness, but nothing more than the lack of low-income housing and rising rents. The simple solution is to build more low-income housing or Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) for those with special needs.

Knowing this, places like Salt Lake City shocked the country by reducing chronic homelessness by 72% after building 1,000’s of supportive housing units. America cheered and everyone started saying, “why doesn’t every city just do that?”

The reason is that building enough low-income housing in big cities is incredibly expensive, neighbors fight it tooth and nail, and what little land is available to build on is hotly contested. But once cities start thinking outside of the box, and outside their city limits, the situation gets a lot easier. The infographic below shows the Northern California real estate market,  where some cities are 80% cheaper to rent in than others.

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A Regional Housing First model explored in Northern California


The housing model below explores a regional housing solution for San Francisco’s chronically homeless. These individuals need Permanent Supportive Housing, which currently has a 5 year wait for most individuals. In that time people survive on the streets, costing taxpayers an average of $61,000/yr in services. By building PSH outside the city, San Francisco could house people faster, cheaper, and give 100% of it’s chronically homelessness the option to have housing.



San Francisco Permanent Supportive Housing Cost options around the region



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Data: San Francisco’s 2014 cost analysis of Supportive Housing, Online building quotes, and Trulia.

 There are few logical reasons for a city to build permanent supportive housing inside the city where it is 3.5x more expensive and has to go through years of approvals. The majority of people in PSH are unable to work and the cost of living in cities like San Francisco make people more impoverished than they already are. Lastly, PSH in San Francisco takes away from the affordable housing stock reserved for working class individuals.


Statistics and subgroups of who lives in Permanent Supportive Housing



Permanent Supportive Housing is only needed for people who are unable to care for themselves, but most people who become homeless just need a safe place to live while they get back on their feet. The problem once again is there aren’t enough shelters and affordable housing in big cities.

In the next housing model, San Francisco, Santa Rosa, and San Jose explore a Northern California housing solution, where homeless individuals are given the option of receiving free rent for a year in a more affordable city of their choice. The model shows what would happen if 25% of people chose to relocate instead of being homeless.

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For each person housed, an additional $4,200 is put aside for local service providers to assist with case management, life coaching, work programs, meals, and whatever else is needed.  Housing is offered in 2, 3, or 4 bedroom options, so that people can re-locate with friends. At $8,400 per person, this option is much better than homeless shelters ($12,800/yr) and the ($34,000/yr) cost a city incurs for every homeless individual.

Now you might be wondering: would people really want to live somewhere else? Maybe… maybe not. But it’s an option we should be offering. Currently, the only option we offer people is to stay homeless. Or worse, we put people in jail for being homeless.

A regional housing solution would be a great option for people after going through a 90-day shelter stay, when many homeless people don’t have anything else lined up. Remember, the only option we currently offer people is to stay homeless on the streets. That’s not an option, that’s a recipe for depression, substance abuse, and crimes of survival.

There are lots of different ways for cities to create regional housing solutions and they should all be explored. Investing in new buildings, converting old ones, master-leasing rentals, building Tiny House Villages, working with local service providers, and using virtual service providers are all options that provide a starting point from which to experiment and innovate.

But in case you still aren’t convinced, you should know that homelessness is likely to get much, much worse. The leading indicator of homelessness, people living doubled up in houses, has almost doubled since the recession. DOUBLED! No one wants to think about it, but there is a poverty bubble building all around us and when it pops we better have a good solution on how to help those in need.


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Roadblocks to Regional Housing

Perhaps the biggest challenge to creating a regional housing solution is that it’s almost completely unheard of for local governments to invest resources in other cities. But just because it’s unusual doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.

Governments need to look at a regional housing solution and think, “How can we” instead of “Why can’t we.”

Secondly, there’s a fear of displacing people outside the city. This is a justified concern, but not something that should derail an otherwise good solution. The only way to deal with homelessness on a local level is to build more affordable housing. But with our current level of resources, regional housing solutions may be the only viable option we have. We should always be able to offer people an alternative to living on the streets. Having to move to a new city isn’t perfect, but neither is being homeless. 

Also, a 2013 survey showed 39% of people moved to big cities after becoming homeless somewhere else. The people believed there were better social services and opportunities in big cities. Unfortunately, when they arrive in cities like San Francisco they realize there is a lack affordable housing, understaffed homeless services, and increasing rate at which San Francisco’s homeless are thrown in jail.

