Obama Just Quietly Sent His Chief Of Staff To Count Homeless People In San Francisco

02/03/2015 02:33 pm ET | Updated Feb 03, 2015

It's not every day a top-ranking White House official gets hands-on in a local operation -- especially with very few cameras around. But last Thursday evening, Denis McDonough did just that.

President Obama's chief of staff ventured onto the San Francisco streets alongside Mayor Ed Lee and Trent Rhorer, director of the city’s Human Services Agency, SF Gate reported. The trio were volunteers for the city's biennial survey that counts how many people are homeless and breaks down the figure by demographics, like age and gender.

Only a small number of staff and Secret Service members joined them as they counted.

"What I see here, what we just walked through, this is a problem," McDonough said, gazing at half a dozen homeless people, according to the news source. "But this is the same sort of challenge we face all over the country. The numbers tell the story. And that’s why this count is so important."

The survey is required of cities by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to qualify for federal funding of community homeless programs, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

In January of 2014, nationwide surveys for HUD, often referred to as point-in-time counts, found that there were 578,424 people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. Of that figure, 216,197 were people in families, and roughly 9 percent were veterans.

While those figures are hardly worth celebrating, annual data tracking homelessness has shown progress consistent with the country's climb out of the Great Recession. As The Washington Post reported in October, there's been a 10 percent drop in homelessness since 2010, when Obama launched an initiative focused on ending homelessness among groups that are disproportionately affected by the issue.

There's been a 33 percent drop in homelessness among veterans -- one of such populations -- in the same span of time.

Although the U.S. has experienced an overall decline in homelessness in recent years, local efforts have witnessed varied levels of success and failure. Last December, for example, New York City found that 59,068 -- a record-high number of residents -- were living without shelter. Cities like Phoenix and Salt Lake City, however, have made significant strides in ending chronic veteran homelessness in their communities.

In San Francisco -- where the 2013 point-in-time count found 6,436 homeless people -- McDonough's visit was practically hush-hush, SF Gate reported. The chief of staff said Obama simply wanted a firsthand account of how the city is fighting for its most vulnerable residents.

Related on HuffPost:

  • Garden Penthouse Studio
    Scot Hampton
    $7350. Garden penthouse studio in mid-Market area. Light and Airy! You'll enjoy the fresh breezes of Market street as they blow through your perfectly manicured and landscaped garden. Coveted mid-market area, close to shops and right on the major Muni and BART lines. Landscaping included. Utilities not included.
  • Studio Loft
    Scot Hamilton
    $3000. Government housing. Section 8 OK! Studio loft with vaulted ceiling! Located in Financial District, near Market street. Close to shops, food and public transportation. 2.17 SQ. FT. Utilities not included.
  • Quaint Inlaw Unit
    Scot Hamilton
    $2100. Quaint Inlaw unit with open floor plan. Right on several major Muni lines. Close to UN Plaza, in highly desirable mid-Market area. 1.35 SQ. FT. Daily housekeeping included!
  • Basement 1 BR
    Scot Hamilton
    $3500. Spacious basement apartment. Classic architecture; very Romanesque and gothic! Arched interiors! Close to public transportation. PG&E not included. Not ADA-compliant; requires the use of a ladder for entry.
  • Studio Container
    Scot Hamilton
    $2000. Container living in SOMA! All the rage, modern container living right in SOMA! Studio container with open floor plan, built-in bench and rooftop garden. Close to SFMOMA, Yerba Buena Gardens, shops and public transportation. Utilities not included. Please DO NOT DISTURB current tenant!
  • Cozy "Studio"
    Scot Hamilton
    $4100. Cozy "studio" with skylights right in the heart of the rapidly redeveloping mid-Market area. Daily housekeeping included! Right on several major Muni lines, and close to BART. Perfect for the daily commuter. Utilities not included. .83 SQ. FT
  • Waterfront Condo
    Scot Hamilton
    $5000. Waterfront condo in the highly desirable, up-and-coming mid-Market area. Luxurious living at its finest! Enjoy the sounds and smells of the UN Plaza fountain as you relax in your condo after a hard day of complaining about the homeless. Close to public transportation, Civic Center Farmers Market, @Twitter, the @Tenderloin and several aggressive seagulls. 33 SQ. FT. Utilities not included, nor available.
Suggest a correction