San Francisco legislators are pushing to obtain more than 8,000 hotel rooms by late April — 7,000 of which would be reserved for the city’s homeless population.
Five members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors introduced an “emergency ordinance” on Tuesday that would compel the city to obtain, and move people into, vacant hotel rooms by April 26 — the date that California’s coronavirus cases will reportedly peak.
“We knew we had to work fast in a situation where hours matter,” said Supervisor Dean Preston, a co-sponsor of the legislation, at a Tuesday press conference. “When it comes to homelessness, everything to date from the mayor and [the Human Services Agency] has been reactive at best.”
The ordinance was one of several pieces of emergency legislation submitted at the virtual Board of Supervisors meeting, including one to freeze rent increases and another to further protect food delivery employees. Supervisor Aaron Peskin said he refrained from introducing a third piece of emergency legislation — to cap at 10 percent what food delivery apps can charge on food deliveries — because he discovered that Mayor London Breed will announce such a cap tomorrow as part of a supplemental declaration of emergency. The mayor’s office has not yet confirmed this plan.
The effort by the Board of Supervisors to move homeless residents off the streets and into hotel rooms has put the board at odds with the mayor, who has maintained such plans were unnecessary.
But on Monday, Breed received a torrent of backlash for her plan to move shelter residents into an impromptu 394-bed shelter at the Moscone West convention center. Following Monday’s publication of photos from inside the Moscone shelter by Street Sheet, Breed reversed course, stating at a news conference Monday afternoon that her office and the Human Services Agency will move to acquire 4,500 hotel rooms, some of which will be reserved for the homeless population.
But the five supervisors — Preston, Peskin, Matt Haney, Hillary Ronen, and Shamann Walton — said the pledges of Breed and the director of the Human Services Agency, Trent Rhorer, do not go far enough.
“We have a shelter population and vulnerable street population that exceeds” the mayor’s target hotel numbers, Preston said, adding that healthcare workers and people transitioning out of hospitals also need to be accommodated. “The proposal for 4,500 will not cover all of that.”
Haney said that, on top of providing 7,000 rooms to San Francisco’s homeless, the legislation would provide 750 rooms to medical workers and first responders, and 500 rooms slated for people who are released from hospitals who cannot isolate at home.
The emergency legislation would additionally require social distancing and safety measures at city shelters, require daily reporting on people in the hotels, and urge the mayor to use her powers to “commandeer facilities when necessary” to meet the April 26 deadline, Haney said.
The board plans to procedurally fast-track the legislation — such that after it is introduced today, the board will have a hearing and vote on the ordinance in the same meeting next Tuesday, said Ronen. If the board is able to pass the legislation with two-thirds (eight of the 11 supervisors) the Breed cannot nullify it.
Haney believes the board can accomplish that. “This is not something divisive on the Board of Supervisors,” he said. “This is not five vs. everyone else. You’ll find the board is very unified around this.”
Regardless of how many supes agree to the legislation — and all 11 approved an earlier resolution urging the use of vacant hotel rooms to house the homeless — it is still within the mayor’s purview to simply not expend the money the board allocates to enact this legislation.
During the press conference, the board members continually rebuked Breed for making excuses and not moving fast enough to obtain the hotel rooms. So far, according to Rhorer, 945 rooms are available across eight hotels. Last week, around 123 homeless people who were positive for the virus, or under investigation, were moved into hotels.
Asked for comment on the board’s action, Andy Lynch, a spokesman for Breed, said that the mayor’s office is working to place vulnerable residents into hotel rooms, and “prioritizing public health in all of our decision-making for those living in congregate settings.”
“The City is moving at an unprecedented pace under crisis circumstances and we will continue to adapt to meet this challenge as it evolves,” he said, noting that keeping the unsheltered population healthy is “one of our top priorities since the Mayor declared a state of emergency and it continues to be today.”
The board’s legislation also comes as three shelter residents tested positive in one week — the first at a 186-bed Navigation Center on 13th Street, and two more over the weekend San Francisco’s largest shelter, MSC South. Both the mayor and the board members said that those residents had likely come in contact with other shelter residents.
At Tuesday’s press briefing, Julianna Morris, a physician at UCSF, strongly warned against congregate living situations and moving too slowly to obtain the hotel rooms. She said many homeless people suffer from preexisting illnesses that could cause them to fall “gravely ill” from COVID-19.
“As this pandemic is made very clear, the impacts of not protecting our most vulnerable neighbors affect everyone in the city,” Morris said. “And what will make us safer is if we can control outbreaks, not overwhelm the hospital system, and address people’s needs over time and get over this pandemic.”