The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption is one of several churches around The City that will offer additional shelter beds this winter. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

City opens winter shelter beds

Additional resources aimed largely at men, who make up more than half of homeless population

The Mayor’s Office announced on Friday that the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing will be setting up 40 to 100 extra beds for people experiencing homelessness in The City this winter. But only men will be able to access them.

The annual Interfaith Winter Shelter program, organized in partnership with the San Francisco Interfaith Council and Episcopal Community Services, has been offering this seasonal gender-specific service since 1988.

DHS says that’s because most homeless individuals living on The City’s streets are men.

“The winter Interfaith Shelter is focused on men because that (population has) the greatest gap in need,” said spokesperson Abigail Stewart-Kahn.

According to The City’s latest homeless count, more than 5,000 of the 8,011 estimated homeless people (according to more conservative official numbers) in San Francisco were male in 2019. And about two-thirds of those men were unsheltered.

However, the gap between demand and supply of beds for homeless women in The City isn’t trivial either. Of about 2,800 women experiencing homelessness in San Francisco, more than 1,700 are unsheltered and living on the streets or in parks, tents or cars, Stewart-Kahn estimated.

In 2014, homeless women and advocacy groups reached out to DHS to request that the Interfaith Winter Shelter program welcome individuals of all genders.

The agency listened, Stewart-Kahn said, opening a temporary winter shelter at Bethel A.M.E. Church at 916 Laguna St. A year later it turned into a permanent “women’s shelter program.” But Bethel Church can only house up to 30 women at once.

“There’s a huge need for shelter for women, especially in the winter,” said Kelly Cutler, a Human Rights Organizer at Coalition on Homelessness. “This year’s shelter waiting list reached 1,400 people this past year.”

Cutler pointed out that even pregnant women experiencing homelessness still struggle to find shelter year-round, although officials announced in October that that may soon change.

This year’s winter shelter program will be operating at:

  • St. Boniface Church, at 133 Golden Gate Ave., Nov. 18 through December 7
  • Canon Kipp Senior Center, at 705 Natoma St., Dec. 8 through 15
  • Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, at 1111 Gough St., Dec. 16 through January 12
  • St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, at 1031 Franklin St., Jan. 13 through Feb. 2
  • First Unitarian Universalist Society, at 1187 Franklin St., Feb. 3 through 23
  • Canon Kipp Senior Center, at 705 Natoma St., Feb. 24 through March 30

To donate to this initiative, visit http://www.sfinterfaithcouncil.org/donate-sfic. According to the San Francisco Interfaith Council, every $2,500 donated allows the shelter to run for one additional night per year.

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