San Francisco Marks One Year Milestone of Pilot Homeless Outreach Program

Since the launch of HEART in 2023, the program has responded to over 80% of calls to 311 or 911 involving unhoused people and 70% of calls related to sidewalk and street encampments
May 16, 2024

San Francisco, CA – The City’s Homeless Engagement Assistance Response Team (HEART) program reached a significant milestone as the program marks its first year helping people experiencing homelessness. Building on the City’s broader street outreach plan, Mayor Breed launched the HEART Team last year as an additional resource to engage with people citywide experiencing homelessness and an alternative to law enforcement response for non-emergency calls of people living on City streets.  

On average, HEART's four teams of practitioners and supervisors operate citywide, helping nearly 300 people every week. In its first year, the program has helped thousands with connections to shelter, public benefits, as well as medical and behavioral health resources. HEART responded to over 80% of calls to 311 or 911 involving unhoused people, including calls about blocked sidewalks and is now responding to approximately 70% of calls related to small encampments and people experiencing homelessness.  

HEART is one component of the City’s broader street response effort, providing rapid responses to reported needs, as part of a multi-agency collaboration under the coordination of the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management (DEM). This is just part of the City’s broader efforts to reduce street homelessness, which resulted in a 41% drop in tents between July 2023 and April 2024.  

In just one year, HEART has:   

  • Addressed 13,875 requests for service and 100% of the calls were closed 
  • Responded to over 80% of calls from the public related to blocked sidewalks and 70% of calls related to small encampments and people experiencing homelessness 
  • Completed 1,012 needs assessments 
  • Referred 399 individuals to an access point 
  • Placed 144 individuals into an emergency shelter, night shelter, or waitlist  
  • Completed 168 public benefits applications (ie. GA, CalFresh, Medi-Cal) 

“Having a dedicated team of outreach workers trained and equipped to help people experiencing homelessness, access resources and support they need while addressing community concerns that help free up critical police resources is making a difference,” said Mayor London Breed. “San Francisco’s HEART teams are available to help people who may be having a difficult time, and we know there is a great level of need on our streets. We have a responsibility to help people off our streets and into a system of care, but people have to want the help. I remain committed to continuing to prioritize the City’s comprehensive network of street outreach work to ensure our streets are safe and clean.”  

Under DEM's oversight, HEART is a community-based team made up of Urban Alchemy practitioners who are trained to provide compassionate, services-first response to non-medical and non-emergency 911 and 311 calls involving people who are experiencing homelessness, to help alleviate police call volume. The teams are only dispatched to engage with community when there is no indication of crime, violence, threats, mental health, or medical need.  

Historically, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) has responded to all calls involving street response – now, HEART responds to a majority of all 311 and 911 calls regarding homeless people, and street and sidewalk encampments. DEM is currently piloting opportunities to divert additional calls involving people experiencing homelessness off of the police board and to HEART, including portions of trespassing and suspicious persons calls.  

“HEART filled an important gap in our street response network, offering a response to constituent concerns about people experiencing homelessness while helping people access resources in San Francisco,” said Mary Ellen Carroll, Executive Director of the DEM.  “Empowering people to make significant life changes is hard, but I know HEART approaches this work as an opportunity to change someone’s life for the better.  DEM is proud to partner with UA/HEART on such an important effort.”  

San Francisco has a robust range of specialized crisis and planned response teams, collectively known as “SF Coordinated Street Response Teams” that work in coordination to address mental health and substance use crisis, medical health and wellness, shelter needs, and street-condition-related matters. These teams are extensively trained in trauma-informed care, motivational interviewing, cultural competency, and de-escalation.   

 “HEART is about addressing the needs of some of our City’s most vulnerable residents in a compassionate way that maintains their dignity and respect through a trauma-informed response,” said Dr. Lena Miller, CEO of Urban Alchemy. “This successful one-year milestone should send an important message to San Franciscans and cities across the country: community-based safety works. We are proud to continue our partnership with the City and continue to work our magic to support the unhoused community and our hometown.” 

HEART views the experiences of those unhoused through a trauma-informed, compassionate, and strength-based lens, and integrates a range of motivational and empowering strategies that result in trust-building and productive engagement. Serving as an alternative to law enforcement, the specialized teams reinforce resources for people in need of higher levels of care, including:  

  • Client Engagement
  • Assessing and helping clients meet their immediate needs (shoes, clothes, wheelchair, etc.) 
  • Documenting longer term service linkage needs 
  • Coordinating with San Francisco’s other specialized street response teams and other City services that result in greater stability and safety for the client 

HEART practitioners are first required to complete specialized training prior to deployment as part of the team’s focus on working with those in the unhoused community who need a higher level of care, including:    

  • Trauma-Informed and Strength Based Care    
  • Cultural and Gender Awareness    
  • De-escalation    
  • Harm Reduction    
  • Self-Care and Wellness Safety    
  • CPR and First Aid    
  • Naloxone Training    
  • Needs & Engagement Assessment    
  • Services Linkages    

DEM oversees HEART field operations together with Urban Alchemy, ensuring close alignment with DEM’s Department of Emergency Communications (DEC) routine collaboration to identify system and program needs, review services quality and impact, and develop strategies for improvement. The team operates seven days a week: Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. on weekends.   

“Pharoah is a HEART care coordinator who, alongside his fellow HEART team members has shown the upmost professionalism and compassionate client services,” said Armani Cagler-Cash, Care Coordinator, Episcopal Community Services/Cova Hotel. “I can proudly say I have worked side by side with [HEART] and serviced mutual clients here at The Cova Hotel.” 

“Since the inception of SF Heart, any time The East Cut Community Benefit District requests escalated forms of outreach through SF311, Heart ambassadors are on scene the same day,” said Garrick Mitchler, East Cut Community Benefit District. “This rapid service creates goodwill with both the community requesting outreach and unhoused folks who need assistance.” 

“HEART has been very encouraging and consoling to us, in particular, HEART outreach team member Shana who is quick to respond whenever we call for help,” said the Missons of Charity of San Francisco. “Shana’s motherly approach combined with her professionalism is precisely what we need in our work with the poorest of the poor in distress.” 

HEART launched in 2023 under Mayor Breed’s Budget as a pilot project and has quickly become a vital and integrated part of San Francisco’s coordinated street response efforts.