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San Francisco has less than two weeks to find thousands of additional hotel rooms to shelter the homeless and frontline city workers amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The decision was made by a unanimous Board Supervisors vote Tuesday.

The emergency legislation requires The City to secure 8,250 hotel rooms by April 26, of which 7,000 rooms will be used for people experiencing homelessness and can self-care and 500 will be reserved for individuals who have been infected and discharged from hospitals but need to remain in quarantine. Another 500 rooms will be saved for frontline city workers.

For weeks, members of the board and Mayor London Breed have argued about securing more hotel rooms and who the rooms should be available to.

Trent Rhorer, Human Service Agency executive director, who has been tasked with securing the rooms, said at a press conference Wednesday that The City so far has contracted 2,151 rooms across 14 hotels.

Ching Wong/SFBay Shelter beds are seen at the Embarcadero SAFE Navigation Center in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, December 17, 2019. (Ching Wong/SFBay)

While Breed and Rhorer had previously prioritized the hotel rooms for frontline workers and people deemed to be from vulnerable populations, including those who need to self-isolate after hospital discharge, individuals aged 60 and over and persons with underlying conditions living in congregated settings. 

Of the 2,151 rooms, 1,271 of them have been set aside for people categorized as part of vulnerable population and of those, only 874 rooms have been filled. The remaining rooms have been set aside for frontline city workers. 

Supervisors and homeless advocates have consistently and publicly pushed for additional rooms to house people who remain in congregated shelters and on streets.

The Multi-Service Center South — San Francisco’s largest homeless shelter — saw a Covid-19 outbreak among guests and staff members last week. A total of 92 guests and 10 staff members have so far tested positive for the virus.

Following the outbreak, supervisors pushed the mayor’s office to begin moving people out of shelters and into hotel rooms. The lack of progress on that front resulted in Tuesday’s emergency legislation.

Disagreeing with the mayor’s slow response toward sheltering the homeless population amid the pandemic, Supervisor Hillary Ronen said:

“It’s wrong from what’s healthy, what makes sense medically. It’s wrong morally and quite frankly, it’s wrong from a fiscal perspective.”

Ronen said it would probably be cheaper to put a person into a hotel room than to have the person be hospitalized.

Nik Wojcik/SFBay San Francisco City Hall from east end of Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco, Calif.

Supervisor Matt Haney said that he and other supervisors have exhausted attempts to work with Breed’s office and city departments to find a viable solution.

Haney said: 

“Over the last month, we’ve been trying everything we can to partner, to urge, to pass resolutions to demand and frankly, it has not happened quick enough.”

Breed said Wednesday at a press conference:

“Would we like to open the doors of every hotel room and give everybody a place to stay? Of course we would, but it’s not that easy.”

The mayor has repeatedly pointed to mental health and/or substance abuse issues as a logistical challenge in housing all of The City’s homeless in otherwise vacant hotel rooms, citing the need for adequately trained staff and meal delivery. 

Breed said:

“If it were that easy, we would have done it a long time ago, and other major cities in this country would have done the same thing.”

San Francisco reports 1,013 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 17 related deaths according to data provided through Tuesday.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn covers transportation and City Hall in San Francisco for SF Bay. Email: jerold@sfbay.ca. Twitter: @Jerold_Chinn. Instagram: jeroldwashere.

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