S.F. Officials Explain Their Efforts to House Homeless During Pandemic

San Francisco Public Press, April 13, 2020

By Noah Arroyo


City officials explained their efforts to place homeless people in hotel rooms during the COVID-19 pandemic at a press conference April 13. Mayor London Breed described the multiple challenges to quickly placing vulnerable unhoused people in hotel rooms — an especially pressing goal after a COVID-19 outbreak at a homeless shelter last week. “If I could open up every hotel room in the city,” Breed said, “It’s not even a question of whether or not we would do it.” But some homeless people are being difficult to work with, she said, and the city is struggling to adequately staff the hotels with public employees — many of whom need to be trained to do the work. Myriad obstacles come with opening even a single hotel for homeless housing, said Abigail Stewart-Kahn, the director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. They include negotiating and securing leases for the hotel rooms; screening tenants for whether they can care for themselves and, in the event that they cannot, putting additional staff in place; conducting wellness checks on tenants multiple times each day; delivering three meals per day; and enforcing social distancing. By Sunday, the city had placed approximately 750 homeless people in hotel rooms throughout San Francisco. “If you think about physical distancing in a bus, you can imagine how many buses it takes to move 750 people over the course of just a few days,” Stewart-Kahn said. “This is a slow process.” She added that, by now, all occupants had been moved out of Multi-Service Center South, the homeless shelter where 70 people tested positive for COVID-19 last week. Breed also urged the public not to congregate next Monday at Robin Williams Meadows, in Golden Gate Park, the site of annual 420 marijuana celebrations. “We will not allow this unsanctioned event to occur this year, especially at the height of a pandemic,” Breed said.

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