Haney calls for help for Tenderloin

Neighborhood groups call for street closures, increased testing, more rooms for homeless

District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney is pleading with The City to help address the Tenderloin’s needs amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter sent to the Mayor and several department heads Monday, Haney warned that the Tenderloin will likely continue to see an increase in COVID-19 cases as public health directives implemented in The City fail to fully reach the at risk neighborhood.

“It is dangerous and unhealthy for the entire city, for the entire Bay Area and for the state of California,” Haney said Tuesday at a press conference held with other community organizations. “To leave a community completely vulnerable and unprotected to this virus will mean that it will spread here and it will spread to other neighborhoods as well.”

In the Tenderloin, many sidewalks are clogged with tents, open-air drug markets, people using drugs or people sleeping or sitting on the sidewalk who simply have nowhere else to go — issues that have persisted since long before the coronavirus pandemic.

And weeks ago shelters stopped accepting newcomers as they have worked to provide social distancing space within. With tents the only shelter option for many, groups like the Coalition on Homelessness and other advocates have distributed thousands. The City has also reduced sweeps clearing encampments.

But all this has meant the Tenderloin’s sidewalks have become more crowded than ever, and for residents of the densely populated neighborhood, which is also home to the highest number of children per capita in The City, maintaining proper social distancing while leaving the home for essential trips can be impossible.

“I tried to go to the corner store the other day and I couldn’t get there safely,” said Curtis Bradford, co-chair of the Tenderloin People’s Congress, a coalition of Tenderloin advocacy groups.

Bradford says he lives in an SRO and has underlying health issues putting him at greater risk to the virus.

“Folks would not allow me in safely, nobody was wearing masks, it was way crowded out there,” said Bradford. “I got so scared I actually turned around and went home.”

The requests in Haney’s letter are largely nothing new — things he and others have been sounding the alarm on for weeks, including the need to identify and place particularly vulnerable people living in shelters, SROs or on the street into hotel rooms. He says that though the mayor’s office indicated this would be a priority he has seen little action.

“Their solution right now is just to leave people as they are in the Tenderloin,” said Haney. “This community has been used as a containment zone, as a place where they push people who need help, who need support, and then they look the other way and they’re doing that now during a pandemic.”

The Board of Supervisors last week passed an ordinance requiring The City to procure 8,250 hotel rooms for shelter space, 7,000 of which are to be used for people experiencing homelessness.

The City has so far moved 750 homeless people into hotel rooms, according to the Department of Public Health. If the plan is fully implemented it will cost The City an estimated $58.6 million per month, with possible federal and state reimbursements.

Recently nearly 100 people who were sheltered in MSC South, The City’s largest homeless shelter, tested positive for COVID-19, plus 10 staff members.

Haney’s other requests include field testing for the virus in the Tenderloin, increased outreach for small business with educational signage, street closures to allow for greater social distancing, increased police foot patrols, increased number of bathroom and handwashing stations and designated encampment areas for those living in tents.

He is also requesting the distribution of personal protective equipment, something he already kickstarted with a GoFundMe that has raised over $18,000 for masks to be distributed to District 6 residents.

Haney says he is already legislating on getting more bathroom and handwashing stations and securing hotel rooms. But other actions require city departments to act, The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing in the case of designated encampment areas, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency in the case of street closures.

And as Haney pointed out, “legislation takes a few weeks, these are things that really should have happened on day one, that the Emergency Operations Center, that the mayor and the department already have the authority to do. What we’re saying here is ‘just do it!’”

The SFMTA on Tuesday released a map of planned street closures, including three blocks of Elise Street in the Tenderloin. Haney says the department had indicated concern that further closures in the Tenderloin would attract crowds.

Many other solutions he said have not been implemented as The City cites not having available funds.

“They told me yesterday it competes cost wise with the hotels,” Haney said referring to city sanctioned tent encampments, though he says a dollar amount for such a project was not identified.

Also on Tuesday, District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman introduced a resolution in support of such encampments, where people could safely camp while socially distancing with access to basic hygiene needs. Mandelman cites growing tent encampments in other neighborhoods like the Castro.

“If you don’t have a safe camping area, people are going to camp on the sidewalks,” Haney said. “And people are not going to be able to walk safely, and people aren’t going to have safe access to service, or hygiene or distancing.”

As of Tuesday morning Haney said he had not received a reply to his letter.

cbrowning@sfexaminer.com

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