City officials vowed on Thursday to move 300 homeless people in the Tenderloin into hotel rooms within three weeks, a possible sign of progress for a community frustrated over the lack of help during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The announcement came during a hearing called by Supervisor Matt Haney on a plan issued last month by Mayor London Breed to address the large increase of homeless tents in the Tenderloin since the shelter-in-place order went into effect on March 17.
Despite the plan’s issuance, residents and business owners say they have not seen an improvement in the Tenderloin.
Curtis Bradford, co-chair of the Tenderloin People’s Congress, an alliance of 12 area organizations, lives in a single-room occupancy hotel in the neighborhood. He said Thursday that he feels “forgotten and abandoned” by City Hall.
“I feel like me and my neighbors and my community have just been left to fend for ourselves in the middle of this crisis, in the middle of this pandemic,” Bradford said. “All I want is just some basic help. They put out a paper, a Tenderloin Plan. It was great to see a paper. But there was no action to follow it.”
Mary Ellen Carroll, executive director of the city’s Department of Emergency Management, who oversees the Emergency Operations Center, provided an update on The City’s response in the Tenderloin during the Board of Supervisors committee hearing called by Haney.
“I have to contradict that nothing has happened. There has been a lot that has happened in the Tenderloin since we started,” Carroll said. “I understand that it is still not where we want it to be by any means.”
Carroll said the “big news” was that within the next three weeks they plan to move homeless residents in the Tenderloin into 300 hotel rooms. The placements are for those who are over the age of 60 or have underlying health conditions and have been in The City since before April 1.
Haney, however, said the criteria was overly restrictive. “We are leaving a lot of people outside with this model,” he said.
Carroll also said that The City had already moved 350 homeless persons in the Tenderloin into hotel rooms since the pandemic began, although she noted that even with the amount placed in hotels it may not translate into a noticeable difference on the streets.
“350 people have come off the street in the Tenderloin in the last two months. And yet the numbers keep going up with tents,” Carroll said. “Something’s not working well.”
Carroll said that city officials are discussing creating policies to ensure if they do shelter persons from tents in a specific area that they prevent tents from going up there again, otherwise “we are never going to get to better conditions.” That effort involves conversations with the San Francisco Police Department and Public Works.
She also noted that they opened the parking lot at 180 Jones St. for 16 tents, about 21 people, on May 26.
Another so-called safe sleeping site at Fulton Street between the Main Public Library and the Asian Arts Museum, opened May 13 and is used by 110 homeless persons, she said, adding that they plan to keep it in operation beyond June 30.
City officials are exploring opening four other Tenderloin sites that could accommodate a total of 50 to 70 tents.
The City may also try to use “tiny homes” for the homeless. “We don’t have concrete plans on that,” Carroll said. “But we have a prototype that’s at the EOC and we are looking at ways at which we may be able to do a site like that.”
Other efforts in the Tenderloin include testing people for COVID-19. A temporary site tested 1,600 persons over a recent two-week period. The City plans to start testing people at tent encampments next week and they are in the process of finding a permanent testing site.
Haney said that “there is a tremendous amount of rage and disappointment in the neighborhood” and that the response from The City is that “we are doing everything that we can.”
“But this is not what urgency looks like,” he said.
Carroll acknowledged that “it’s not acceptable where we are” but said “I am confident that we are going to see a difference.”