Over the weekend, hotels answered San Francisco’s call for rooms in the COVID-19 crisis — some 8,500 rooms have been offered to the city at varying costs.
Five supervisors will today push for far higher numbers than that.
Today at noon, Supervisors Matt Haney, Aaron Peskin, Dean Preston, Hillary Ronen, and Shamann Walton will introduce a resolution and hold a virtual press conference urging even greater action. Their call is to proactively put vulnerable populations, namely the city’s homeless, into hotel rooms — rather than wait for people to grow ill and require quarantine or hospitalization.
“The cost of treating people who contract the virus will be much greater than giving folks a hotel room,” said Haney. “And, also, shelters cost a lot of money. It’s not like we’re saving money by taking the riskier appraoch. We may save money by being more proactive and preventative.”
While some of the supes initially felt that the 8,500 room figure may need to be tripled, that number is in flux. For a start, tens of thousands of rooms may be needed — or even demanded.
“Nobody really knows the numbers. They’re going to have to constantly be revising them, as we know,” said Ronen. In addition to sheltering homeless people living on the streets or staying in congregate shelters where the virus could quickly spread, Ronen notes “there are other populations as well.” Single-Room Occupancy hotel dwellers have their own rooms, but share bathrooms — and are prioritized as particularly vulnerable.
“There are also people the Department of Public Health believes should leave Laguna Honda Hospital,” Ronen continued. “We also need hotel rooms for our first responders who need to quarantine from their families.”
Walton put the number at 10,000 to 12,000 rooms, for starters.
The city chose last week to put out a Request For Proposal rather than simply wrest away rooms from the empty hotels via eminent domain or other measures. It did so because officials felt this was both more expedient and staved off the possibility of painful, years-long litigation after the fact.
But eminent domain and other legal weapons do remain in the city’s arsenal, if need be.
“None of the choices is perfect,” said Haney. The supervisor notes that longtime city homeless czar Jeff Kositsky “has told us at least half of the unsheltered population can handle having their own hotel room. Yes, there is a risk to giving large numbers of people their own room. But it’s a lesser risk than having thousands of people in unhealthy environment in the street or in shelters where the virus spreads more quickly. It’s just a level of common sense that we cannot leave people on the streets. It’s not a safe or healthy option for them or everyone else in the city right now.”
Update, 12:25 p.m.: Supervisor Matt Haney conceded the city will need “a lot ” more than 8,500 hotel rooms, and Supervisor Hillary Ronen expressed relief that “we have reached an agreement with the Department of Homelessness and Human Services Agency that we are going to stop their plan to expand congregate living facilities and instead focus on the hotel rooms we have as a city.”
Prior to the press conference, multiple supervisors hit upon a preliminary number of 12,000 or so rooms being needed — which they feel is doable, considering the hotels are empty and otherwise have no ready source of income.
The five supervisors intend to introduce a resolution on Tuesday “and, if necessary, emergency legislation,” Haney notes. This legislation would “prioritize not only people who are exposed or may have been exposed but also people who are unsheltered.”
While Supervisor Dean Preston noted that hotels have been “eager” to fill their empty rooms, the city does have legal means to compel them to hand over rooms if bargaining breaks down. “We have the ability to commandeer rooms under the governor’s order,” Ronen noted. “We hope we don’t have to.”
Supervisor Shamann Walton conceded that “there is a lot to be desired in terms of transparency right now. I cannot tell you how many beds we have set aside for the unhoused population. We have been sending folks home from Laguna Honda and we don’t have any idea where these people are supposed to go. We should not be releasing people from hospitals without knowing where they are going.”
As for the cost, which will be significant if not monumental, Haney again noted that the cost of not acting would be greater.
“If we have upward of 30,000 empty hotel rooms and thousands of people living in dangerous situations on the street or in congregate living situations, then we should move them into rooms,” Ronen said. “Money must not be an object. Prejudices must not be an object. For once in our lives, let’s do the right thing. If housing is available, let’s move people into housing.”
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