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.

Sarah Karlinsky. Courtesy of SPUR

To Address Housing Crisis, Expert Says, Consider Housing a Human Right

Rents may be falling, but the Bay Area is still unaffordable and has for years fallen short of its housing construction goals. The construction shortfall is particularly pronounced in subsidized housing. While the pandemic is changing the way people work and socialize and has resulted in economic downturn, acquiring land and building remain expensive. Sarah Karlinsky, senior advisor at the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, a public policy think tank better known as SPUR, has published a report indicating that Bay Area municipalities should be constructing 45,000 units of housing per year.


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.

Tolbert unbuckles Supreme’s car seat as she prepares to go grocery shopping in San Francisco. She places him in a baby carrier on her chest for a more comfortable shopping experience. On this trip, Tolbert was loading up on food and household supplies for the month, so she can limit her trips during the pandemic. She enjoys being a stay-at-home mom and watching her son grow. “I never expected to be a mother,” Tolbert said. “But here he is, right Papa?” she said to Supreme.

S.F. Vehicle Dwellers’ Living Situations Diverge During Pandemic

Photojournalist Yesica Prado has been documenting the lives of people living in their cars, vans, RVs and campers — including, at times, turning the lens on herself as she shelters in place in her own RV. This week, Prado expanded the series with story updates and new images showing how the lives of two people featured in earlier photo essays have changed during the pandemic.

On a Sunday morning, Nelson walks three miles roundtrip between the tow yard where he keeps his car parked and the Tenderloin neighborhood, following a routine that involves picking up his breakfast at St. Anthony’s Dining Room. He passes people who have picked up meals and are eating them while sitting in chairs placed on the street by St. Anthony’s. The chairs are spaced six feet apart for social distancing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. After the coronavirus pandemic began, service providers applied safety restrictions. No more open showers or restrooms. No more public seating to charge devices. No more dining rooms. Rather than claiming a chair on the street, Nelson prefers bringing his take-out food back to his car, and enjoys it in privacy.

Pandemic Makes Ride-Hailing Gig Untenable for S.F. Man Living in His Car

During the pandemic, parking enforcement has been lax, and the 72-hour rule that forced Gregory Nelson to park in a new spot every few days is suspended. He found peace and stability staying in one spot — his version of sheltering in place — like millions of Americans. But working from home was not possible for him. Every week he tried to drive for Lyft, Nelson grappled with out-of-pocket expenses to use the ride-hailing app: car rental fees, tolls, gas and the occasional car wash. Within weeks of the shelter-in-place order, Nelson could no longer afford driving.

Tantay Tolbert changes her son’s clothes on the dining room table in her new apartment. In March, the Homeless Prenatal Program in San Francisco offered her a hotel room for 90 days, and this became her first step into stable housing. After the hotel room, she transitioned into subsidized housing. “They looked out for me during the time of my pregnancy,” Tolbert said. “They gave us vouchers and made sure we had something to eat. It was catered food every day. It was blessed.” On June 16, Hamilton Families gave Tolbert the keys to her new apartment. “On Tupac’s birthday. It’s a Black holiday,” she said. A time to celebrate.

From an RV to Four Walls and a Pantry: One New Mom’s Story

In a dimly lit living room, Tantay Tolbert reaches for a warm bottle of milk on the glass coffee table. Her month-old baby, Supreme Samuel Lloyd-Vaughn, softly cries in her arms. She caresses his black curls as she tilts the bottle into his mouth. “You were hungry, my baby?” Tolbert asks with a smile. “You eat a lot, baby.” It’s an ordinary day for Tolbert — comforting Supreme and dressing him in cute clothes. And yet, what seems ordinary now represents dramatic change and newfound stability.

Tantay Tolbert poses for a portrait with her son Supreme inside her 1977 Chevrolet Impala in front of her apartment in Richmond. She is hoping to get $10,000 when she sells this classic vehicle. Since the pandemic started, Tolbert and her partner have increased their car sales. “People are buying equity, and they can get to where they need to go,” she said. Tolbert says she has used some of her unemployment benefits to buy cars at auctions. She and her partner fix up the cars and sell them to people — some of whom are using their own unemployment benefits to pay for the vehicles. “We’ve been doing it since I was 21. I’m 38 now. We can do this with our eyes closed,” Tolbert said confidently. “This has been the whole solid foundation.”

Photo Essay — From an RV to Four Walls and a Pantry: One New Mom’s Story

Earlier this year, the San Francisco Public Press featured Tantay Tolbert in “Driving Home: Surviving the Housing Crisis,” a photojournalism project by Yesica Prado documenting the experiences of people living in vehicles in the Bay Area. Prado followed up with Tolbert to find out how her life has changed in recent months.