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Another hurdle will be working things out with cities where people are housed. But remember, helping the homeless is big business, billions are spent on it every year. Big cities have lots of money to help smaller communities in return for their help. And lots of these smaller communities can’t afford to help the homeless in their city currently.

Lastly, there will be objections from homeless service providers who argue that we should keep the homeless closer to their existing services. This is a concern, but homeless service providers can be found everywhere in the country. Also, a regional housing solution will allow homeless numbers in big cities to decrease to the point where service providers can take care of their clients better. Every service provider I know operates in crisis management mode 100% of the time. They are understaffed, underpaid, and overwhelmed with the lack of options at their disposal.

 The reality is, homeless service providers are incapable of managing homelessness without having affordable housing to offer people.

Touching on one last thing, we’ve done a huge disservice to the mentally ill by centralizing their services in urban areas where they are more likely to have a negative altercation with others.

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It’s no secret that the majority of the mentally ill have ended up in our prison system.  A regional housing solution will allow us to create special housing for our mentally ill in less built up areas, where they can live in lower stress environments and be in the constant care of wellness professionals.

No Progress without Compromise

The reality is, we’ve built a homeless system where people need to flock to big cities as a means of survival. People come for services, they complain when it becomes clear we don’t have enough, and year after year, cities are forced to invest more resources into making the streets livable.

But what big cities don’t offer the homeless is what really matters — affordable housing and jobs that allow people to afford rent.

 That’s why it’s time to make a change! If you want to support a regional housing solution, sign our campaign below. If 30,000 people sign up, then A Better San Francisco will organize a Regional Housing Summit for California and assist the mayors of the thirty cities below to organize one as well.



No one is winning by keeping people homeless. Not taxpayers, not the homeless, and certainly not society as a whole.

People are homeless because they don’t have any other options. Let’s help make one for them. SIGN THE PETITION. SUPPORT A REGIONAL HOMELESS HOUSING SOLUTION TODAY.


Ending Homelessness Together

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Two weeks ago I showed how we could end homelessness in San Francisco and save money by giving homes and services to 100% of our homeless. The response so far has been overwhelming, and while some questioned my intentions, no one’s been able to tell me why it can’t be done. 

If you recall, the city spends an average of $61,000/yr to care for someone suffering and homeless on the streets. And we can provide 100% of them housing and services at a fraction of that cost. So in it’s most simplified form, ending homelessness is just a matter of re-allocating resources into affordable supportive housing for everyone who needs it.

My conclusion was that we should come together for a town hall event, acting as somewhat of a wakeup call and to start getting us moving on the right track. Since then, I’ve met with city officials, community leaders, and received over 500 signups for the town hall. Thus, along with a group of people who wanted to help, I’ve created the San Francisco Cares team to help make the vision of ending homelessness in San Francisco a reality.


Coming Together to #EndHomelessness in San Francisco

Of course, this is not something my team and I can do alone. That’s why I’m excited to announce we’ll be partnering with Project Homeless Connecta lynchpin in San Francisco’s homeless communityto bring together the community, research affordable housing options, and organize the #EndHomelessness Town Hall on March 11th. Here, we’ll show the city affordable homeless housing options and help our officials overcome concerns with integrating these solutions with current homeless housing policies.

The #EndHomelessness Town Hall will focus on a single question “How can we best provide shelter and support services to 100% of our homeless community?”

To answer this, we’ll be flying in leaders in affordable housing solutions nationwide to pitch ideas and afterwards we’ll have a fireside chat with civic leaders to hear their thoughts. Throughout the event, the audience will be allowed to ask questions and at the end we’ll have a vote, which officials will review to gauge feedback from the crowd.

Join Now

If this town hall format seems new, it’s because it is. We’re challenging every part of the system that got us to this point and asking, “is the way we do things now really the best way to do it?”

I believe deep down that we can end homelessness in San Francisco in the near future by finding creative solutions to shelter and support 100% of our homeless. If we’re successful at ending homelessness here, other municipalities will follow our model. There are 2.5 million homeless people in the US and 100 million around the world. We’re fighting to help make San Francisco better for everyone here, but also for all the homeless in the world who aren’t getting the help and services they need to get their lives back together.

I believe deep down that we can end homelessness in San Francisco in the near future by finding creative solutions to shelter and support 100% of our homeless. If we’re successful at ending homelessness here, other municipalities will follow our model. There are 2.5 million homeless people in the US and 100 million worldwide. So remember, while we’re working towards helping the homeless here, we’re also setting an example to everyone worldwide. That’s the San Francisco Cares way.

