District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston called for The City to move homeless residents into empty hotel rooms to prevent the spread of coronavirus. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston called for The City to move homeless residents into empty hotel rooms to prevent the spread of coronavirus. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Supervisor, nonprofit move homeless from shelter into hotel rooms

Pilot program intended to protect vulnerable from COVID-19

Through a privately funded program, dozens of residents at shelters were temporarily transferred to private hotel rooms Tuesday night in a test of efforts to stem the spread of novel coronavirus in homeless shelters.

“City leaders cannot continue to overlook the largest congregate living situations in San Francisco, our shelters and Navigation Centers,” Supervisor Dean Preston said in a statement. “Getting folks into individual rooms is good for all of us. If we don’t, it’s a risk to vulnerable populations, neighbors, and our health care system, and this will just be more severe and go on longer.”

Preston and the nonprofit Providence Foundation secured about 20 rooms for $80 a day each at the Oasis Inn, and transferred eight families along with 12 women from the foundation’s shelters Tuesday night, according to foundation Director of Operations Kenisha Roach. The privately funded pilot program, which includes a $10,000 donation from Preston, is the first to transfer people from shelters into private rooms, multiple homeless advocates said.

The City is currently negotiating the lease of 8,500 hotel rooms to provide quarantine space for its first responders and others who do not have the ability to quarantine in their own homes, as an estimated 30,000 hotel rooms sit vacant citywide, according to city officials.

“Our top priority right now is slowing the spread of coronavirus and preventing our hospitals from being overrun with new patients,” said Andy Lynch, a spokesperson for Mayor London Breed. “The only way we can reduce the pressure on our hospitals is to secure places like these hotel rooms to quarantine patients that need a place of their own, which includes homeless residents affected by coronavirus. We’re continuing to work to secure them as quickly as possible.”

However, city supervisors and homeless advocates have called for The City to move homeless people off the streets and out of shelters into hotel rooms even without a positive test to help prevent the spread of coronavirus among the homeless population.

“Every minute counts here,” Preston said in the statement. “We’re not going to wait while the City delays getting hotel rooms for those who are homeless. It’s time to think big, get thousands more hotel rooms than the city is planning, and launch a voucher program so homeless service providers can put everyone capable of self care into an appropriate private hotel room.”

Preston said his program prioritizes seniors and individuals with underlying health conditions coming from the Providence Foundation’s emergency women’s shelter and emergency family shelter. More than half of the residents at the women’s shelter are seniors, and many parents in the family shelter have underlying health concerns.

“When you’re sharing a room with a dozen or more people, it’s really hard to keep enough distance between you and the next person, and extremely difficult to make sure everyone is safe,” said Patricia Doyle, director of the Providence Foundation, in a statement. “We are doing our best, but it breaks my heart to see people put at risk like this, and it puts all of us at risk.”

Roach said there’s no set day the residents will have to move out, but her foundation wants to ensure they can stay for the duration of the pandemic.

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