Mayor London Breed is expected to announce a new director for the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing “in the next two weeks or even days,” according to the agency’s oversight body.
The selection comes at a critical time for San Francisco as it seeks to recover from the economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic and implement plans to vastly expand permanent supportive housing units in the coming years.
Del Seymour and James Loyce, co-chairs of the Local Homeless Coordinating Board, which oversees HSH, said they were called on Saturday by the Mayor’s Office to have a meeting about selection of the new department head. The meeting is with Breed’s chief-of-staff Sean Elsbernd Tuesday morning, they said.
“My understanding is there is almost an imminent selection that will be done in the next two weeks or even days, and this is from the Mayor’s Office,” Seymour said Monday during the board’s meeting.
They will be joined by others from nonprofits working with homelessness including Mary Kate Bacalao of Compass Family Services and Andrea Evans, who is with the nonprofit Tipping Point and also sits on the homeless board.
Some board members and advocates expressed concerns that the Mayor’s Office may already have made a pick.
“I am going to take the word of the Mayor’s Office that they gave me on Saturday that they have not selected anyone and they are waiting on our input,” Seymour said.
Breed’s spokesperson Andy Lynch said Elsbernd reached out after noticing the board was scheduled to discuss the criteria they would like to see in a new director. Lynch did not provide a timeline for when a decision would be made.
“We are in our process of identifying new leadership at the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing,” Lynch said in a statement to the San Francisco Examiner. “When the Mayor’s Chief of Staff found out the Local Homeless Coordinating Board had an item on the agenda for today to discuss what qualities they want to see in a new Director, he reached out to schedule a meeting to hear from them directly.”
Bacalao was among those who on HSH’s Strategic Framework Advisory Committee signed a March 26 letter to Breed outlining the qualities and qualifications they would like to see in the new leader and asking to play a role in the hiring process. Bacalao told the Examiner that request was denied due to a need for confidentiality for those interviewing for the job.
“The Director should represent communities of color most impacted by poverty and homelessness, including and especially the Black community, given the disproportionate numbers of Black people experiencing homelessness,” the letter said. “Ideally, the Director will be a Black woman with deep roots in these communities.”
The City should seek someone with a “commitment to racial and economic justice,” a proven ability to work with nonprofits in helping them achieve their goals and experience working with unhoused adults and youth, according to the letter.
“The leader who steps into this role will set the direction for our entire homeless response system during an unprecedented historical moment,” the letter said.
Abigail Stewart-Kahn stepped down from the post as HSH’s interim director on April 2, after taking on the role in March 2020. A search for a permanent director had been underway but was disrupted by the pandemic.
Stewart-Kahn will begin a newly created post as a Special Advisor for Children and Family Recovery at the Department of Children, Youth, and their Families (DCYF) next month.
The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing was launched on July 1, 2016 under the late Mayor Ed Lee and headed by Jeff Kositsky. In March 2020, Kositsky moved on to become the head of the Healthy Streets Operations Center, commonly called HSOC.
Sam Dodge, who previously served in the department as a deputy director under Kositsky, is now serving as the department’s transitional director until the new director is hired.
Dodge said he was told to expect to serve in the role for “two weeks to two months.”