SF Supervisors announce plan to plan to house unhoused San Franciscans in thousands of available hotel rooms during the pandemic

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The Chronicle story this photo illustrates reports that “31 hotels with a combined 8,310 rooms responded over the past few days to City Hall’s request for proposals to put up people during the coronavirus outbreak.” This elegant hotel, the Palace, is one of them. – Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, SF Chron

by Courtney McDonald

Today, Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Matt Haney, Dean Preston, Aaron Peskin and Shamann Walton, in City Hall’s first all-virtual press conference, called for a major shift in the City response to COVID-19 to prioritize temporarily housing people experiencing homelessness.&

Citing the 33,000 vacant hotel rooms and the urgent need to interrupt the community spread of the coronavirus in congregate settings and outdoor encampments, the supervisors called on the public health officer to issue a health order prioritizing private rooms over congregate settings for people experiencing homelessness.&

“We are imagining ways to protect one another that wouldn’t have been possible two weeks ago because this pandemic has made us realize that our individual wellbeing is connected to that of the whole. If we have empty hotel rooms and someone doesn’t have a home to shelter in place, we must lend them the room. This isn’t just what the doctors tell us is the best way to protect public safety; it’s common sense,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen.​&

“It is dangerous and reckless to leave thousands of people in our city out on the streets or in congregate shelters where we know the virus can spread quickly. Hotels are stepping up; workers are stepping up,” said Supervisor Matt Haney.​

Despite the mandates for social distancing and “shelter in place” to reduce the spread of the virus, dozens of emergency, congregate homeless shelters are still at capacity with clients sleeping in close quarters, and no clear screening or testing guidelines. The City’s largest shelter sleeps 340 people and many of the emergency shelters continue to shelter dozens of vulnerable seniors and immunocompromised individuals in close proximity to each other.&

“It is dangerous and reckless to leave thousands of people in our city out on the streets or in congregate shelters where we know the virus can spread quickly. Hotels are stepping up; workers are stepping up,” said Supervisor Matt Haney.​

“Our city can step up and secure the thousands of hotel rooms needed for first responders, people who may have been exposed to COVID-19, and people who are unhoused. Every second, every hour matters, let’s be proactive and preventative and get homeless people inside now. It’ll keep them healthy and all of us healthy,” Haney concluded.

“We are in a public health crisis right now and we need to make sure our most vulnerable including our unhoused are in shelter to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19,” said Supervisor Shamann Walton. “We need transparency and should be able to say how many rooms are available and where all individuals will be going if they are released from hospital care.”&

“If we’re going to interrupt transmission, we need places for people to be able to stay in isolation,” said Supervisor Dean Preston. “We know the units are out there, and we know that​ every hour matters to stop this virus from spreading. There is no question that our city needs to do everything in our power to get people out of congregate living situations and into private rooms and apartments immediately.”&

The resolution announced today also demands:&

  • The public health officer issue a new health order mandating that homeless individuals in congregate emergency shelters be placed in private rooms immediately even if they aren’t exhibiting symptoms, as well as mandating “shelter-thinning” and strict social distancing requirements in congregate emergency shelters and strict screening protocols.&
  • The SF Human Services Agency and Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing urgently procure rooms and mobilize hotel vouchers to get:&
    • people who are currently in congregate emergency shelters into private rooms;&
    • people who are currently unsheltered on the streets or in encampments in private rooms;&
    • and people who are being released from incarceration into private rooms, rather than shelters or encampments.&
  • Gov. Newsom secure rooms in San Francisco for the primary purpose of getting people who are currently unsheltered on the streets or in encampments inside in private rooms, similar to his actions in Oakland.&

Health Officials have suggested that while shelters provide safety in normal times, during the current pandemic any congregate living arrangement increases the risk of transmission. At a hearing of the Board of Supervisors last week, San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Tomas Aragon stated that in reference to preventing the spread of the virus in populations of people experiencing homelessness: “From a disease-transmission perspective, absolutely having your own room is the best.”&

The resolution will be introduced tomorrow at the Board of Supervisors meeting.&

Courtney McDonald, an aide to Supervisor Haney, can be reached at courtney.mcdonald@sfgov.org.&

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