Unhoused women in San Francisco say they struggle to find safe shelter options

Lyanne Melendez Image
Saturday, December 23, 2023
Unhoused SF women say they struggle to find safe shelter options
Unhoused women in San Francisco say they struggle to find adequate shelter options, citing safety concerns at co-ed facilities.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Homeless women in San Francisco face different challenges than men living on the streets.

"It's scary being a woman any time, but that doesn't sound right. That shouldn't be a thing, but it is. Do you get harassed? Of course. Attacked? Of course. I carry mace with me and try not to instigate problems," said Shay, an unhoused young woman.

While some women and transgender people have no choice but to stay in one of the 48 co-ed shelters in the city, there are a lot of them who don't feel safe there and would rather live outside.

"As us women, we don't feel safe in a co-ed shelter because we are not watched. They are not taken care of, so men are likely to go over the women's side to do whatever they want," said Lauren Smith, who has been homeless for 15 years and moved here from Los Angeles three months ago.

MORE: Reno successfully cut unhoused population by half. Can San Francisco do the same?

She's currently staying at this drop-in center for women run by Community Forward SF.

It's where hospitals send some unhoused patients once they are released, like this woman who was dropped off in a cab. A staff member came out to help her.

The drop-in center has no beds, only 30 reclining chairs. Still Lauren says she'll take that over a bed at any co-ed facility.

"In here, you can be safe in here. It's only for women," Smith said.

MORE: Here's how an unhoused person navigates San Francisco's shelter system

Community Forward SF knows that sleeping in a reclining chair for three months is not ideal.

"However, because of our waitlist and lack of options, folks end up staying longer," said Sammie Rayner of Community Forward SF.

Longer, because 41% of those in San Francisco who are homeless identify as women. That's more than 3,000 people. Even more startling is that this city has only enough drop-in centers, beds and transitional housing for only 5% of them.

Besides their drop-in center at one location under the freeway, Community Forward also has 56 beds in its transitional housing facility in the South of Market area.

MORE: SF claims homeless individuals decline shelter 60% of the time but some say that's inaccurate

The solution would be to combine both services at one single facility while tripling the number of beds. A workforce development division would also be added.

Los Angeles has something similar called the Women's Center.

A bond measure appearing on the March ballot will help fund the proposed center in San Francisco as part of a broader $300 million affordable housing measure.

Meanwhile, Community Forward SF continues to reach out to women in the Tenderloin and SoMa to let them know there is a place for them to sleep.

MORE: San Francisco's top leaders discuss strategy on tackling homelessness

We asked Shay where she slept at night.

"Kinda wherever. That's like a huge part of it, like sleeping. Sometimes you go so long without sleeping that you don't know what to do and maybe you get on the BART, you fall asleep and of course you wake up to police," she told us.

We asked Rayner is she's ever discouraged by the lack of city support provided to homeless women.

"You can't do this work if you don't have hope. You have to hold onto hope. That's we are going to do better, and it's hope for our city. We want our city to be better," Rayner said.

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