San Francisco has an unmistakable allure. Over the centuries, gold prospectors, flower children, and tech titans alike have flocked to the city in search of fame, fortune, and a better life. But in more recent years, the Golden City seems to have lost its sheen. And its residents aren’t so hopeful about getting it back.
65% of respondents to a San Francisco Chronicle poll said they think the city is in worse shape than ever. 37% said they’re likely to move away in the next three years. Many cite rampant crime and homelessness, high costs of living, and crumbling infrastructure as their main motivations to flee.
However, as big as these problems are, they’re not unfixable. The city is home to a robust network of social service agencies, each with its own purpose and career opportunities for impassioned individuals looking for social work jobs in San Francisco.
Types of Social Work Jobs in San Francisco
Many social work jobs in San Francisco can be found through the San Francisco Human Services Agency (SFHSA). No matter your specialty, there’s likely an SFHSA department dedicated to carrying out work you’re truly passionate about.
With an impressive yearly budget of $1 billion, the SFHSA offers services focused on:
However, the SFHSA isn’t alone in its mission nor are these the only types of social work jobs in San Francisco. If you’re interested in tackling the city’s biggest issues, here are a few types of social work you might want to explore.
Criminal Justice and Corrections Social Work
Though San Francisco has a lower rate of violent crimes than many major cities, the Public Policy Institute of California reports that the city leads the state in property crimes like arson, burglary, and motor vehicle theft. Citizens and policy analysts point to the city’s housing, income inequality, mental health, and substance abuse issues as major underlying problems. So in that sense, criminal justice social work jobs in San Francisco aren’t just about providing services to offenders. They’re about helping people in crisis.
San Francisco’s probation and parole offices and its Community Justice Center focus on connecting offenders with housing, job training, and other programs that promote reform and reintegration into society. The nearby San Quentin State Prison employs clinical social workers to provide healthcare and psychotherapeutic services to inmates. Social workers who are passionate about helping victims recover from traumatic events often work for the District Attorney’s Office, the Victim Services Division of the San Francisco Police Department, and a number of organizations dedicated to helping victims of rape, hate crimes, and other brutal crimes.
Homeless Outreach Social Work
In 2022, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) estimated that as many as 7,700 people in San Francisco are homeless. While that might not be particularly shocking for a large California city, the fact that 59% have been homeless for a year or more shows just how deep-seated the problem is. Fortunately, San Francisco’s outreach programs have decreased the unsheltered population by 15% since 2019.
Homeless outreach social work jobs in San Francisco can be found with the HSH, the Department of Public Health, and any number of neighborhood-based organizations. Together, these agencies provide substance abuse and mental health assessment and counseling, crisis intervention, and connect people to housing and employment agencies. Many also work with local lawmakers on drafting policies that make homelessness in San Francisco more rare, less dangerous, and shorter-term.
Housing and Poverty in San Francisco: A Population on the Edge
While San Francisco’s homeless population is already large, what’s even more concerning is the amount of people who are one bad day from joining it.
According to the San Francisco Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector, 47% of families are in dire financial straits and have less than $2,000 in their savings. In many places, $2,000 may seem like a comfortable cushion, but in San Francisco:
- The average monthly rent is close to $3,200 — the fourth highest in the nation.
- Only about 35,600 housing units out of 401,000 are affordable for residents making a low-to-moderate income.
- The cost of living is estimated to be about 70% higher than average. San Francisco is the third most expensive city in the US.
- The top 5% of households make over $574,000. That’s more than 11 times the income of the city’s lowest-earning households.
In this fragile financial environment, all types of people need help. Those battling chronic illnesses need help paying for and coping with life-saving treatments. Families need help feeding their children. Whether you’re called to become a child welfare social worker, a healthcare social worker, or an expert case manager, San Franciscans need your talents and your help.
Social and Racial Justice Social Work
Despite its progressive reputation, San Francisco grapples with the same racial and social disparities that plague other communities. However, due to the city’s cultural landscape, social and racial justice social work jobs in San Francisco present more unique opportunities than those found in other cities.
For instance, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up an astounding 38% of the city’s population. Hate crimes against them (including vandalization, assault, and murder) spiked by 500% in 2021. The Black and Latino population in San Francisco is much smaller, but many live in neighborhoods where healthcare access, educational resources, and job opportunities are much harder to find than in predominantly white, wealthy neighborhoods.
And even though San Francisco is known for its vibrant and supportive LGBTQ community, the HSH reports that they make up an overwhelming 28% of the homeless population. Racial and social justice social workers play a pivotal role in combating these inequalities.
Their duties often include:
Government agencies like the San Francisco Human Rights Commission ensure that the city’s anti-discrimination laws are enforced and employ a wide range of social workers and policy experts to do so. Those passionate about racial and social justice in social work may also want to investigate nonprofit social work jobs in San Francisco so they can work on the frontlines with the city’s many neighborhood-based cultural centers.
Information Technology in Social Work
Social work hinges on knowing what problems communities are facing, how many people are affected, and how effective different intervention strategies are. If you’re interested in using research and technology to improve social services, San Francisco may be a great place to start a career.
For example, the Public Policy Institute of California (one of the state’s leading social science research and advisory organizations) is headquartered in San Francisco. But on top of that, the city’s government agencies, healthcare providers, and universities routinely conduct research to both promote transparency with the public and inform their own decision-making. However, it’s important to keep in mind that research and technology roles may require other certifications and experience in IT.
Social Work Salaries in San Francisco
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the average salary for social workers in the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward metro range from about $72,000 to $104,000 depending on specialty. National averages range between about $57,000 to $64,000 meaning that even though the cost of living is high, San Francisco’s social workers are, on average, paid more than many of their colleagues.
However, these are just averages. For a more comprehensive look into San Francisco social worker salaries, refer to the following table that uses data from the BLS’s 2022 occupational survey. This table lists what the lowest-earning 10% of social workers in San Francisco make up to what the highest 10% make. Those at the top are often experienced social workers with Master’s of Social Work (MSW) degrees and who have earned a California state clinical social work license. Keep in mind that salaries vary between specialty, employer, and workers’ levels of experience and education.
Social Work Specialty
Child, Family, and School Social Workers
Healthcare Social Workers
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
Social Workers (All Other)
Table data taken from 2022 BLS reports for the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California, metropolitan area.
2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics job market trends and salary figures for child, family, and school social workers, healthcare social workers, mental health and substance abuse social workers, and social workers (all other) are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed August 2023.