San Francisco is opening a forward-thinking new homeless shelter designed to house entire communities of people who have long lived on the streets. If you would like to be pessimistic about this nice development, consider the big picture.
San Francisco is the closest thing that America has to a city in which the middle class is completely purged from the city limits. "The median price of a single-family home sold in San Francisco in January was $915,000," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The average asking rent at the end of 2014 for a studio apartment was $2,575." The new homeless shelter in the Mission district, meanwhile, is funded by a multimillion-dollar private donation, and is slated to be open for only 18 months before it is turned into apartments. It can house up to 75 people.
With a $2 million donation, the city is able to run a shelter that houses 75 people for 18 months. At that rate, it would cost the city of San Francisco about $115 million to house its current homeless population for one year—more than a billion dollars over the next decade. That sounds like a lot of money. But in a city with an $8 billion annual budget, it's not necessarily prohibitive.
Even if San Francisco did decide to build enough shelter beds for all of its homeless citizens, it runs the risk of duplicating New York City's homeless system: comprehensive, and plagued by "Dangerous living conditions, rat-and-roach-infested residences and fire violations." (And not very effective at diminishing the homeless population.) Homeless shelters are short-term emergency measures, not long-term plans. Things that have been shown to actually get homeless people off the streets include building permanent long-term housing, and intensive job-training programs coupled with intensive social services designed to propel people to self-sustainability.
A new homeless shelter is better than no homeless shelter. But it is not better than affordable housing and living-wage jobs. San Francisco is a city racing full speed towards becoming the exclusive domain of the rich. If they build more homeless shelters, middle class people will be clamoring to rent them for $1,500 a month.