SAN FRANCISCO—On Thursday, May 19, Mayor London N. Breed announced that San Francisco is one of four communities chosen to participate in the launch of the Just Home Project, a national program designed to advance community-driven efforts to break the link between housing instability and incarceration. Led by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Urban Institute, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH), in partnership with other city departments, will receive a total award of approximately $775,000 over a 2-year period (through March 2024) to implement plans and acquire or develop housing for populations that are not being served by existing resources.

“Through the Just Home Project, San Francisco will have a new opportunity to build partnerships and improve our work to support those most impacted by homelessness and incarceration,” said Mayor Breed. “We know that we have a lot of work to do in order to address the cycle of housing instability and incarceration, but this grant allows us to create innovative solutions that address racial and economic inequities that will strengthen our community.”

According to a press release from the Mayor’s Office, the city seeks to build a system of care by addressing the crises of homelessness, unmet behavioral needs, and incarceration, with recent cross-sector efforts focusing on the needs of these populations. According to data from the Sheriff’s Office, in San Francisco, at least 35 percent of the jail population is homeless. The funding allows the grant partners to build on the structure of resources already available throughout San Francisco, which includes Mental Health SF and the Shared Priority Project, which have taken on solving general safety-net gaps to address the needs of people who touch multiple systems, including homelessness systems.

Collaborative planning through the Just Home Project will create a structure that focuses on housing resources to provide much-needed support for people in danger of remaining trapped in a cycle of housing instability and incarceration. Other communities selected for the Just Home Project include Charleston County, South Carolina; Minnehaha County, South Dakota; and Tulsa County, Oklahoma. All communities will have the opportunity to receive additional support from MacArthur in the form of an impact investment.

The city is a participant in the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, an initiative that began in 2015 to reduce the overall jail population as well as racial and ethnic disparities in jails. More details on San Francisco’s work with the Safety and Justice Challenge can be found here

“People of color continue to be disproportionately harmed by contact with the criminal justice system and housing instability—these disparities became increasingly pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kelly Walsh, a principal policy associate in Urban’s Research to Action Lab and Justice Policy Center. “As the four selected communities plan for pandemic recovery, the groundbreaking Just Home Project will ensure that housing for justice-involved people is part of that recovery. We are proud to provide support and coordination to local decision makers as they plan innovative strategies to break the jail-housing instability cycle.”

“Criminal justice reform cannot happen in a silo—it is pivotal to address adjacent issues that contribute to ongoing crises in the system,” said Laurie Garduque, Director of Criminal Justice at the MacArthur Foundation. “Tackling housing instability head-on is critical to decreasing the misuse and overuse of jails and systemic and structural racial inequities, and a much-needed step toward transforming the entire justice system. We look forward to working with community residents and system stakeholders in Charleston, Minnehaha County, San Francisco, and Tulsa to support innovation and create new models of housing that can lead to new models for reform.”

“This is an exciting collaboration between our partners. Housing is a powerful way to break the cycle of housing instability and justice-involvement,” said San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, Executive Director, Shireen McSpadden. “In order to center racial equity and reduce disparities in homelessness and justice systems, cross-system partners must intentionally plan together and partner closely with people who have lived experiences of both systems. This new initiative allows us to move from managing homelessness to solving it by utilizing data-driven, evidence-based housing solutions that break the link between homelessness, housing instability, and incarceration.”

“The San Francisco Sheriff’s Office sees firsthand the tremendous need for housing among people in our care. At least 35% of all people booked into our jails identify as homeless or transient according to our data,” said San Francisco Sherriff, Paul Miyamoto. “Many more are unstably housed or have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. We are committed to continuing to work in partnership to meet this critical need and we’re excited and grateful for the opportunity presented by the Just Home Project.”

“As public defenders, we represent many community members who end up in the system as a direct result of unmet needs such as lack of housing, or who cannot get housing post-incarceration because they have been in the system,” said Mano Raju, San Francisco Public Defender. “We are hopeful that this grant can help pave the way to create a sustainable plan for increased housing access for community members who are systems-impacted.”