Mayor London Breed tours the Division Circle Navigation Center before it opens in August of 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Mayor London Breed tours the Division Circle Navigation Center before it opens in August of 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Navigation shelter resident tests positive for coronavirus

Homeless advocates repeatedly warned about an outbreak in congregate settings

San Francisco has confirmed its first coronavirus case in a homeless shelter, city officials said Thursday.

A resident at the Division Circle Navigation Center, on 13th Street and Van Ness Avenue, tested positive for coronavirus, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing found Wednesday. The person has been moved to an isolation hotel and is in good condition.

The shelter received additional masks for residents to wear at all times, conducted temperature screenings, and will send a cleaning crew to disinfect after the case was confirmed as officials track down the source of the virus. Those with symptoms will be moved to a hotel room immediately and others may be moved based on individual risk.

“We have been preparing for this situation for weeks, and HSH and [Department of Public Health] are wrapping around the patient with health care and support,” said Abigail Stewart-Kahn, HSH interim director. “The wellbeing of our homeless neighbors is our top priority, and we will continue to work in partnership with our nonprofit service providers, DPH, and the entire City to aggressively contain the virus and protect our community.”

The diagnosis comes after weeks of pressure from advocates and supervisors to reduce the shelter population and move homeless residents out of shelters and into hotels proactively in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

City officials have resisted that approach, instead reserving hotel rooms leased by The City for those who have been diagnosed and need to be quarantined. In addition, a new shelter at Moscone Center West will provide 390 beds to help reduce shelter populations while the City allocated $5 million in early March to expand cleaning, hours, hygiene supplies, and meals at shelters.

Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Matt Haney, Dean Preston, Shamann Walton and Aaron Peskin put out a statement Thursday repeating their call for action.

“Spread of this virus in shelters is inevitable with hundreds of people sleeping in close quarters, sharing bathrooms and common areas,” they said in a statement. “This infection could have been avoided. This individual and hundreds of others should have been moved out of shelters weeks ago.”

The group will introduce an emergency ordinance on Tuesday requiring at least 1,000 hotel rooms to be used by people experiencing homelessness and staying in congregate settings.

The Board of Supervisors also passed a resolution this week urging the city to procure at least 3,500 rooms for people living on the street and in encampments.

Many of the shelter residents have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to coronavirus. To have them living in congregate settings during a pandemic puts them in danger, according to Coalition on Homelessness Executive Director Jennifer Friedenbach said.

“We did not want to wait for an outbreak to do that,” Friedenbach said. “The City, because of their very entrenched biases about homeless people, has created a barrier of getting them into hotels.”

Friedenbach said officials have expressed safety concerns for the physical condition of the rooms, as well as the need for additional staff and security that would be hard to come by at this time.

Instead of centralizing the rooms, the City should dole them out to nonprofits and service providers who can move quicker and even staff them to an extent, she said.

“This is a massive alarm bell,” Friedenbach added. “If this doesn’t shift things into high-gear, I don’t know what will.”

This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.

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