Jelani House at 1601 Quesada Ave. in the Bayview District to provide temporary housing and services for homeless women who are pregnant. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF to launch new shelter site to help pregnant homeless mothers

San Francisco plans to launch a new site in the Bayview to provide temporary housing for homeless pregnant mothers in an effort to address a large unmet need and reduce preterm births.

The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee unanimously approved the proposal Wednesday, which includes leasing Jelani House, at 1601 Quesada Avenue, for up to 30-years.

The two-story 10,225 square-foot site has sat vacant for the past 18 months but previously operated as a residential drug treatment facility for pregnant and parenting women. The site will have 17 bedrooms and the estimated average occupancy is 24 people, including 17 women and seven infants.

“Homeless pregnant and postpartum women face significant and unique challenges to stable housing,” wrote Jeff Kositsky, director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, in a letter to the board. “HSH’s service provider will provide comprehensive, intensive case management and supportive services to all participants on site with the intention that these participants stay at the residence through the birth of their babies and during their postpartum bonding/healing period.”

The Homeless Prenatal Program, a nonprofit that has provided services to homeless families for more than two decades, is expected to provide the services at this site. Those services will include counseling, wellness classes, health education, prenatal care, parent-child education and mental health services along with provisions like baby clothes and diapers.

Malea Chavez, deputy director with Homeless Prenatal Program, said they have advocated for more resources like Jelani House to meet the demand.

The nonprofit served 803 pregnant women last year, of which “508 clients were unstably housed or not housed, living in SROs, or living with a relative or friends.”

The nonprofit currently provides services to homeless pregnant mothers through its Pregnancy Assistance Temporary Housing, or PATH program, which provides temporary stays of about three to four months in a single-room occupancy hotel in the Mission. The program can help 12 pregnant mothers at a time.

The Jelani House will provide longer term stays, potentially up to 18 months.

Currently, The City has a policy in place where homeless pregnant mothers are given priority access to emergency services in their third trimester, seventh month of pregnancy, or​ ​their​ ​fifth​ ​month​ ​of​ ​pregnancy​ ​with​ high-risk medical​ ​conditions.

But with the additional resources and the backing of studies reflecting the need, the nonprofit is hoping the policy will change to allow pregnant mothers earlier access to emergency services like Jelani House to benefit the health of the mother and child.

A San Francisco State University 2017 report titled “Housing, Pregnancy and Preterm Birth in San Francisco” found that the priority policy “​is​ ​too​ ​late​ ​to​ ​positively​ ​affect​ ​birth​ ​outcomes,​ ​in​ ​particular​ ​preterm​ ​birth.”

“In a City that has made addressing homelessness and degraded public housing a priority with highly visible initiatives and investments, low income and inadequately housed pregnant women are largely overlooked,” the report concluded. “This assessment provides the evidence that only with a focus on the harsh living conditions, stress and the impacts of displacement many low-income pregnant women face can the City realize a reduction in disparities in birth outcomes.”

Gigi Whitley, Homelessness and Supportive Housing Deputy Director of Finance, told the committee that the department would work with the nonprofit after women’s stays “to refer them into our rapid re-housing portfolio so that there is a linkage to permanent housing.”

The full board will vote June 4 on the proposal. The program could launch as early as October and costs about $820,000 annually. The cost for rent and other site expenses begins at $305,000 a year.

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