San Francisco Mayor London Breed said the city may soon be able to reopen more businesses and even some schools, but only if the Labor Day holiday doesn’t cause a spike in case
The city will house more people in hotel rooms than it had planned thanks to a law the Board of Supervisors passed unanimously Tuesday.
The legislation, drafted by Supervisor Matt Haney, establishes an emergency ordinance that requires the city to continue its practice of housing homeless people in hotel rooms while COVID-19 remains a risk. Emergency ordinances are used to rapidly respond to crises such as pandemics, and last 60 days.
Facing the high costs of pandemic response, San Francisco officials are making a play for a pile of cash that voters created through a 2018 ballot measure. But many of their proposals for that money lose sight of what voters had in mind when they passed Proposition C, says the measure’s author. That was to finally turn the homelessness crisis around. Proposition C established a gross-receipts tax on large businesses, netting hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that was locked up in court until September. City staff last week appealed to the fund’s oversight committee, requesting money to cover recent expenses and expand existing programs, including a pharmacy run by the Department of Public Health. But these are hardly the types of results that voters expected, said Jennifer Friedenbach, who wrote the ballot measure and is the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness.
Some city supervisors are pushing to continue using hotel rooms occupied by vulnerable homeless residents during the pandemic for a second cohort after current room residents are moved into other housing. Proponents say that despite a possible loss of federal emergency funds, discontinuing the program too soon would leave thousands unsheltered during the health emergency.
Though roughly three-fourths of the assessed residents of San Francisco’s shelter-in-place hotels are minorities, the city has no plan to assure that those people get safe landing spots in proportion to their race as it prepares to wind down the program.
Of particular concern for advocates is the priority list used to determine how to allocate housing to those experiencing homelessness. This system, called coordinated entry, does not take into account race when determining who is most in need of housing, despite the predominance of African Americans among hotel residents, service providers say.
Every odd-numbered San Francisco supervisorial district had an election in November. One race was extremely close and several were targeted by big independent expenditure money. But Joe Eskenazi, managing editor at Mission Local, reports that money was apparently ineffective, failing to propel candidates to victory and failing to dissuade voters from passing new tax measures.
More than 61% of San Francisco voters approved Proposition B, a charter amendment to split the Department of Public Works in two and add oversight commissions to both departments. Proposition B came on the heels of a city corruption scandal, investigations into which are ongoing.
A significant fall surge in coronavirus infections has forced San Francisco to reverse course and reimpose limits on some businesses.
San Francisco Department of Public Health Executive Director Dr. Grant Colfax said this surge could be far worse than the surge in June shortly after Memorial Day. “In the past two weeks, from Oct. 21 through Nov. 5, our rate has increased from 3.7 per 100,000 people to nine per 100,000 residents. We are averaging nearly 80 new cases a day now, up from just 32 new cases at the end of October,” he said.
With Corruption on the Ballot, San Francisco Could Learn Oversight From Other Scandal-Plagued Cities
When it comes to good government, dysfunction and disgrace can occasionally inspire some of the brightest ideas for reform. And getting the whole community involved in the cleanup — through the ballot box — can be one way to make those changes happen faster. Though the parallels are not exact, the tiny scandal-ridden city of Bell, near Los Angeles, could hold keys to fixing a culture of corruption that has insinuated itself deep in the heart of San Francisco’s massive and opaque bureaucracy.
San Francisco’s decision to move more than 2,000 homeless people out of hotel rooms could drive many back onto the streets, leaving them as vulnerable to COVID-19 as they were when the temporary housing program was launched in the spring.
San Francisco will soon spend previously unthinkable sums on the fight against homelessness. The massive influx of cash — nearly $600 million over the next year collected thanks to a voter initiative, combined with hundreds of millions of dollars in expenditures by the homelessness department — could be a game changer.