Right now, this is my plan. I’m sure it has some holes, but investing in an affordable housing ladder for 100% of the homeless is the best comprehensive solution I’ve seen. And just like any plan, this is just the first draft. Something to be built upon.

So if you’ve ever seen the homeless and felt like somehow this isn’t right, that there’s gotta be a better way and it’s time for change, then get ready because this is your chance to be part of the solution.

Sign up for the Town Hall: Be part of this historic event and show the city you care about ending homelessness in San Francisco. Tickets are free with the option to donate towards our event costs if you believe in what we’re doing.

Promote your organization: If you’re involved in a homeless advocacy group or supportive agency, we would love to find a way to integrate your organization at the event. You have been in the trenches fighting for homeless rights and this should be your time to shine. Please contact our organizing partner, Project Homeless Connect, to see what we can do for you

Join San Francisco CaresWe’re building a determined and passionate team of people who operate autonomously at rocket-ship speed. If you’d like to help us solve social problems in affordable, unconventional ways then email

More announcements to come. Stay tuned.


Solving Homelessness

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Last year I wrote a rant on Facebook voicing my displeasure with San Francisco’s homeless community. It went viral. People thought I was a monster. And in turn, I spent the last year learning about homelessness and what could be done to make things better.

When I started this journey, it was obvious there was something I was missing. Where others devoted their lives to helping the homeless, I didn’t care at all. They were by all means, not my problem.

But over time, and with a lot of help from friends, research, and volunteering, I came to see the many reasons why people become homeless, and the near impossible road to recovery they all share. That they’re a group of people suffering, depressed, and lost in a system that they can’t find their way out of. And that it’s everyone’s responsibility to figure out a way to help.

So now I’m back, asking for a second chance and hoping to help start a civic conversation about what we can all do to help the homeless.

San Francisco can do better

So let’s start with something we should all agree upon: Despite a lot of good peoples’ best efforts, San Francisco is failing at helping our homeless.

Over the last 10 years, we spent $1.5 billion dollars to “abolish homelessness” only to see our homeless population increase by 3 percent. That’s because homelessness is a never-ending revolving door, we help one person and another takes their place. There will always be unfortunate circumstances that cause people to be homeless. And while we can’t stop these things from happening, we can be prepared to help them whenever it occurs.

The Case for Housing the Homeless

San Francisco has between 7,000–14,000 homeless people. And to support them, we have roughly 1,145 shelter beds. Leaving the majority of our homeless community to figure out trivial things like “where to sleep” or “how to survive” on a daily basis.

Now here’s the kicker!

It costs the city $61,000/yr between ER’s, jail, and support services per homeless person living on the streets. And only $12,000/yr to provide a homeless person with permanent housing, giving them free safe housing, instead of suffering on the street. So buying the homeless housing is not only the right thing to do, it’s also saves the government a lot of money. Over $40,000/yr per person!

If you take one thing away from this post, remember that the very best way to help the homeless, and how we can turn things around, is to provide them housing in safe areas surrounded by supportive services.

But, the solution requires more housing than our small city has to offer. Our government knows this, but continues to make plans that don’t address the issue. Furthermore, we leave 80% of our homeless without shelter options, causing their situation to deteriorate as they are forced to do whatever it takes to survive. This is the current face of homelessness in San Francisco.

Instead, what we should be doing is planning for 1 percent of our population to be homeless at any time and creating housing options accordingly. The good news is San Francisco has enough money to do this and an incredible amount of good people who want to help. The bad news is, it will take everyone in the city to agree on solutions for our policy makers to see things through. Helping the homeless is a taboo subject and it’s political suicide to make a bad step in this space. It’s up to everyone to get behind solutions that can help our entire homeless population, now and in the future.

An Affordable Housing Plan

We need to create an affordable and scalable homeless housing plan, which ensures no one is ever left to fend for themselves on the streets. The system breaks the moment people have nowhere safe to sleep. Depression sets in, substance abuse rises, crime rises, and the costs to the rest of us rise dramatically.

 Living on the street should never be an option; instead it should be a red flag that our policies aren’t working.

