The head of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing has stepped down after serving for a year marked by the challenges of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abigail Stewart-Kahn was made interim director of the department in March 2020, after serving as its director of strategy and external affairs. She led the agency as The City moved thousands of homeless persons into hotel rooms and set up outdoor sites for people to live in tents.
Stewart-Kahn will step down from the post on April 2 and will serve in a new position beginning in May as Special Advisor for Children and Family Recovery at the Department of Children, Youth, and their Families (DCYF), according to an announcement from Mayor London Breed, which said the change comes “now that the City is shifting from an emergency response to recovery.”
Breed praised Stewart-Kahn for her leadership “through this challenging time.”
“Now, she will be taking on another crucial priority for this City—helping support our young people who are suffering from a year of school closures and the resulting mental health challenges related to this pandemic,” Breed said in a statement.
In recent weeks, the department has faced increased criticism for not moving more quickly to house homeless persons into hundreds of vacant permanent supportive housing units. The latest data shows there are 501 homeless tents and structures on San Francisco’s streets and 894 vehicles, including RVs, lived in by the unhoused.
Stewart-Kahn could not be reached for comment, but said in a statement that she was “incredibly proud of the work we did to overhaul every aspect of its system of care — outreach, assessment, housing, shelter to drive health guidance”
“I’m excited to take on this next challenge of leading efforts to help our young people recover from this pandemic,” she said.
Supervisor Matt Haney said the news came as a surprise and was concerned about a change in leadership at this time.
“There wasn’t any prior indication or heads up that this was planned,” Haney said. “A gap in leadership at the department during an obviously critical, challenging time is not ideal at all.”
“Whoever steps in, we need it to be someone very good, with a lot of experience delivering results,” he added. “I’m frankly disappointed and frustrated at the pace of progress and vision on solving street homelessness by the department.”
But Supervisor Ahsha Safai said it was a suitable time to make the change.
“This is a good time to reset HSH and continue major reforms that address homelessness and helping the unhoused as we move toward recovery,” Safai said.
The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing was launched on July 1, 2016 under the late Mayor Ed Lee. The department was initially headed by Jeff Kositsky, who in March 2020 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, will lead the department until a permanent replacement is selected, the announcement said.
Check back for updates.