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KCBS In Depth: Homelessness

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— The executive director for the San Francisco Coalition for Better Housing recently vouched for Bevan Dufty in his newly-appointed position and said that if anyone can fix the homeless issue, he's the one.

Dufty a former SF Supervisor said he's had 20 years experience working in city government and recognizes that the people of San Francisco are almost experts on homelessness having experienced it on a daily basis, but still is looking for ways to de-stigmatize it.

Dufty was appointed as Director of San Francisco's HOPE (Housing Opportunities Partnership Engagement) by Mayor Ed Lee to tackle one of the city's most persistent problems.

KCBS In Depth:

Growing up in New York City, Dufty said he was able to recognize the homeless at an early age and the way they'd accumulate more baggage and shopping carts.

"Homeless individuals are different than what we experience with homeless families. Frankly, homeless families are fairly invisible to a lot of people in this city. There are children who are going to school in San Francisco and they're not even sure where they're going to sleep at night,"

Dufty also gave the sobering statistic that one out of every four African-American veterans is homeless in America.

"San Franciscans see people on the street and they don't understand it," he explained. "As frustrated as we are with people on the street, they're human beings."

He's excited for what he sees a tremendous opportunity and was encouraged by observing Project Homeless Connect where 1,600 individuals received an array of services from food to dental and medical care and even getting driver's licenses. He did note that not all of them were homeless, but without a doubt impoverished.

Dufty said from a budget analyst's perspective that you'd find that the city is doing much more for the homeless compared to what the federal and state government does.

He said rapid re-housing makes it so that families that may have been evicted don't have to enter the shelter program.

However, chronic homelessness, often blamed on untreated drug addiction and mental illness has seen steady rates for the last eight years.

According to Dufty, the health department has found $13.5 million is spent on emergency room visits and other services by the city's top 225 "users" which is why he's an advocate of "wet housing".

The housing is a type of facility cities like Seattle has implemented, where the homeless are allowed a space to drink in order to get them off the street. In some cases the city even purchases the substance for the addicts, using money from their benefit check.

"For some people that's disturbing, but if you lived on that block, having those individuals tottering down the street would be more disturbing," he said in defense, adding that Mayor Lee told him they'd be taking a trip to Seattle to check out their wet housing.

The Journal of Public Health published a study that shows the average resident of Seattle's wet housing reduced their alcohol consumption by 40 percent.

When asked if the potential facilities would include the mentally ill, Dufty answered that it could, but also talked about the importance of law enforcement's involvement. He even brought up the adage that cops are closet social workers and commended District Attorney George Gascon for his efforts on the issue.

"We're a city that believes in the humanity of people. We're a city that cares," he said recognizing that investments are being made to help the city's rampant homeless problem.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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