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How Many Are Homeless? A Question With Many Answers

June 29, 2016

How many people are homeless in San Francisco?

That question is the basis for the most frequent Google search in the city regarding homelessness. The answer, though, is elusive.

Multiple government agencies have attempted to calculate the scope of homelessness, but accurately measuring it or its social and economic impacts is difficult, if not impossible. Homelessness can take many forms and is often a temporary status, making it hard to reliably track.

The city hopes to build a more comprehensive information system, making it easier to count and provide assistance to homeless people. Currently, however, estimates on the number of people living on San Francisco’s streets — and the costs associated with them — vary dramatically.

The figure 6,686 is the most widely circulated approximation of those who are homeless in the city. That number comes from a count made on a single night in January 2015, when volunteers fanned out across San Francisco and identified people who appeared to be sleeping on the streets, in parks, in cars, or anywhere else not meant for human habitation…

This week, the Chronicle joins more than 70 other news organizations to focus San Francisco’s attention on the seemingly intractable problem of homelessness in our city. Videos, interactive graphics, and coverage from other media can be found online at and, and on Twitter at @bayareahomeless. Join the online conversation at #sfhomelessproject… (more)



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