Jeff Kositsky said homeless pregnant women will get better access to housing after policy changes go into effect. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Jeff Kositsky said homeless pregnant women will get better access to housing after policy changes go into effect. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Homeless pregnant women, families to get higher priority for housing, services

Revisions set to go into effect by year’s end

San Francisco will implement changes to policies that have prevented homeless women who are pregnant and families who live in residential hotels or doubled up in apartments from being prioritized for shelter and housing by the end of the year, officials confirmed.

In a Five-Year Strategic Framework to tackle homelessness released in 2017, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) set a goal to end family homelessness by December 2021, the San Francisco Examiner reported previously.

But service providers and advocates for the homeless have said that two policies remaining on the books continue to stand in the way of that goal — one that renders pregnant homeless women ineligible for shelter and housing services until their third trimester and another that deprioritizes homeless families for services as long as they are sheltered, even if they are sharing rooms or apartments with multiple people or other families.

The department’s director Jeff Kositsky confirmed that the policies will be revised by the end of the year.

“The basic idea is that if you are pregnant and homeless that you will get immediate access to a safe place to sleep,” said Kositsky.

He added that homeless clients would get “connected to prenatal care if [they] are not already, and other services,” upon learning about their pregnancy.

“We will make sure that you are sheltered in a Navigation Center or in a shelter … until you are transferred to another location which could be a family shelter” or other housing and shelter programs offered by the department, said Kositsky.

Department of Public Health spokesperson Rachael Kagan told the Examiner on Tuesday that 200 people in San Francisco “were both homeless and pregnant at some point” during the 2018-19 fiscal year, according to an analysis of individuals using DPH and HSH services.

“This is an overdue, common-sense policy change to make sure that we put the health needs of pregnant women first,” said Supervisor Matt Haney about the policy change. “It’s unthinkable that women in San Francisco would be forced to give birth while living on the streets or in a shelter.”

In September, Haney introduced a resolution urging HSH to “implement urgent policy changes to serve pregnant individuals” as well as to prioritize families living in single-room occupancy hotels and doubled up for housing and services, which passed at the full board of supervisors.

The department has also made a commitment to prioritize families living in shelters or doubled up in units for housing services, according to Haney.

Earlier this month, the Examiner reported that advocates for the homeless were first frustrated about a lack of progress on the policy changes, then confused when Kositsky announced the policy had changed.

Kositsky agreed that concerns over the policies are valid, but added that the issue is not exactly “a no brainer.”

“If you are pregnant and you want to go into an individual room family shelter, most of those units are built to hold four to eight people. So putting one person in that unit is forcing us to choose between a mom who is four months pregnant and a mom who has a one month-old baby,” he said, adding that these are “impossible choices to make” while “trying to manage limited resources.”

The same challenges apply to housing families, he said.

The count did identify 201 families with 612 members who were homeless, 94 percent of which were “were residing in shelters or transitional housing programs.”

“If we have somebody with a kid who is sleeping out in the park versus somebody who is staying with their auntie and is in a more or less safe situation, I have to prioritize them differently,” he said. “If you are a single pregnant person, then, yes you should end up getting into the family shelter system, but maybe not as fast as somebody who is sleeping out in the park.”

Kositsky said that a compromise reached includes asking providers to “come up with a plan where we can double [homeless pregnant women] up.”

Jennifer Friedendbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, helped advocate for the changes.

“What we have been saying is that we should prioritize based on the needs of the family, not based on where people happen to be at during the time they do [an] assessment [with the department],” said Friedenbach. “When you’re homeless you are moving from place to place. You might be living in a tent, then hotel, then shelter. You are constantly moving around based on availability [of resources] and your ability to afford something.”

Friedenbach agreed that making decisions about whom to house first is “tough,” but said that equally vulnerable groups should not be pitted against each other.

“These are real choices that we have to make and we want it based on the need of individuals involved, not some arbitrary bureaucratic box that nobody fits in,” she said.

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