hotel rooms
Photo by Loi Almeron

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.”

Supervisor Matt Haney speaks during this afternoon’s virtual press conference.

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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Supervisor Hillary Ronen said that money must not be a barrier. “For once in our lives, let’s do the right thing.”

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. This is when very difficult decisions will need to be made on who gets the limited amount of ventilators available. Will the homeless, mentally ill and drug dependent get an equal chance? I don’t think so. We most likely will soon find out.

  2. Yes yes by all means throw more money at the homeless. Prioritize their well-being over housing first responders who need quarantine, nurses and retail clerks with long commutes after extra long shifts. Commandeer ballrooms for their bike chop shops, demand hotel staff provide room service 24/7, and fresh linens daily.

  3. I live in a shelter. I moved to SF. from Lake County due to the destruction of the wildfires. I work as an IHSS worker. Not am I only unsafe at work but also when I return to the shelter. Everyone has a story as to why they are in a shelter. Not everyone is an addict. As you are sitting in your home idly condemning this action, many who need it, pray this happens.

    1. Sorry about your loss, but for people like you the right solution is a home you pay for from your income. You are able to and interested in working, and you shouldn’t need to rely on charity for shelter.

      The state needs millions of more homes. Some believe that would ruin our city’s character. I hope you consider advocating for changes that make it more likely we produce those missing homes.

  4. Ten thousand rooms at say, for kicks $1,000 each for a month. That is ten million dollars. But the city has an annual budget of 12 billion plus. I guess we can afford it. But it could be more than a grand a month and it could be more than 10,000 rooms. It could easily be 20 million per month and how many months? About half the homeless here, I have read, would need staffing to watch them and maintain these places. These are not ordinary tenants. Over the course of a year that could run up into the hundreds of millions. But a case could be made by some, that by allowing a lot of the cheap hotels to be torn down, the city has already made its bed, and has just been refusing to lie in it. It would nice to see how the streets looked when everyone was offered a room. I doubt that some of the crazies would take one. And maybe some others would get high somewhere and not make it home. But why not try it “for the emergency”. I’d rather that than subsidies for artists etc. Or more of those big stupid heart sculptures. Talk about tacky sh*t.

    1. How does the city plan on getting people to use the rooms? To stay in the rooms and not leave to get drugs? Or to manage damage or infestation caused by the residents? Many in the homeless community have lice, scabies and bedbugs. How about their pets? Smoking in the rooms? How much liability is the city taking on with this program? And once the virus has subsided will the supervisors be eager to end the program and send the people back to the streets?

    2. Numbers matter. Your “for kicks” number is way way off. Probably reflecting your disconnection from what real prices actually are.

      Chron reports the cost for a quarantine hotel room(with meal service) is $213 a day. That’s $6.600 a month. Rooms without meals are $164 a day, $5,100 a month. So $5,000 a month for 5,000 homeless people is $25M a month, $300M a year. And that doesn’t include the cost of supportive services that DHS says homeless people need, perhaps for their lifetimes.

      And it’s not reasonable to think homeless people who have dogs, bikes, and assorted
      paraphernalia are going to give those things up. Or will shelter in place alone all day and night in a hotel room except when getting carry out.. And hotel room furnishings aren’t selected for the manner of care self-medicating people routinely give their surroundings.

    3. Not all the ppl on the street are homeless. Specially in the Mid-Market/Tenderloin area. Many are SRO residents, who don’t wanna be cooped up all day. And after all, panhandling for them is an avocation – extra spending money.

      I cringe to think what the clean-up bill for those rooms will look like. More like ‘Rock band-morning after’. The Chron reports an agreement specifying $164/nite for service workers (not that much a problem); and an extra $50/day for meals, for the homeless (those are the Rock-band rooms). These are leased for 4 mths (hopefully less). And if you figure they want to shelter the 8000 on the street, plus another 2000 in SRO rooms – plus the emergency workers, it’s easily 10k+ rooms. So that’s $10M a month for food, and $50M a month for rooms; or a billion $ for a whole year (unlikely, but unknown). PLUS the cost of returning rooms to operational levels for these hotels?

      How is this going to be paid for?

    4. Sounds like a standing invitation for homeless individuals to flock to San Francisco for free hotela accommodation. If there are any estimated 7500 homeless on the street, why imagine 8500 hotel rooms are insufficient? The poverty pimos want as many homeless as possible “in touch” with their programs?

  5. There is a population of perhaps 10K people who are an at risk incubation cohort.

    Either we do what it takes to distance them socially or we’re next up for NYC levels of disease.

    Put 8 votes together to make it happen as an emergency ordinance.