The homelessness department in San Francisco is calling for the continuation of an expensive tent encampment program that would become a cornerstone in keeping people off of the streets by using makeshift homes worth $60,000 annually.

There are six of what officials call “safe sleeping villages” where residents without permanent residence can go to sleep inside tents while receiving three meals a day. The locations also provide 24/7 security, bathrooms and showers. The sites were created in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic to maintain social distancing even among homeless individuals.

Massive Homelessness Program

Currently, the city’s tent program costs a total of $18.2 million for about 260 makeshift homes. And unlike San Francisco’s homeless hotel program, the tent villages are not eligible for federal compensation. Several nonprofit organizations have been running the sites, including Urban Alchemy, Dolores Street Community Services and Larkin Street Youth Services.

But now, the department is requesting an additional $15 million from the city of San Francisco to be used in the coming fiscal year to be used to purchase a similar number of tents. The cost was estimated to be around $57,000 per year. If city officials approve the request, they will pay nearly twice the median cost of a one-bedroom apartment for the tents two years in a row.

The department announced it would close down some of the sites this year but noted they would be looking for new areas to build new ones. Officials said they planned to tone down the program significantly in the fiscal year 2022-2023, with an estimated required budget of $5 million, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

During a Wednesday budget hearing, multiple supervisors agreed the cost of the program must be re-examined, primarily due to the winding down of the city’s COVID-19 emergency response. “It is a big deal to have showers and bathrooms, and I don’t dispute that. But the cost just doesn’t make any sense,” Supervisor Hillary Ronen said during the meeting.

The bulk of the costs for the tent program was primarily due to the 24/7 security, three meals a day and shower and bathroom facilities, Gigi Whitley, the homeless department’s deputy director of administration and finance, said.