San Francisco Chronicle, April 27, 2020
By Trisha Thadani
San Francisco failed to meet a Sunday deadline to secure more than 8,000 hotel rooms for the homeless and other at-risk populations who must quarantine or socially distance themselves amid the coronavirus pandemic. The city was supposed to lease 8,250 hotel rooms for the homeless, frontline workers and those living in densely populated apartment buildings by Sunday, according to an April 14 emergency ordinance unanimously passed by the Board of Supervisors. On Monday, the city had leased a total of 2,741 rooms— 1,130 of which were empty or inactive for reasons such as a lack of staffing or other necessary preparations. There is no formal punishment for failing to meet the deadline. The requirement set by the supervisors is 1,250 more than the Human Services Agency was initially working on, though there was no deadline for the department’s efforts. In a previous interview with The Chronicle, Mayor London Breed said that the emergency ordinance by the supervisors was unrealistic and that the city was not going to meet the goal. “I want to be clear,” she said earlier this month. “It’s not going to happen.”
While several supervisors acknowledged the ordinance is ambitious, some said Monday that they at least expected the city to be further along by the deadline. Supervisor Aaron Peskin said the longer San Francisco takes to move its homeless and most vulnerable indoors — the harder it will be for the city to combat the virus. There are many logistics involved in moving a homeless person or other vulnerable people into a hotel room, such as providing enough food and hiring enough security, staff, cleaning services and case managers for those who may be suffering from mental illness or drug addiction. “I realize it’s not as easy as snapping your fingers ... but no matter how you slice it or dice it, the city has been halting in this effort,” he said, adding that the city’s reasons for the delays — like hiring enough staff — should be overcome. A group of supervisors, medical professionals and homeless advocates plan to hold a virtual news conference Tuesday to denounce the administration’s failure to adhere to the law. San Francisco has been applauded nationally for its early response to the pandemic, but many worry the progress might unravel if the city does not take more dramatic and sweeping measures to protect its 8,000-plus homeless population. More than 100 people have tested positive for the virus at the city’s largest shelter, MSC South, and neighborhoods like the Tenderloin, Mission and Bayview are crowded with people living in tents and congregating on the streets. Meanwhile, dozens of people have also tested positive for the virus in single-room occupancy hotels, which are densely populated apartment buildings for low-income residents. Some inside the hotels told The Chronicle that, for the most part, they are pleased with the accommodations, where they have a clean space to their own and three meals a day. Breed defended the city’s progress at a Monday news conference. She said the city was moving as fast as it could. Getting people to follow the rules inside the hotel rooms and to follow the proper social distancing guidelines has been challenging, she said. She cited staffing as one of the biggest hurdles to getting more people inside.
“As I have said time, and time, and time, and time again, there is a difference between a goal and what we all desire to do, and what reality is,” she said. It will cost an estimated $58.6 million per month to lease the hotel rooms and also provide other services such as security, food, personal care and room cleaning, according to the Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office. FEMA and the state Office of Emergency Services could reimburse between $10 million and $40 million of the city’s monthly costs — depending on whether those placed in the hotel rooms are deemed eligible for reimbursement. “We thought it was important to push and move quicker and set a deadline because of how slow they have been moving,” said Supervisor Matt Haney. “This was passed unanimously. That is a big deal.”