Several San Francisco supervisors and homeless service providers on Tuesday blasted a plan by city leaders to rehouse 2,300 individuals currently staying in hotels as part of the city’s COVID-19 response.
Under the city’s Shelter-in-Place (SIP) program, homeless residents who were considered vulnerable to the virus, based on their age and underlying health conditions, were placed in at 29 hotels throughout the city over the last six months.
However Mayor London Breed and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing recently announced they would close the hotels and instead offer permanent supportive housing options to more than 2,300 people over the coming months.
As part of the first phase of this transition, 500 residents at seven hotels would be moved into housing in the coming weeks.
During a hearing on the city’s plan at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, several supervisors and providers spoke out against the plan, arguing that amid a recent surge in COVID-19 cases citywide and nationwide, the SIP hotels should stay open. According to the Homeless Emergency Service Providers Association, the city’s plan isn’t explicit enough in how residents will be rehoused and could result in more than 1,800 people returning to homelessness.
Additionally, as a result of the hotels closing, frontline providers who run SIP hotels could face massive layoffs.
“The numbers don’t match in terms of how many folks may be forced out of hotels and into whatever alternatives are being offered through this plan,” said Supervisor Shamann Walton, who called the hearing. “We must make sure that we don’t do anything to put folks back on the street.”
“There are no alternatives (to hotels),” Supervisor Hillary Ronen said. “The shelters are filled to their limited capacity, the shared spaces are more expensive than the SIP hotels, so where are people going to go?”
HSH Interim Director Abigail Stewart-Khan defended the plan.
“If we get to the end of the first phase or to the end of June and we haven’t successfully rehoused people, we are going to need to make an adjustment at that time, because the commitment to housing people is real,” she said. “It does take time to move people into permanent supportive housing, so we do need to begin now.”
City Controller Ben Rosenfield said housing residents in the hotels is costing the city $178 million annually — $114 million of which is expected to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Supervisor Dean Preston, however, pointed out that with other federal and state resources reaching up to $61 million, the plan should only cost the city $3 million, assuming the FEMA reimbursements come through.
Supervisors ultimately voted unanimously to continue the hearing.
On Wednesday, Supervisor Haney said on Twitter, “The success we had in the Tenderloin in bringing people inside and reducing the number of people sleeping on the streets was not because of a lawsuit. It was because we had 700 plus hotel rooms made available for people who were homeless. If we close hotels and don’t open more shelters, you’re going to see a lot more people on the streets, at a very dangerous time with the cold and the virus.”