Supervisors move to halt shutdown of shelter-in-place hotel program

City has said it plans to begin moving homeless out of leased rooms by end of December

Supervisors announced legislation on Thursday intended to counter a city plan to move 500 homeless people out of shelter-in-place hotel rooms.

Supervisors Matt Haney, Shamann Walton, Hillary Ronen, and Dean Preston say the legislation will halt the dismantling of the shelter-in-place hotels program during the pandemic, work to provide residents with permanent housing once it is available, and bring more people without shelter into the rooms as they become available.

The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing has said it plans to remove some hotel residents by Dec. 21 and close all of the roughly 2,300 hotel rooms leased by The City to provide a safe space to shelter-in-place by June.

After mounting pressure and a fresh influx of state funds, the department has said it will “slow down” those plans but has not given any details, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday.

“[The plan] is reckless, poorly thought out, and unfairly played with people’s lives at a time when people need us to be looking out for them,” said Supervisor Dean Preston. “This is the worst possible time to be removing opportunities for people to be off the streets. We should be looking for opportunities to expand it, not wind it down.”

Supervisors repeatedly criticized the plan to move people out of the hotel rooms as nonsensical and cruel considering the resurgence of coronavirus cases and arrival of colder weather. At a hearing on the plan last week, HSH Interim Director Abigail Stewart-Khan cited the cost of the program as the main reason to wind it down. City Controller Ben Rosenfeld said the program costs The City about $178 million annually, but that $114 million will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Supervisors, however, said the total state and federal resources available meant that the program was expected to cost The City’s general fund $3 million once reimbursements are provided. And Gov. Gavin Newsom has since announced another $62 million in one-time funds for the program.

“We are implementing an ambitious plan to move thousands of people out of hotels and into stable housing based on the budget passed by the Board of Supervisors,” said Mayor London Breed’s office on Thursday. “The funding we’ve just received from the state will provide us more flexibility and time to do this work, and we will continue to adapt our plans if more funding becomes available, especially if the Biden Administration provides more certainty around ongoing FEMA support. We will continue to work with city staff and our service providers to deliver on our commitment to get people housed and ensure no one in our hotels gets moved back on the street.”

Nonprofit providers staffing the rooms said many clients have made progress while living in stable housing. Dr. Danielle Alkov said one person in a hotel, a trans woman of color who had a very turbulent childhood after her mother died, is thinking about her future and career options for the first time in a long time.

“If this were to be taken away from us at this time, it would be like pulling the carpet out from under us in a really major way,” said Nicholas Garrett, a shelter-in-place hotel resident. “I would just hate to see a lot of progress a lot of us made because of the hotels just all go for naught.”

Whether the legislation gets implemented is another question. Breed in April ignored previous legislation passed unanimously by supervisors calling for The City to procure 8,250 hotel rooms, calling it unrealistic.

Details of the legislation are still being finalized and have not yet been made available. Preston said supervisors are exploring options with the City Attorney on legal language that could ensure the legislation is acted upon, but did not want to get to that stage.

“I’m really at my wit’s end with this administration and how they’re dealing with homelessness,” Ronen said. “Will the mayor continue to ignore the charter and separation of powers? It’s possible. We’re going to fight and were going to fight hard to ensure that humane and rational policy is implemented in this city.”

This story will be updated with additional information.

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