While it would be nice to buy everyone free housing in San Francisco, it’s not realistic. For now, we’ll have to settle on a plan that incorporates our current housing and shelters alongside creative solutions that fit in our budget, like low-cost supportive tent cities, housing more people outside the city (we’re already doing this), and re-allocating our city budget away from ineffective programs and into programs with the biggest potential for positive impact, such as 100k homes, which housed 105,000 people from 2010 to 2014. 181 cities participated in this program. San Francisco did not.

Solving Homelessness

To be clear, we’re not only housing people, we’re housing them nearby support services like case workers and workforce empowerment programs. We’re also not talking about shipping our homeless off to be someone else’s problem. We’re talking about responsibly buying our homeless housing in a safe place, where they can have a chance to get their lives back together.

The alternative is our current system, which has thousands suffering in unimaginable conditions on our streets, while we all watch helplessly, wondering why our city doesn’t do anything. The reason is because talking about homelessness is controversial and the solutions to homelessness aren’t the perfect answers anyone wants to hear.

Pushing for Policy Reform

If you want to be part of the solution, then join me in organizing San Francisco’s first homeless town hall, where we’ll discuss creative solutions alongside community leaders. If 1,000 people sign up, then I’ll organize the event and begin the official conversation to push policy reform.

If nothing changes from here on out, then we are all to blame because we sat by and accepted the status quo instead of seizing the opportunity before us. Change does happen, but only with a strong kick in the ass to get things going.

So sign up for the homeless town hall. Make “how we can help the homeless” a talking point amongst your friends. Share this post on social media #SFCares. Learn about progressive solutions like the Downtown Streets Team, 100k homes, supportive tent communities (Pinellas Hope andShare/Wheel) and creative affordable housing (Dignity Village, Opportunity Village, and Community First).

It’s rare to have the opportunity to impact social change like this. And we’re fortunate to live in a city where politicians listen and people value big disruptive ideas. I don’t know where things go from here, but I know this is how they start. If you’re ready, let’s come together and figure out a way to help make things better. Sign here.

The Daily Show: The Homeless Homed

Tl;Dr — We can solve San Francisco’s homeless problem and save cash by creating free housing solutions for the homeless. Sign up here for San Francisco’s Homeless Town Hall #SFCares

The Stupidest Thing I Ever Did

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At the end of 2013 I made the stupidest mistake of my life. I wrote an arrogant post on Facebook shunning the drug dealers, mentally ill, and homeless people on Market Street in San Francisco.




At the time, I was lashing out because I’d been attacked before and felt helpless. But regardless of my personal experiences, I generalized large sub-groups of people and showed the worst side of me in doing so. The media made me out to be a monster and zeroed in on the homeless angle. I don’t blame them, it made for a good story. And at the time I didn’t understand homelessness at all. Now, I could talk for hours about the causes of homelessness, the struggles faced by those trying to fight their way out, and all the data, which proves that 50% of the homeless were living normal functional lives just a year ago. But when I wrote my post I was arrogant and misguided on the subject.

It’s not that homelessness isn’t a problem in San Francisco and it’s not that I didn’t have every right in the world to vent my frustrations on Facebook with a group of people that was attacking me and my friends. The problem was the way I addressed the issue was insensitive, made over-reaching generalizations, and didn’t do justice to a homeless system in San Francisco, which is in desperate need of reform.

Unlucky for me, this post became viral, the media sensationalized it and painted me out to be the poster-boy for rich heartless monsters who hate the poor, and unfortunately this continued for almost a year. By all means, it was a bad situation.

But the worst part about it was that it distracted San Francisco from the necessary conversation our community needed to have on reforming our broken homeless policies. The whole city had their eye on the problem and nothing happened. Instead of focusing on ways we can improve things for the homeless, my post shifted the focus to how much of an asshole I was.

Now I didn’t know what I was doing at the time. I never meant any harm to anyone, I was just venting on Facebook. But words can weapons and it was a great opportunity for me to learn about the media, politics, and most importantly, myself.  As bad as everything was, the experience turned my world upside and gave me a great opportunity to grow as a person. I spent the next year re-educating myself on homelessness, social issues, and everything in between. Along the way I constantly learned new things about myself, challenged a lot of my fundamental viewpoints, and came out the other side feeling like a more complete person.

In the end, I lost a lot of friends, I lost a lot of respect, went through a hellish year, but grew immensely. Learning from your mistakes is a lifelong journey. I’m not perfect, but this year has put me on a path to become a better man. In hindsight, I’m ashamed of what happened, but happy with how I dealt with it. And in the end, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.