If you are homeless, this is the air you – and your children – are forced to breathe all day on the streets of San Francisco. On Friday, Nov. 16, when this photo was taken, San Francisco’s air quality reached the purple level, “very unhealthy,” on the Air Quality Index. Today, Nov. 19, it is still “unhealthy.” – Photo: Russell Yip, SF Chronicle

by Jackie Fielder, Democratic Socialists of America; Kung, Bay Resistance; and Nicholas Kimura, Coalition on Homelessness

San Francisco – With the Northern California wildfires still raging and San Francisco streets deserted as everyone is told to take shelter, homeless people in the City have no shelter from air quality labeled the worst in the world. Yet during this smoke-created public health crisis, early every morning, thousands of homeless adults and dozens of homeless families are forced out of their shelters to spend the day in long lines outdoors waiting for a shelter bed for the night. The City failed to ensure homeless people have knowledge of any expanded resources.

Today, Monday, Nov. 19, the Democratic Socialists of America, Bay Resistance and the Coalition on Homelessness will unite at City Hall at noon to distribute masks to help homeless San Franciscans survive the current damaging air quality. While this action will alleviate the health problems to an extent, where’s the City? The response to this public health crisis by the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing has been woefully inadequate.

Shelters with hundreds of beds remain empty during the day, forcing people outdoors into the bad air while existing spaces are wide open. The temporary shelter established to give people respite from the harmful smoke cannot accommodate anywhere near all who need it.

The few emergency family shelters put families out at 7:00 a.m., leaving children, who are especially susceptible to the bad air quality, at risk. While library hours and other facilities’ hours were extended, many homeless people weren’t notified.

DHSH passed out only 1,000 masks in total, but masks need to be replaced every eight hours of use. Over 4,000 homeless people are in need of three masks per day at the very least, but why not make space indoors for everyone.

Says Sam Lew of the Coalition on Homelessness, “This is unacceptable in the wealthiest region of the world. San Franciscans voted overwhelmingly to expand services for homeless adults and families and our City should not be operating on a scarcity model at times of public health crises. The conditions outside are damaging to people’s health and we must provide adequate care when it is needed most.”

“This is unacceptable in the wealthiest region of the world. San Franciscans voted overwhelmingly to expand services for homeless adults and families and our City should not be operating on a scarcity model at times of public health crises. The conditions outside are damaging to people’s health and we must provide adequate care when it is needed most.” – Sam Lew

Community groups are gathering to implore the City to provide better shelter access and adequate responses for this and future – inevitable – public health disasters. Climate change is a serious threat to us all and not only the wealthy should be provided protection by our City.

For more information, contact Sam Lew at slew@cohsf.org.

 

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