The lack of fresh water available to homeless people in San Francisco during the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes a “human rights abuse,” a community organizer said as the city’s shelter-in-place orders drag into a second year.
San Francisco plans to expand access to drinking water for people living on the streets by adding permanent taps in three neighborhoods and leaving in place – for now – the temporary taps it installed after COVID-19 hit.
For many homeless residents, water access represents a hurdle between them and a job, a home — even survival. The demand for fresh water has been so great since March that several organizations began buying bottled water for distribution to homeless people at a cost of thousands of dollars.
No fireworks, no parties on the beach, no Golden Gate Park light displays. How is a San Franciscan wanting to celebrate the end of this murderous, soul-sucking pandemic year supposed to have any fun?
You could attend any one of numerous live-streamed events, from comedy shows to live music to bell-ringing ceremonies to vaudeville cabaret shows.
Or, for a brief period, there was the opportunity to drop $100 for an in-person, three-course meal complete with burlesque and drag queen show in the Tenderloin. Except that event was canceled …
Coronavirus cases have soared this month among San Francisco’s homeless population and residents of the city’s single-room-occupancy hotels. The city reported 59 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among unhoused people from Dec. 1 to Dec. 18, more than in September, October and November combined.
San Francisco will stop acquiring shelter-in-place hotel rooms for the city’s vulnerable residents and essential workers, the Emergency Operations Center confirmed in a statement late Wednesday. The city will continue to use the approximately 2,600 rooms under contract and plans to phase out the program by June 2021, the department said.
Like most of the homeless residents on Willow Street Tuesday morning, Leif Skorochod was headed for either a city-sanctioned tent camp or the barracks-style homeless shelter at Moscone Convention Center after city workers arrived early that morning and gave them a choice: Accept shelter or leave. Homeless Outreach Team members discussed placement options with tent residents while Public Works crews tossed items into truck beds. At least two residents received hotel rooms because they have underlying health conditions. The rest of those the Public Press spoke to were either headed to Moscone or a sanctioned camp site.
San Francisco’s housing and homelessness service providers worry that City Hall’s budget decisions will leave them unprepared to face an expected wave of housing displacement. Interviews with staffers at a dozen nonprofits found that calls for assistance have increased by at least 30% and at some organizations by as much as 200% since March when the pandemic forced San Francisco residents to shelter in place amid a recession characterized by widespread income loss. Many providers are concerned expected city budget cuts will hobble their ability to provide vital aid like rental assistance, legal representation in eviction cases, food and emergency shelter, just when clients need help the most. One likely outcome of expected cutbacks they predicted: a worsening of the city’s already daunting homelessness crisis. “We’re all bracing ourselves for a huge growth in the numbers of those who are living on the streets, no question,” said Sara Shortt, director of public policy and community outreach at the Community Housing Partnership, a supportive housing nonprofit.
As San Francisco leaders look for ways to slash spending in the face of a huge budget shortfall, a coalition of homeless service providers is asking for an increase in funding over the next two fiscal years to address an expected surge in demand due to economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The 30-plus-member Homeless Emergency Services Providers Association presented a proposal Monday to Mayor London Breed’s budget office requesting more than $42.5 million for homelessness-related programs through 2022, roughly 23% more than the groups received the previous two years. The money would fund subsidies that could help house hundreds of individuals and families, bolster emergency shelters and homelessness prevention programs, and jumpstart the city’s first safe drug injection site — provided Assembly Bill 362, which would permit pilot versions of such sites, survives the state Legislature this year and is signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom. “We all understand that this is a tough time for our city’s revenue and budget, but it’s also a very tough time for our residents,” Supervisor Matt Haney, whose district is home to many of the city’s unhoused residents, said about the proposal. “If we don’t invest in prevention and make sure that the most vulnerable people are taken care of, it can get much worse quickly.”
The service providers’ association has won funding for its members and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing in the past, including more than $24 million in funding for various programs in the last fiscal year.
As Moscone Center began accepting new homeless residents from street encampments in recent weeks, residents and advocates expressed concerns about safety at the convention center and other group shelter settings. Three residents said COVID-19 testing prior to admittance at Moscone Center is inconsistent, residents don’t reliably wear masks and sanitation is lacking. Bathrooms were particularly problematic, they said, citing feces-smeared toilet stalls and showers reeking of urine. “I have yet to see a standardized testing protocol for the reopening of shelters. I don’t know if one exists,” said Brian Edwards, a Coalition on Homelessness organizer and member of the Shelter Monitoring Committee, the city’s homeless shelter oversight board.
San Francisco has identified a handful of potential pop-up wards to be used in the event of a coronavirus surge to house nearly 500 COVID-positive patients who do not require hospitalization but who cannot recuperate on their own because of their housing status or medical conditions, the Department of Emergency Management confirmed in a series of emails last week.