Despite thousands of available hotel rooms, emergency shelter plan for unhoused SF residents stalled

Photo: Rob Schneider/Twitter
By Camden Avery - Published on March 30, 2020.

With pressure to act mounting daily, the city is still only incrementally closer to implementing a plan, put forward last week by five city supervisors, to shelter all of San Francisco's homeless people in hotel rooms during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

That plan would expand access to city-leased hotel rooms to include not only medical first responders and unhoused people who test positive for COVID-19, but also any independent unhoused people who can shelter individually, as a preventative measure in the interest of public health.

But so far, efforts to scale the program up from the privately-funded effort led by District 5 supervisor Dean Preston haven't gained traction, despite the availability of some 11,000 hotel rooms, according to a press release by the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

"It was scary and it felt too late two weeks ago," said District 5 legislative aide Jen Snyder. "We're pulling all the strings and levers we can internally, but this has to fall on a larger body than just us, eventually."

Snyder said the city's chief health officer told the Board of Supervisors two weeks ago he was concerned about congregant living in shelters.

"His advice was to put all those people in a place where they can self-isolate. Where has that gone? Nowhere."

At the same time, the city's Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing is continuing with the plan to expand congregant sheltering, which provides more space but no isolation.

Thanks to @LondonBreed 's leadership, HSA has helped secure @MosconeWest as a new space to increase #SocialDistancing among existing shelters. The site is currently being prepared for move-in and will be operational by next week. https://t.co/ZPEokZpPm7 pic.twitter.com/V68TkXVgED

— San Francisco Human Services Agency (@SFHumanServices) March 28, 2020

Snyder said District 5, where a privately-funded effort has now secured 30 hotel rooms, might be able to take care of its own eventually, but broadening it effectively to a citywide program would require an agency with more money and resources.

"It's not complicated at all," Snyder said. "It's a matter of getting the money to secure the hotel rooms."

Representatives from the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing were unable to respond to queries at press time.

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