A person staying at the Navigation Center on 13th Street has tested positive for COVID-19, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing said Thursday. 

Right now, the person is not at the Navigation Center, “is in good condition, and is currently recovering in an isolation hotel,” the department announced. 

Responding to the positive test, the Department of Public Health deployed a physician and other medical staff to the homeless shelter to conduct symptoms and temperature screenings for all of the residents there. Anyone demonstrating symptoms will be tested for the disease and moved to an isolation hotel immediately, the department said. Shelter staff are also being screened. 

The Navigation Center, a 150-foot-long and 60-foot-wide tent structure at 13th and South Van Ness Ave. has 186 beds, and a cleaning crew is disinfecting the shelter. 

The department overseeing homeless services said that it learned on Wednesday from the Department of Public Health that the person tested positive. 

“We have been preparing for this situation for weeks, and HSH and DPH are wrapping around the patient with health care and support,” said  Abigail Stewart-Kahn, the interim director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. 

Yet, as recently as March 22, the department had provided no protocols to shelter operators in the event a shelter resident tested positive. Days later, the department decided to stop accepting new people into shelters and curtailed one-night stays in an effort to facilitate social distancing and eliminate intermingling. But even then, operators had not been systematically screening patients and lacked critical basic supplies such as thermometers, protective equipment and cleaning supplies. 

Shari Wooldridge, the executive director of St. Vincent De Paul, which operates the Navigation Center, said the individual had been living at the shelter for a while and tested positive during a routine screening at the door when the individual re-entered the shelter after conducting some business outside. “We’re screening everyone as they come in and out,” Wooldridge said, noting that people are not yet sleeping six feet apart but that staff was working to make that happen soon.

“This is a massive alarm bell,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, on the positive test in the Navigation Center. “We were saying it was going to happen and it happened. A full Navigation Center of people have all presumably been exposed, almost all of whom are in fragile health. 

“Why were they not in hotels?” she continued. “Why have we let this happen?”  

Despite calls by the Board of Supervisors and homeless advocates to move the homeless population en masse into vacant hotel rooms, the city’s approach, so far, has been only to relocate unhealthy homeless people over 60 and those who test positive.

As of Wednesday, that number was 123 people — though it’s unclear what percentage is positive cases and how many are simply “under investigation.” Chandra Johnson, a spokeswoman with the Human Services Agency, could not give the exact breakdown but said that 90 percent of the people in hotels were homeless and the others lived in places where self-isolation would be difficult, such as a single-room-occupancy hotel. 

That this many homeless people have already tested positive or are awaiting results is not surprising to Friedenbach. But it wasn’t proactively reported by the city, either. 

The city today began moving its first short-term residents into a repurposed 400-bed shelter at the Moscone West convention center, an effort to create a shelter that allows homeless individuals to live in less-cramped quarters. 

But currently, Friedenbach said, “They are still in those shelters sleeping on top of each other.” And, at the Navigation Center in which a resident tested positive, “They are not practicing social distancing. They can’t — unless they kick people out onto the street.”

Joe Eskenazi contributed reporting. 

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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  1. so why are they only testing people with symptoms, shouldnt they all be tested

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  2. So how many more Navigation Center residents will be able to sue the City for willfully maintaining homeless people in virus contagion chambers against best practices advice from the CDC?

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