San Francisco's Union Square business community reaches out to growing homeless population

Tuesday, December 15, 2015
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Businesses in San Francisco's Union Square neighborhood say they're seeing an increase in homeless people and so they've launched a new initiative called Union Square Cares to help those on the streets.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Businesses in San Francisco's Union Square neighborhood say they're seeing an increase in the homeless in the area.

San Francisco's mayor has made the homeless crisis one of his top priorities and now Union Square businesses have too.

They've launched a new initiative to help those on the streets called Union Square Cares and it focuses on the homeless who have become an increasingly common presence.

"Really individuals that are in need, mentally ill, have addictions and we want to make sure that they get help," said Karin Flood with the Union Square Business Improvement District.

Karin Flood is with the Union Square Businesses Improvement District, which has decided to hire a city homeless outreach worker dedicated to Union Square, as well as train their safety ambassadors who already interact with those on the street and the tourists who see them.

"'Why do we have a lot of homeless here?' That's one of the questions I get asked," said Gerald Burgie, one of the city's safety ambassadors.

Now the ambassadors will be equipped with business cards with dispatch numbers and hotels with brochures explaining what the city is doing about the crisis and what they hope tourists won't do. They're encouraging them not to give to panhandlers and instead donate to social service agencies.

Union Square Cares is collaborating with Project Homeless Connect.

"We can get people medical care, get them connected with family and friends, get them connected with housing and shelter," said Emily Cohen with Project Homeless Connect. "Things that a cup of coffee and $10 may not be able to do."

The Homeless Coalition says people should not be discouraged from direct handouts, but with at least 45 people on the streets in the heart of this shopping mecca, Union Square Cares believes they have a better approach.