Shelter changes policy following pressure from public

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerOn Monday First Friendship in the Western Addition will change to a call-in reservation system.

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerOn Monday First Friendship in the Western Addition will change to a call-in reservation system.

A San Francisco emergency shelter for homeless families is again changing its policy on reserving beds.

First Friendship in the Western Addition was recently criticized by city officials and homeless advocates after The San Francisco Examiner reported homeless families in The City were taking their children out of school early or having them skip after-school programs to secure a beds for the night. The shelter first changed its policy last week to only require one parent of a family to be present at the time of booking beds.

But on Monday, First Friendship will change to a call-in reservation system. Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, had called attention to the issue. She was pleased to learn of the change.

“OK, now we are getting somewhere,” Friedenbach told The Examiner.

The old policy required all members of a family to be present to reserve their beds beginning at 3 p.m. And once they checked in, they could not go outside again until the next day, except to smoke.

The first change by the city-funded shelter allowed one parent to reserve beds for the entire family, provided the rest of the family showed up by 6 p.m. The parent who checked in also had to remain on site.

That policy shift was mostly celebrated, although it was criticized for not going far enough since it left single parents in the same difficult situation regarding their children’s school or after-school activities.

However, First Friendship, which is operated by the Providence Foundation under contract with the Human Services Agency, announced this week that the call-in reservation system would begin Monday.

A parent will be able to book beds on weekdays from noon to 2 p.m. The parent must then arrive by 6 p.m. to claim the beds and must remain on site. The remainder of the family must arrive by 8 p.m. Meals will not be served past 7 p.m. Those who do not use the call-in system can still show up to the shelter when it opens at 3 p.m. to try to secure beds.

On weekends, the policy will revert back to a first-come, first-served basis, with all family members required to be present at the time of entering the shelter between 3 p.m. and the 8 p.m. final curfew.

Friedenbach had all along supported a call-in reservation system to address the challenge, noting that 75 percent of homeless families last year were single parents and “a large proportion of the children are elementary or below and would not be able to travel solo.”

She had argued that “there are many parents we talk to that are very nervous about the shelter filling up and feel the very justified need to get to the shelter as early as possible, at times even missing school.”

Joyce Crum, director of homelessness for the Human Services Agency, said the decision to move to a reservation system was based on community feedback.

“It will make it easier for families,” Crum said. “It gives them the opportunity to be out with their kids and doing other things.”

She added that “we never want to put hurdles in front of vulnerable individuals.”

There were 2,094 homeless students registered in San Francisco Unified School District as of October. Children between 6 and 18 years old are legally required to attend school.

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