As part of a program to move beyond emergency housing of homeless people in hotels, San Francisco purchased the Hotel Diva, above left, which has 130 rooms for permanent supportive housing.

Will SF Use New Federal Aid to Finally Solve Homelessness?

A move by President Biden Thursday is being hailed by advocates as an opportunity for San Francisco to place all its homeless residents in hotels for the next eight months.

One day after Biden was inaugurated, his administration announced that the federal government will fully reimburse local governments for the cost of housing people who are homeless and vulnerable to COVID-19 in settings where they have space and separation from others, such as hotel rooms. The order extends until Sept. 30, 2021.

A man sits on the sidewalk with has hands restrained behind him while police officers look on.Four police officers responded to a call in March 2020 about a homeless man in the Castro.

New Emergency Homelessness Response Plan Calls for Elimination of Healthy Streets Operation Center

In an attempt to limit police involvement with emergency calls about homelessness, a city group is proposing eliminating a multimillion-dollar program launched in 2018.

The group, composed of representatives of about two dozen city agencies and non-profits, released a 74-page paper Tuesday outlining its plan, called the Compassionate Alternative Response Team.

Tony Campana washes his face at a water pipe installed by San Francisco in the Tenderloin.

SF to Add Water Outlets in Neighborhoods With Large Homeless Populations

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.

COVID-19 Cases Spike Among Homeless San Franciscans

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.

Protesters from POOR magazine, a publication and activist organization, attempted to occupy the Marriott Marquis hotel in downtown San Francisco in May to demand the city house more homeless residents in the thousands of hotel rooms left vacant during the coronavirus pandemic. City supervisors voted to expand the hotel room shelter program this week.

City Extends Shelter-in-Place Hotel Program

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.

Tents line Golden Gate Avenue while nonprofit and city workers discuss hotel placements with unhoused residents in July 2020.

Should Windfall Create Homelessness Solutions or Help Balance the City’s Budget?

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.

During the pandemic, San Francisco has housed about 2,200 homeless residents in shelter-in-place hotels, including the Buena Vista Inn at Lombard and Gough streets.

Supervisors Divided on Plan to Extend Shelter-in-Place Hotels

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.

Stephanie, 57, lost her housing two years ago and was sleeping in a tent in the Tenderloin as of June. Like all the unhoused people photographed here, she was eventually relocated to a shelter-in-place hotel room. Close to half the residents of those hotel rooms are African American, according to an assessment by the city that only covered about half the hotel population.

Shelter-in-Place Hotel Wind-Down Plan Lacks Adequate Data, Strategy on Race

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.

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Regional Homelessness Activism Group Turns 15

In 2005, a coalition of advocacy groups working on homelessness formed a coalition to collaborate across cities and states and advance national policy. They called it WRAP, the Western Regional Advocacy Project. Its director, Paul Boden, joined “Civic” to look back on 15 years of organizing and ensuring that people experiencing homelessness themselves inform research and policy.

The Adante Hotel is currently operating as a shelter-in-place hotel run by Five Keys. San Francisco's Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing plans to end the shelter-in-place hotel program, but that process was paused in response to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

Workers in Shelter-in-Place Hotels Face Unemployment, Uncertain Future

As the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing scrambles to find placements for the more than 2,300 residents of its shelter-in-place hotels, little attention has been paid to the people who work at those sites. Nonprofit organizations that run the hotels are working diligently not just to identify exits for residents, but to keep their staff, many of whom have worked at these nonprofits for decades. When COVID-19 hit, San Francisco closed its shelters and navigation centers to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. Many residents from those facilities were relocated to shelter-in-place hotels — and the shelter staff went with them. But now that the city has declared that the hotels must close, and with shelters operating at a fraction of their original capacity, there’s nowhere for staff to go.