SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — San Francisco has one of the highest percentages of people living on the streets of any major city in the United States.

The number of homeless individuals counted in the 2013 San Francisco Homeless Count & Survey was over 7,300 — the majority who are visible on daily basis living on the streets with their belongings.

While the city attempts to create long-term homelessness solutions with job, housing and mental health resources, residents concerned about a homeless person or quality of life in their community can take several immediate and compassionate steps.

If you observe a homeless person sleeping on private property, such as a doorway of an apartment or office building, residents can call the San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team by dialing 311. The team, a collaboration between the San Francisco Department of Public Health and Human Services Agency, uses a “whatever it takes” approaches to get people off the streets and into shelters, substance abuse programs and emergency care as needed.

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A Street Outreach team responds to requests from citizens, care coordinators, police and hospitals Monday through Friday, 24 hours a day. In less than two hours, two members of the team will go out to the reported site and work with the homeless person on shelter and care options.

Team members, many whom have previously experienced homelessness, start by engaging a homeless person in conversation to identify their needs with the goal of transferring them to a safe shelter and eventually into stable housing. If they don’t succeed at first, they make an effort to come back a couple more times to persuade the person.

If the team is unsuccessful, they advise residents to call the Department of Public Works at (415) 554-8200 and file a report. Once it’s on the Department of Public Works radar, it’s likely a homeless person will move, or risk having the city throw away their belongings. While it’s not an ideal situation, Angie David with the Homeless Outreach Team says it may be enough to persuade a person to seek out safer alternatives.

Police can also threaten to take a homeless person to jail if they’re committing a violation such as trespassing or just ask them to move along, but it’s unlikely address some of the deeper underlying issues affecting homeless people.

And if you feel comfortable, it’s worth engaging a homeless person in conversation by asking how their day was and if you can help with something, like help them make a call to a family member. Living in an urban setting with sky-high rent and inundated social services makes encountering homelessness an unavoidable experience. David said sometimes a little bit of compassion can go a long way.

For more tips and information, residents can call San Francisco’s Homeless Outreach Team at (415) 355-7555 or 311.

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