San Francisco Chronicle, March 2, 2021
By Mallory Moench
As San Francisco expands a shelter-in-place hotel program that leases rooms for vulnerable homeless people during the pandemic, the city has run into a roadblock: Some residents find where they’re staying more appealing than another permanent option.
Shelter-in-place hotels, opened during the pandemic for vulnerable homeless individuals, offer private rooms with bathrooms and three meals a day, but the program is temporary. In contrast, a newly available permanent supportive housing option in a recently renovated hotel has communal bathrooms and charges 30% of a resident’s income as rent.
So far, around 70% of shelter-in-place hotel residents offered spots at the refurbished 232-unit Granada Hotel, purchased with $45 million from the state last year, turned down spots, Abigail Stewart-Kahn, interim director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, told supervisors last week.
“We have experienced a decline rate of people living in shelter-in-place hotels at a rate never experienced before in San Francisco when offered permanent supportive housing,” Stewart-Kahn said. “This is understandable fundamentally.”
She said, “We’ve never had shelter in many ways that’s nicer” than permanent supportive housing.
“We respect people’s right to decline their housing placements,” she said, adding the city would work on more options.
It poses a problem for the city, which has pledged not to kick out anyone who moved into a shelter-in-place hotel before Nov. 15 last year and participates in a rehousing program. The city is now trying to find them permanent places before federal reimbursements potentially run out by October. According to city data, nearly 61% of hotel residents have not received a housing referral yet.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday passed an emergency ordinance to move 560 more homeless people into shelter-in-place hotels over the next two months. The ordinance will extend the federally reimbursed program that leases hotel rooms for around 2,000 vulnerable homeless individuals, fill even more hotel rooms and make available permanent housing for residents who qualify and want to move.
Keegan Medrano with the Coalition on Homelessness criticized the city for what he perceived as shifting blame to residents for rejecting placements. Medrano said permanent supportive housing doesn’t have the best reputation among the homeless community.
“We’re in a tough position where we want people to get into permanent supportive housing, but frankly a lot of it is unacceptable and not in good condition,” Medrano said. “Many don’t have Wi-Fi, they don’t have good air filtration systems. They’re hot, they’re small, they’re congregate.”
Medrano said he hoped it was clear to residents offered a place at the Granada that the hotel was newly refurbished, which might be different than other permanent supportive housing units. Medrano urged officials to invest in places with private bathrooms as the city explores purchasing more hotels to turn into housing.
For now, the city is trying to fulfill its promise, mandated by a board ordinance that is likely to be extended Tuesday, to find permanent housing for hotel residents. Hundreds of units are currently vacant and the Granada Hotel is only half full, the department of homelessness said. If hotel residents reject spots, the city can offer them to other eligible people. Supervisors and advocates say that more than 600 people still on the streets are document-ready to move in.