Homeless shelter system: recovery and expansion

San Francisco will expand shelters and Safe Sleep sites for people experiencing homelessness after COVID-19.

Before the pandemic, the City already funded many homeless shelters. After the pandemic started, these sites could only safely shelter about half as many people.

The City implemented life-saving changes to keep guests safe during the pandemic. These changes included:  

  • Re-designed existing congregate shelters in line with safety protocols. 

  • Opened new emergency hotels, trailers, shelters, and Safe Sleep sites for the COVID-19 Alternative Shelter Program. 

The COVID-19 Alternative Shelter Program closed in June 2021. The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) and the Department of Public Health (DPH) continue to run some programs opened during the COVID-19 response as part of their regular operations.

The shelter system during the pandemic

The City's shelter system helps people experiencing homelessness by providing a temporary place to stay, seek housing, and access resources. Shelters are temporary; housing is permanent.  

The City operates shelters for adults, youth, and families with children. Some have private rooms, but most are congregate. Congregate sites have shared living spaces.  

The City was able to keep some existing congregate shelters open. To do so, we had to meet COVID-19 safety standards, including:  

  • Maintaining social distancing, including bed spaces.  

  • Meeting new cleaning protocols. 

  • Conducting health screenings for guests and regular COVID-19 testing. 

  • Providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to staff and guests.  

To meet the social distancing standard, fewer shelter spaces were available. The City had to stop taking new guests and move some guests to other shelters. The shelter could also not take new guests if there were multiple positive COVID-19 cases at the facility  

To shelter as many guests as possible, the City opened emergency sites in 2020. These sites are called Shelter-in-Place, Isolation & Quarantine, and Safe Sleep Sites. Visit the Alternative Shelter Program page to learn more. 

The future of the shelter system

The City is committed to providing temporary shelter to those in need.   

COVID-19 safety protocols will determine how to safely reopen shelters at higher capacity. The City wants to build on what we learned during the pandemic. We want to do more than reopen the shelter system as it was before. This work includes opening new shelter models that offer private spaces for individuals and smaller groups, instead of shared living spaces. The Mayor's Homelessness Recovery Plan also proposes to:  

  • Reopen the shelter system to 2,100 beds for adults and youth between 18 and 24 years old. 

  • Maintain trailer, Safe Sleep, and Vehicle Triage Center programs. 

Learn more about all of the goals of the Homelessness Recovery Plan. 

Track progress towards meeting the shelter goals

These goals are proposed as a part of Mayor London N. Breed's Homelessness Recovery and Housing Expansion Plan.

Goal E: Reach 2,100 beds in the congregate shelter system by June 2022

This dashboard shows the number of active adult and youth shelter beds in the shelter system.

The City is reopening many beds that closed during the pandemic. The goal also proposes to add new beds that were not available before the pandemic. 

The Plan proposed adding new beds by opening two new Navigation Center programs:  

  • Bayview SAFE Navigation Center  

  • Lower Polk Transitional Age Youth (TAY) Navigation Center  

The City opened these sites in 2021. These two programs added a total of 159 beds by February 2021. When it is safe to do so, they will provide a total of 278 beds. 

In addition to the two New Navigation Center programs, the City opened these new shelter programs: 

  • Individual cabin pilot program at 33 Gough Street

  • The Bayview Vehicle Triage Center  

  • 3 non-congregate winter shelters

Current shelter guest data

  • The dashboard below shows the current total of guests in the shelter system. Guests include adults, families, minors, and youth between 18 and 24. The dashboard also shows the capacity of the shelter system and occupancy rate. 
  • The capacity of the system is the total of all congregate, semi-congregate, non-congregate and seasonal shelter beds. 

  • The occupancy rate in the system is the percent of all beds that are occupied.  

Read the data notes for more information.

Data notes and sources

Data notes and sources

Congregate shelters include a common space with multiple beds. 
Non-congregate shelters include private units that may have multiple beds. Trailers are examples of non-congregate shelters. 
Non-congregate shelters can house multiple individuals in a single unit. So, the total guests is not the same as the total occupancy. 

Seasonal beds include beds in shelters that do not operate all year, like the Interfaith Winter Shelter program.

COVID Capacity = all congregate beds + all non-congregate units 
COVID Capacity is all possible beds in congregate shelters, plus all possible units in trailers. It is the total number of beds or units that could shelter at least one person.  

Occupancy = occupied congregate beds + occupied non-congregate units 
Occupancy is the total number of occupied congregate beds, plus the total number of non-congregate units occupied with at least one individual. A unit with more than one individual is counted only once.  

Occupancy Rate = Occupancy ÷ COVID Capacity 
Occupancy Rate is Occupancy divided by COVID Capacity. Occupancy Rate reports how many of the possible beds or units available are occupied. 

Goal F: Maintain trailer, Safe Sleep, and Vehicle Triage Center programs

This dashboard below shows the capacity of the trailer, Safe Sleep, and Vehicle Triage Center programs. 

The City received 120 trailers to use as emergency shelter for unsheltered people who were vulnerable to COVID-19. We will continue to manage these trailers after the pandemic.  

The City will also continue to maintain or convert some Safe Sleep sites that opened during the pandemic. More information on Safe Sleep is at the bottom of the page.  

We opened a new Vehicle Triage Center (VTC) in the Bayview in January 2022. The VTC provides temporary shelter and services for people living in their vehicles. 

Safe Sleep program

This dashboard shows the number of active Safe Sleep programs and guests. 

Some tent spaces allow for couples. So, there might be more individuals than tent spaces.

Even after expanding the shelter system, we do not have enough shelter spaces to meet the needs of our community. Also, there may be people who are uncomfortable coming into a shelter for many reasons.  

The Safe Sleep program is one new strategy to meet this need. People can sleep in tents off public sidewalks at a safe distance from each other. This is a low-barrier program that:  

  • Implements COVID safety standards.

  • Offers 24/7 access (a guest can come and go any time of day).  

  • Connects clients to resources to exit homelessness.  

  • Connects clients to services .  

The City and our community partners manage the Safe Sleep program. The number of Safe Sleep programs may decrease as new shelter resources open. Safe Sleep programs provide guests with access to:  

  • Food and water  

  • Medical care   

  • Behavioral health and harm reduction services  

  • Hygiene services, including toilets, showers, and garbage  

There is 24/7 staffing at each program to support a safe environment.