Some 50 homeless advocates, shelter employees and their clients crowded into the mayor’s office lobby and a committee meeting yesterday. They testified about negative experiences with the new shelter reservation system implemented in July.

After three hours of testimony and questioning the chair of the Rules Committee, Distrct 9 Supervisor David Campos pushed for further discussion of the item.

Advocates like Jennifer Friedenbach wore headbands to symbolize the "Runaround."

Advocates like Jennifer Friedenbach wore headbands to symbolize "The Runaround."

“I don’t know what the Board [of Supervisors] can do, but I will explore,” he said. “All of us have needed a helping hand.”

The debate stems from a new system in the single adult shelter reservation system.  The coalition on homelessness say it is “confusing, complicated and constantly changing.”

According to a survey by the coalition, “The Runaround” has left many homeless without a bed when there are still vacancies in the shelters.

“The Runaround” refers to how much homeless people have to run around from shelter to reservation center to find a place to sleep, according to the director of the coalition Jennifer Friedenbach.

“We are finding lengthy waits, multiple turn aways, empty reservations being dropped at random,” she said. “We are calling on the city to make corrective action.”

The Director of the Single Adult Shelter Policy, Joyce Crum was skeptical of their findings because the survey has 212 participants whereas the Human Services Agency has surveyed more than 3,000 participants ,she said.

“It is not that we don’t agree it is just a small number,” she said. But she later added, “as much as I would like to say the system is perfect, it’s not.”

Some of the coalition’s findings include 45 percent reporting a negative experience.

Before July 1, 30 percent received shelter for one night while 34 percent received a seven-night stay, 22 percent received six-month stays and 13 percent received a three-month reservation.

At present, this no longer exists. The new system allows for a single adult to make an initial seven-day reservation at a reservation center. That can extend to 14 days, then 90 days and up to a maximum of 111 days.

However if they miss a day within the first 21 days, they will lose their reservation and have to start over again with a new seven-day reservation

Not having an arbitration process over missed days and immediate cancellations concerned Campos.

“When you provide a benefit, you cannot take it away without due process,” he told Crum whose agency had not vetted the policy with the District Attorney.

The Survey found that after July 1, 42 percent received shelter for one night and 46 received a seven-night stay, while 3 percent received a 90-day stay.

A reservation takes about three days to secure because of the competitiveness and the elimination of over 464 beds since 2004, the coalition said.

Missing a day could happen for many reasons including work and school, but sometimes it is because they have to commute to the shelter  on the other side of the city without a MUNI token, which many said is often denied.

This length of stay is a serious issue for Dolores Street Community Services, according to Program Director Marlon Mendieta.

“Our own data from our program shows that most of the housing placement activity happens from 120 days to 180 days, he said. “the most effective part of our program we can’t even get to that level because we are limited to 111 days,”

“We had a program model that worked—we are not able to do that anymore,” Mendieta said.

Crum said the limitation of 111 days is to give more people a chance to have shelter.

City Homeless Policy Director, Dariush Kayhan declined to comment.

One client, who did not give his name because of privacy concerns, said the change is hurting him physically and emotionally.

He’s been unemployed since February and has a heart condition.  Trying to get a seven-day reservation takes a large part of his time.

After the air conditioning company he worked for went bankrupt earlier this year, the Guatemalan native has not been able to find work as an industrial engineer.

“What makes me more worried is not having work, no matter how much you want it, you can’t get it,” he said.

Homeless since February, he has navigated the shelter system but since July he has gone to different shelters, including the Providence Church Shelter in Bayview, which he is scared of going to because it doesn’t open until 10 p.m.

With no money for Muni he said he prefers to go to the shelter on Capp Street, but they turn him away because sometimes he comes after 5 p.m. from his job hunt.

This makes it difficult to prioritize, he said.

“If we are worried about looking for work and then worried about looking for a bed, obviously our priority will lie on securing a place to sleep,” he said.

“if you work and get tired where are you going to sleep? — you can’t one thing without the other.”

Others like Rebbeca Nichols agreed. “It is a full-time job just to live in this four-by-eight space.”
Nichols, who has been homeless for 10 years found housing last week after six months of searching diligently, she said.

“These places (shelters) do miracles,” she said. “But they need dusting up.”

Elihu Hernandez, a member of the independent shelter monitoring committee, said he had enough.

“it’s exhausting, please stop this run around, we need to rest.”