The Coalition on Homelessness organizes homeless people and front line service providers to create permanent solutions to homelessness, while working to protect the human rights of those forced to remain on the streets.
The Coalition on Homelessness is a homeless advocacy and social justice organization that focuses on creating long-term solutions to homelessness, poverty, and housing issues in San Francisco, California. Founded in 1987, the Coalition has since remained a leader in homeless advocacy over the years. The Coalition on Homelessness has also founded the newspaper Street Sheet, the Community Housing Partnership, and the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP).
The Coalition operates on a bottom-up grassroots organizing model, centering peer surveys and outreach. This methodology allows its advocacy and policies to be shaped by those experiencing homelessness, rather than policy makers. To ensure this independence, the Coalition has committed to refusing any form of government funding. The Coalition organizes every project through work-groups led by staff and volunteers, focusing on a variety of areas including homeless shelter, behavioral health treatment, affordable housing, and decriminalization of homelessness
The Coalition operates on a bottom-up grassroots organizing model, centering peer surveys and outreach. This methodology allows its advocacy and policies to be shaped by those experiencing homelessness, rather than policy makers. To ensure this independence, the Coalition has committed to refusing any form of government funding. The Coalition organizes every project through work-groups led by staff and volunteers, focusing on a variety of areas including homeless shelter, behavioral health treatment, affordable housing, and decriminalization of homelessness.
The Coalition was formed in 1987 by a collaboration of San Francisco service providers, homeless and formerly homeless people, and activists who were “burned-out” and “disenfranchised” by the city’s ineffectiveness at addressing the homeless crisis. This group was frustrated with initiatives such as Mayor Dianne Feinstein’s “shelter-bed-and-a-sandwich” policies, which failed to address the root causes of homelessness and, according to Coalition founder Paul Boden, didn’t allow for the input of those experiencing homelessness.  The original idea for the Coalition on Homelessness was written on a bar napkin from Harrington’s Bar and shared around places like Hospitality House and the Tenderloin Housing Clinic as a concept for an independent group with a “focus on maintaining a forum where everyone could come together and speak safely on issues of social and economic justice.”
The Early Years (1987–1990)
In 1987, a ragtag group of community activists and homeless folks, fed up with the lack of a response to homelessness that addressed the root causes, formed the Coalition on Homelessness. In 1989, the Street Sheet was founded, now holding the double distinction of being both the oldest continuously published street newspaper in North America, and the paper with the largest circulation.
In 1990, following the Loma Prieta Earthquake, the Coalition created the first supportive housing for homeless people in San Francisco in the form of Community Housing Partnership, providing permanent affordable supportive housing as well as offering several services such as employment opportunities, job training, and case management. In April 1992, the Coalition along with other non-profit and advocacy groups helped create the San Francisco Shelter Grievance Policy. This makes San Francisco the only place in the country where shelter residents have due process rights. The program allows shelter residents who are asked to leave to request an internal hearing, and if the resident is unsatisfied with the outcome, they can appeal to an independent arbitrator whose decisions are binding. The program was created by Susan Mizner who was an attorney at Homeless Advocacy Project and Arnette Watson who is a formerly homeless leader at the Coalition. In 1993 they designed and advocated for the McMillan Center, a 24-hour drop-in facility for substance users, in an effort to reduce the number of overdose deaths on the street. In 1996, the Coalition fought against the city’s “Matrix Program,” an initiative of Mayor Frank Jordan’s aimed at addressing homelessness through police and criminalization, including getting 39,000 tickets dismissed in court and the eventual end of the program. Also in 1996, the labor group People Organized to Win Employment Rights (Power) formed from the Coalition’s General Assistance Rights Union (POWER went on to create free Muni for youth), and the Coalition’s efforts helped lead to the creation of the city’s “Treatment on Demand” Initiative, which resulted in the expansion of 1,200 treatment slots and dramatically reducing the number of fatal overdoses through the creation of the DOPE project. The following year, a group of low-income mothers with the Coalition designed and secured funding for Oshun, a 24-hour drop-in treatment center for homeless families.
In 2000, the Coalition on Homelessness helped form and staff the People’s Budget Collaborative, a group of community-based organizations that fights for investments in community programs in the city budget. In 2002, the Coalition helped create the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center. In 2005, the Coalition pushed for the creation of the San Francisco Shelter Monitoring Committee to monitor shelter conditions across the city, as well as creating the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) along with other organizations throughout California, Oregon, and Washington. The release of the Coalition’s 2008 report on shelter conditions–Shelter Shock–led to the first legislation in San Francisco to set minimum legal standards for homeless shelters.
In 2014 a Coalition work-group pushed for changes to the shelter system wait list requiring people to stand outside of shelters for hours, leading to the creation of a 311 call-in system. In 2015 the Coalition released two influential reports: “The Roadmap,” a five-year plan to end homelessness, and “Punishing the Poorest,” a collaboration with UC Berkeley Center for Human Rights studying the criminalization of homelessness. In 2012, the Coalition along with Hospitality House, started the Homeless Emergency Services Coalition which by 2019 has successfully gotten the city to reallocate almost $50 million in housing subsidies, treatment beds and homeless prevention services, resulting in over 1,700 households exiting homelessness, and thousands more having displacement staved off. The Coalition fought with WRAP to pass “Right to Rest” laws in the California legislature in 2016 and 2018, failing both times to become law. Throughout the decade, the Coalition also fought many battles against SFPD, including blocking attempts to implement tasers, pushing for crisis intervention guidelines, transforming Use of Force standards, and stopping the building of a new jail. In 2018, they led the campaign for Proposition C, a ballot initiative to levy business taxes to fund housing and services that passed in the 2018 election. In early 2019 the Coalition was the face of a very public battle surrounding the building of a navigation center in the Embarcadero. They also collaborated with artist Leslie Dreyer on “Stolen Belonging,” a multi-media campaign to expose the department of public works for allegedly stealing and throwing away people’s belongings.
The Coalition on Homelessness produces the Street Sheet, the longest continually running and most widely distributed street newspaper in the country. The Street Sheet is distributed by vendors on the street who keep all sales. Articles in the Street Sheet are written primarily by staff and volunteers at the Coalition, and are a primary way the Coalition promotes their messages and campaigns.
The Coalition’s projects are currently driven by two regularly meeting work-groups: Human Rights Work-group and Housing Justice Work-group. Human Rights work-group focuses on protecting the human rights and dignity of people experiencing poverty and homelessness. Housing Justice is focused on helping people get and keep homes through pushing for more low-income housing and rental subsidies and fighting against evictions and gentrification. The Coalition on Homelessness also runs a shelter advocacy program in collaboration with Eviction Defense Collaborative to defend clients in the San Francisco Shelter Grievance process.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94102-3808 | Tax-exempt since May 1995
Classification (NTEE) Research Institutes and/or Public Policy Analysis (Human Services — Multipurpose and Other)
Nonprofit Tax Code Designation: 501(c)(3) Defined as: Organizations for any of the following purposes: religious, educational, charitable, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition (as long as it doesn’t provide athletic facilities or equipment), or the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.
Donations to this organization are tax deductible.