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Supervisors Announce Legislation To Halt Termination Of Shelter-In-Place Plan

Woman demonstrates in support of COVID-related homeless services at City Hall(Courtesy of Coalition on Homeless Facebook page)

SAN FRANCISCO—The San Francisco Board of Supervisors announced legislation of a plan to move 500 homeless people out of Shelter-In-Place (SIP) hotels. 

Supervisors Matt Haney, Shamann Walton, Hillary Ronen, and Dean Preston noted the legislation will halt the dismantling of the Shelter-In-Place hotels, work to provide residents with permanent housing once it is available after the pandemic, and bring more people into the rooms as they become available.

A homeless encampment

The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing noted it plans to remove hotel residents beginning on December 21 and complete the closure of hotel rooms housing 2,300 individuals by June. As part of the first phase of the process, 500 homeless people at seven hotels will be moved to housing. 

Supervisor Haney, former Board of Education President and a tenant attorney, who is also the primary sponsor of the legislation, described the closure of Shelter-In-Place hotels as “reckless.” 

“When I contact Homeless Outreach Team about people who are still sleeping on the streets, we are usually told that there is nothing they can do because the shelters are closed and there’s no more room in the hotels,” said Haney. “Shutting down the few options we have, right now, is reckless.”

He argued that the presence of homeless people on the streets is inhumane, and will exacerbate the homeless crisis, considering surging COVID cases and increasingly cold weather. 

“There are still far too many people living on sidewalks, in alleys, as pandemic hits its worst levels, with cold and wet weather. This is unhealthy, unsafe, inhumane and dangerous,” Haney said.

Preston, a resident of Alamo Square, a tenant attorney, and founder of Tenants Together, said that the closure of the program “makes no sense” considering the surge on COVID cases and the arrival of cold weather. 

San Francisco’s Shelter-In-Place hotel program has cost the city $3 million and state and federal governments $175 million, according to SF Board of Supervisors Preston and Haney. 

City Controller Ben Rosenfield told the SF Examiner housing residents in the hotels is costing the city $178 million annually, $114 million of which is expected to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

Independent news site 48hills, quoted Haney’s staff statement of purpose which stated the purpose of the legislation as to “counter the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing’s plan to shut down SIP hotels, and instead keep the hotels open for vulnerable unhoused populations during the COVID pandemic.” 

They intend to keep the 2,300 homeless individuals in the SIP hotels until the pandemic ends. 

The city of San Francisco has areas designated for tent encampments known as “safe sleeping sites,” with the goal of encouraging social distancing, improving sanitation, slowing the spread of COVID-19, and ending homelessness through education and other methods. One such site on 730 Stanyan offers a kitchen, showers, toilets, free meals, electricity, clothing, and medical care.

A homeless encampment settlement, May 4, 2020. Photo courtesy of Coalition on Homeless Facebook page.

The chat box of the Zoom meeting titled “Haight Safe Sleeping Site Community Meeting,” was flooded with complaints of rising crime and fear of safety, as well as suggestions.

Kay Cockerill asked, “How are you going to deal with the shuffling and migration of tent dwellers from street to street?”

Karen Sharp asked, “How much did it cost tax payers to find housing for 25 people?”

Rachel Freeman said the “safe sleeping site” program was harmful and is achieving the opposite of the desired result: “If you want to help the unhoused do it right. What if someone wanted to feed the unhoused people but they didn’t sanitize their cookware properly and they got everyone sick?  Their solution is worse than nothing. The tents are a place to congregate and spread COVID-19.”

On Twitter, community members attribute the exacerbating homeless crisis to homeless people coming from outside the city, and see the Shelter-In-Place hotels as part of the problem. A Haney staff member said there was “no evidence” that people from outside the city have come to San Francisco are being housed in the hotels. 

“In fact, a vast majority (roughly 70%) of unhoused people in SF were formerly housed in San Francisco.”

He added that programs of similar nature across the state have been receiving support from California Governor Gavin Newsom.

“Governor Newsom has been allocating money to cities across the state for this program in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 so San Francisco is not also the only City to have had this program.

Haney informed community members to support Shelter-In-Place hotels to do what he viewed as right for all San Francisco residents. “If you care about the Tenderloin, SOMA, and the health and well-being of all of our city’s residents, join us in the fight to keep the shelter in place hotels open.”

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