by Jen Snyder
San Francisco – In light of the statewide mandated shelter-in-place order, along with the social distancing directions from the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Supervisor Dean Preston has taken matters into his own hands and secured hotel rooms for otherwise unhoused women and families who currently are living in congregate settings, most of whom are in vulnerable populations.
Starting Tuesday night, dozens of residents of two District 5 shelters – an emergency family shelter and a women’s shelter – both run by Providence Foundation will be temporarily housed in individual rooms at a District 5 hotel. The effort is prioritizing seniors and people with underlying health conditions.
At the emergency family shelter, many parents are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to underlying medical issues, and, at the emergency women’s shelter, over half the residents are seniors. These emergency shelters are disproportionately African American residents, many of whom were displaced from housing in District 5.
Shelters have been desperate to solve the dilemma of social distancing in a setting where that is almost impossible. By housing many of the shelter residents in hotel rooms, this project will both help those residents and thin the remaining population at these two shelters to allow expanded social distancing.
Chief San Francisco Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragon . . . warned that despite implementing a strong shelter-in-place order far ahead of many other US cities, the failure to address congregate living situations in overflowing Navigation Centers and shelters was a significant gap in prioritizing public health.
“Every minute counts here,” said Preston. “We’re not going to wait while the City delays getting hotel rooms for those who are homeless. It’s time to think big, get thousands more hotel rooms than the city is planning, and launch a voucher program so homeless service providers can put everyone capable of self-care into an appropriate private hotel room.”
Preston’s office worked closely with Patricia Doyle, program director of the Providence Foundation, and the hotel owner, Naresh Dhadhal, and applauded their proactive work at the cutting edge of solving this crisis. Preston is urging the mayor and City agencies to pick this up and run with it before it’s too late. According to Preston, he has already heard from other supervisors interested in doing this immediately in their own districts.
The program, funded by private donations, is a first and bold step towards greatly reducing the spread of COVID-19. At last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting on March 17, the director of San Francisco’s Housing Services Agency (HSA) admitted that there was no plan to get hotel rooms for people living in shelters, except for those requiring actual quarantine or isolation, such as those testing COVID-19 positive, and in fact that the City’s plan was to double down on creating more shelters.
. . . an estimated 30,000 hotel rooms currently sitting vacant across the city . . .
Chief San Francisco Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón made clear at the same meeting that hotel rooms were preferable to congregate living situations where the virus can easily spread. Dr. Aragón warned that despite implementing a strong shelter-in-place order far ahead of many other US cities, the failure to address congregate living situations in overflowing Navigation Centers and shelters was a significant gap in prioritizing public health.
With an estimated 30,000 hotel rooms currently sitting vacant across the city, Preston and his colleagues, Supervisors Ronen, Haney, Peskin and Walton, have been pushing for the City to ramp up acquisition of hotel rooms to house those who are unsheltered. Following advocacy from these supervisors in the last week, the City has expanded its efforts to acquire hotel rooms, but still has not prioritized moving people from shelters to hotels.
“City leaders cannot continue to overlook the largest congregate living situations in San Francisco, our shelters and Navigation Centers,” said Preston, “Getting folks into individual rooms is good for all of us. If we don’t, it’s a risk to vulnerable populations, neighbors, and our health care system, and this will just be more severe and go on longer.”
“When you’re sharing a room with a dozen or more people, it’s really hard to keep enough distance between you and the next person, and extremely difficult to make sure everyone is safe,” said Patricia Doyle, program director of Providence Foundation. “We are doing our best, but it breaks my heart to see people put at risk like this, and it puts all of us at risk. I’m grateful that Supervisor Preston and his team reached out and we are pleased to be moving many of our folks into hotels through this pilot project while the City works on a comprehensive solution. This is urgent.”
Providence is accepting donations dedicated to this effort. Donations can be made through the following GoFundMe link: gf.me/u/xsngc2. Donations go to hotel units to house shelter residents.
In its first 19 hours, the site raised $3,195. CBS News reports: “Preston secured rooms at the Oasis Hotel for $80 a night, all funded by private donations including $10,000 from Preston himself.”
“There’s no lack of vacant units in the City and County of San Francisco right now. We need to prioritize moving everyone we can from congregate living situations into available rooms,” said Preston.
“We can do this by securing the rooms we need, and immediately ramping up a citywide voucher program so homeless service providers can place folks into hotels. In the meantime and in the absence of a robust program of this kind, we are taking matters into our own hands to house vulnerable people in District 5.”
CBS News reports some initial reactions: “Henry Banks, his wife and their three young children were one of the first families chosen for the pilot project.
“’This is a blessing for us because it gives us a shower, a refrigerator,’ Henry Banks said.
“Julia Elliott is also getting a room. She says social distancing at the women’s shelter has been difficult.
“’I think it’s ideal and it’s necessary. There are plenty of empty hotel rooms at this time and people that need them,’ Elliott said.”
Jen Snyder, legislative aide to Supervisor Dean Preston, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-367-1984. Bay View staff contributed to this report.