(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Breed changes plans for massive new Moscone West homeless shelter

City now moving more shelter residents to hotel rooms after three test positive for COVID-19

Instead of relying on the 400 beds in Moscone West that just opened days ago to house the homeless and thin out shelter populations, Mayor London Breed on Monday announced a new plan.

The shelter will instead be reduced to 200 beds and the thinning out will instead be achieved through securing more hotel rooms.

The change in strategy comes after weeks of calls by homeless advocates and progressive members of the Board of Supervisors for The City to use vacant hotel rooms to house those living in shelters and on the streets, giving them the same opportunity to shelter in place as those with apartments and homes.

The initial policy from the Breed administration was to use hotel rooms to quarantine homeless residents who have tested positive or are awaiting testing, to prevent hospitals from running out of beds. A hospital will not discharge a patient infected with or with symptoms of the virus unless they can shelter in isolation.

But homeless advocates argued the hotel rooms should be available for the homeless even if they don’t have symptoms to protect them from exposure in the first place.

The policy change also comes after two homeless persons staying at the MSC South shelter tested positive for COVID-19 this weekend, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Another homeless person also tested positive last week for the disease at the Division Circle Navigation Center.

The two diagnosed this weekend also had contact with 19 people who had recently moved into Moscone West. They are now in hotel rooms for quarantine.

The change also comes after Street Sheet, a nonprofit newspaper focused on homeless issues, published photos from inside the Moscone West shelter showing a large room filled with mats on the floor inside squares marked out with tape. The images drew widespread condemnation as many said the layout was unsafe during a pandemic.

Trent Rhorer, the director of the Human Services Agency, is in charge of shelter for homeless people and people in single room occupancy hotels in the event of an emergency like earthquakes and now COVID-19.

“We are now shifting gears at Moscone West, and rather than that being a shelter to achieve the reduced population in our homeless shelter system, that will instead serve as a shelter environment for individuals who have either tested negative for Covid-19 or who are considered post-Covid or have cleared the 14-days and are no longer Covid positive,” Rhorer explained Monday at a press conference with Breed.

He said the 394 beds that were opened last week at Moscone West will now be reduced to 200. And the 200 beds will be arranged into groups of 50 with beds partitioned off.

He said that the plan to reduce the shelter population to achieve proper social distancing “now is to achieve this reduction through placement into hotel rooms exclusively.”

He added, “We will continue to focus on the population in our shelters: individuals aged 60 and above as well as individuals who have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to Covid. The current estimate of the number of rooms in order to achieve that reduction in shelter census is 500.”

Rhorer said that to date The City has leased 945 rooms in eight hotels across the city who can receive people quarantined or isolated or those moved from within the shelter system to reduce the population or moved from the street. Rhorer said that those moved from the street would be those over age 60 or those with underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus.

“We have moved or admitted over 150 people into these rooms with another 40 vulnerable adults being moved from the shelter system today,” he said.

Supervisors Dean Preston and Matt Haney, in an effort to push The City to house more homeless in vacant hotel rooms, have backed smaller efforts by individual shelters to move their residents into hotels. Haney on Monday said he still plans to introduce legislation Tuesday to have The City procure thousands of hotel rooms to house homeless persons in general.

“They’re still not even committing to move everyone at MSC South who is over 60 years old by tomorrow into a hotel room,” Haney said. “These are very vulnerable people. They cannot be in that environment. They should have been moved already.”

Haney also tweeted criticism that the announcement by Breed had “No commitment to ANYONE to put in rooms under sixty years old who doesn’t have an underlying health condition.”

“Appreciate the reversal on Moscone, but this is still very bad,” he wrote.

The City was also moving ahead with another large congregate setting to help thin out the homeless shelter population at the Palace of Fine Arts, as Supervisor Catherine Stefani told her constituents Sunday.

But that plan has also been dropped given Breed’s change in strategy.

“In light of an evolving situation and updated guidance from CDC, The City has decided to reassess the need to use the Palace of Fine Arts facility at this time and has wisely chosen to increase [the] number of hotel rooms available to serve those in need,” Stefani said in a text message to the San Francisco Examiner. “I’m glad that we are able to make decisions quickly, in real time, with all the evidence available to us.”

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