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Report: San Francisco Homeless Struggle To Access Enough Water For Survival

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) -- San Francisco's homeless residents struggle to access enough water to live and stay healthy, according to a grim report released Tuesday by the nonprofit Coalition on Homelessness.

The Coalition surveyed 73 homeless residents, and found that 61 percent of them do not have access to 15 liters of water a day, which is UNICEF's disaster response standard for people to meet a minimum survival level.

"Water is the foundation of dignity, health, and survival. This is a public health issue at all times, but especially during a pandemic when unhoused people are at heightened risk when they cannot for example wash their hands regularly or keep hydrated," said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

"The lack of available water for unhoused folks is a public health crisis, and compounds the inequities already faced by this predominantly Black and Brown population," Friedenbach said.

The Coalition ended the report by calling on the city to immediately install three public water stations in the Tenderloin neighborhood, which historically contains a high proportion of San Francisco's homeless residents.

In the medium term, the report recommends that the city install additional public water stations throughout the city, considering which locations would be most accessible for the homeless. In the long term, the report asserts that permanent housing solutions would be the most effective response to getting all San Franciscans enough water to live.

The report also found that 67.1 percent of the homeless residents polled lacked access to water because of the limited number of water sources near them, and 11 percent said that their access to water is policed, meaning that restaurants or cafes explicitly bar homeless people from their bathrooms.

Of those polled, 72 percent got their water from either a temporary water manifold or from a homeless service provider.

Among the international statistics regarding global water access the report cites, one example was a 2020 United Nations report that homelessness violates the human right to housing, water and sanitation.

The report used the World Health Organization's Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program's global water standards to compare the data on the international scale.

The report also noted that in 2012, California legislatively recognized the human right to water and sanitation.

"San Francisco currently does not meet the international minimal WASH standards that the United States and 192 other nations have committed to as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. To put this in perspective, based on the 2019 Point in Time Count there would need to be an additional 36 permanent water points in District 6 alone to meet the international minimum standard for water access established by the United Nations," said John Stiefel, a volunteer with the Coalition on Homelessness.


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