Evacuees from the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County are flowing into San Francisco shelters and hotels.
The temporary shelter that opened Monday at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption had welcomed about 40 Kincade fire evacuees, including 19 adults, 13 children, at least one newborn baby and a handful of small cats and dogs, as of 5 p.m. Monday, officials said.
Meanwhile, hotels in The City reported that dozens of evacuees are showing up at their doorsteps, boosting bookings over the weekend and on Monday.
The San Francisco Department of Emergency Management is working in collaboration with the Red Cross to inform people about the shelter at St. Mary’s, which can host up to 200 people. But spokesperson Francis Zamora said many people fleeing the fire might still not be aware of its presence.
“People will come as they become aware of the shelter,” Zamora said. “We want people to know that we’re here and we’re available.”
Dozens of government and nonprofit agencies worked together to set up the shelter at St. Mary’s and make sure evacuees felt welcome and safe.
San Francisco’s Human Services Agency provided cots and pillows, the Red Cross supplied blankets and a workforce of about 20 volunteers, and dozens of nonprofits such as Off The Grid, Meals on Wheels and the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank offered to cater meals for the shelter’s guests.
Thanks to Mayor London Breed’s emergency declaration, the shelter was also able to tap into The City’s workforce on Monday. At least fifteen case managers from The Department of Public Health and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing spent the day at the shelter helping evacuees work through their concerns and get help.
Sheriff’s deputies and police also secured and patrolled the area to ensure that shelter residents and their belongings remained safe.
“These people are already having a tough time,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Jen Jerome Fernando, who was stationed outside of the shelter all-day Monday. “Our main goal is to make sure that people who come here at least feel safe and cared for.”
Fernando described several encounters with evacuees who talked about the struggles and fears of being suddenly and indefinitely displaced.
“I was talking to one lady today. She left Santa Rosa yesterday, and slept in her car by a creek for a couple of nights. In the evening, she said people would look into the car and just terrify her. She had three small children, and walked with crutches and a splint in her toe,” Fernando said. “It’s just good to know that now she can feel safe.”
Another evacuee from Santa Rosa, Danielle Ruth, also said she had to sleep in her car for two days before she reached the shelter around 8:15 a.m. Monday with her half sister, three dogs and a cat.
Every hotel they tried to check into either did not accept pets or was already full, Ruth said. So the two women and four animals had to share the limited space of Ruth’s car for two nights. Sunday, they spent the night on the side of the road along a segment of the Great Highway in San Francisco.
“It was much harder than I thought,” Ruth said, thinking back over the past few days. “There was no tap water, and no bathrooms. And with the pets on top of it all, that’s a lot.”
Ruth was one of the first evacuees to arrive at St. Mary’s just 15 minutes after the shelter opened to the public. She said the hall felt empty and strange when she stepped through the door into the temporary evacuation hall, where just a handful of cots were set up towards the back of the room. But, she added, “it’s definitely been a relief being in some place safe and just knowing that my animals are well contained.”
Antonio Ramirez, an evacuee who arrived at St. Mary’s with his daughter and seven-year-old grandson late Monday morning from Windsor in Sonoma County felt the same way.
“This is the first time I’m in a shelter and I feel safe. It’s a nice, secure environment for my family,” Ramirez said, “although it is still stressful because (I’m) expected to go back to work and have a paycheck. It’s going to be challenging going forward, cause we kind of go month to month with bills.”
Many evacuees expressed concerns about Cal Fire’s expected containment date, which suggests that most of the people sheltered at St. Mary’s won’t be able to leave until Nov. 7.
“It’s a mess when you don’t have information, and you’re away from your home,” said San Jose Fire Department Captain Cleo Doss while delivering updates to the shelter’s residents. “I feel all of your pain. I have family in shelters like you.”
Officials expect more people to slowly flow into the center Monday evening and Tuesday. Depending on how quickly it fills, officials said they may even open more temporary disaster shelters across The City.
“While it’s not unprecedented for San Francisco to set up shelter operations, certainly this number of evacuees is unprecedented,” said local Human Services Agency spokesperson Chandra Johnson. “We are really in a unique position to just really support out neighbors to the north. And so the city and its shelters are just, you know, here in that additional support role.”
Meanwhile, hotels are also trying to do their part to welcome families displaced by the fire.
San Francisco Hotel Council Executive Director Kevin Carroll said the weekend has been very busy for businesses renting out rooms in The City, with many selling out much earlier than usual.
“A lot of people were coming in during the weekend,” Caroll said. “Availability is changing hourly, but hotels are really trying to help out. Some of them are even waiving parking fees or giving discounted fees to evacuees.”
Evacuees looking to rent a hotel room in The City this week should call hotels directly and ask about special offers created especially for them, Caroll suggested.
“Everyone I know in the hotel business around here has been very generous. As a hotel community, we’re really doing everything we can,” said Britney Beck, owner of Beck’s Motor Lodge on Market Street. “Right now, it is a busy time in San Francisco. We don’t have a lot of rooms available, but we are offering what we have left at discounted rates of $80 to those who need the help.”
Hotel Abri in Union Square is giving out similar discounts to evacuees with rooms starting at $99 per night, according to the Hotel Council.
The San Francisco Omni Hotel on the corner of California and Montgomery streets has also been making space for evacuees. The hotel’s Sales and Marketing Director Owen Rundall said “the hotel saw a huge influx in same-day reservations last night and (has) long been sold out for tonight and tomorrow night (Monday and Tuesday).” However, beginning on Wednesday, the hotel will be offering a nearly half-price rate of $169 for families diplaced by the fire.
To find out about more hotel services and packages for evacuees, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.