Proposed rules for SF homeless shelters create controversy

A push to implement uniform homeless shelter rules addressing such issues as violence and someone’s ability to use the bathroom has been met with pushback from homeless advocates and one supervisor whose district is home to several shelters.

Rules of conduct have stirred controversy before. Most recently, the Main Library attempted to push through austere patron rules that were subsequently toned down to address concerns about their impact on homeless patrons.

Similar opposition has surfaced for these proposed rules for the homeless shelters, which comprise eight locations with 1,150 beds operating at 95 percent capacity. Supervisor Jane Kim, who requested today’s Board of Supervisors Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee hearing on the proposal, is opposed to the rules but said they revealed a need to reform the shelter system.

“I don’t think it’s working for many people on our streets,” Kim said.

One rule she took particular issue with was the self-care rule that says shelters can deny beds to anyone who cannot do such things as use the bathroom, eat or dress without assistance. Instead of that approach, Kim said, “let’s provide the staff to support them and keep them in a bed.”

Ideas include funding onsite nurses and expanding an existing medical respite shelter.

Currently, shelters, which receive funding from the Human Services Agency, have their own rules and penalties. During a recent 15-month period, shelters have denied beds for rule violations ranging from a low of 240 people to a high of 337 each month. Denials can be appealed. In 2013, a rule was added to allow shelters to deny service to those who were violent outside near the facility.

A Feb. 13 letter from seven shelter providers opposed the rules, saying that “a one-size-fits all approach is not practical” and “we should retain our ability to self-determine rules that are best for the particular shelters we manage.”

The opposition appears to have prevailed.

“They are off the table now,” said Joyce Crum, HSA’s homeless director, of the proposed rules.

Crum defended the nearly two-year effort by saying it was developed in consultation with shelter providers and was meant to address client complaints and a concern from one arbitrator that the rules were inconsistent.

One copy of the 18 draft rules, which carry penalties ranging from a lifetime or up to three-month ban, delivers the harshest penalty for violent acts such as fighting or using a weapon. A year ban could occur if a person had a knife, firearm, tools or baseball bat, or if a person made sexual advances toward someone else. Three rules take aim at medical marijuana, including up to a three-month ban for “preparation or use.”

Homeless advocates, who see the agency’s reversal as a victory, plan to use the hearing today to ask The City to focus its energies not on rules but shortcomings in the shelter system. Their $2.2 million city funding request includes such items as installation of showers in the main emergency family shelter, First Friendship.

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