As San Francisco braces for another potentially vicious storm this week, city officials said they are rushing to shelter those living on the streets.
Just four days after a New Year’s Eve storm marked San Francisco’s second-rainiest day in recorded history — some 5.46 inches fell, inciting mudslides and threatening businesses — officials said city workers are fanning out across the city to offer unhoused folks emergency shelter before a worse storm may arrive Wednesday and Thursday. Experts predict a potential deluge of rain and up to 70-miles-per-hour wind in the Bay Area.
That has especially motivated the city and the unhoused to find shelter before the storm, said Sam Dodge, director of the city’s Healthy Streets Operation Center (HSOC). On Tuesday, he and other HSOC workers visited the Embarcadero neighborhood and parts of Capp Street, talking with 15 individuals and placing 10 of them in shelters, including the Division Circle Navigation Center near 13th Street. Two people HSOC encountered were already housed, Dodge said.
“We have been in constant conversations in these different sites, and we talked about the previous storm. People who had tried to tough it out were ready to come in now,” Dodge said. “The last storm was pretty bad. And these next ones are supposed to be worse.”
The city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing opened four emergency shelters that will accept residents on a walk-up, first-come-first-serve basis starting Tuesday through Jan. 15. Next Door Shelter on Polk Street, MSC South on 5th Street, and Sanctuary on 8th Street begin shelter intake at 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. St. Mary’s Cathedral on Gough Street starts intake at 6.
It is unclear how many beds would be available, though it is almost certain it will be hundreds short of the need. The city’s website lists 1,545 emergency spaces with 1,248 occupied. The last Point-In-Time count recorded 7,754 unhoused residents in San Francisco, and the city admitted in recent litigation it does not currently have enough beds to shelter them all.
“City workers are working hard to prepare for the storm, including making a lot of shelter placements for unhoused neighbors, especially north side on Folsom Street,” read an Instagram story by District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen posted on Tuesday.
City workers concentrated their shelter outreach at flood-prone areas in the Mission like at Folsom and 17th streets, a known flood zone with decades of documented sewage- and stormwater-related deluges. Teams also visited the North Mission and the Best Buy on Harrison and 14th streets, where encampments crop up and flooding is expected.
At the encampment of four to five tents behind Best Buy Tuesday evening, residents said the city had posted a notice last week that the encampment would be moved and cleaned on Wednesday.
Amanda, a 41-year-old living at the encampment said that she was unclear if the city would move them out. Generally, she said, residents move their tents off the sidewalk, the city cleans the area and then residents move back onto the sidewalk.
Amanda said she had no plans to abandon her tent for a shelter, but she added that she checks in daily at the navigation center on Division and she understands that she has the option to stay there if she wants to.
“I was on my box spring, floating’’ after the heavy rain over the weekend, she said. After that experience, she moved her tent about 10 feet up the incline on Alameda street, just east of Harrison Street. Now, she said, “I’ll just knuckle down and stay.”
Another resident at the encampment, who declined to give his name, said he would remain put as well. His only concern was his wife, who went missing about five days ago. He said he had not been offered another place to stay, but he would consider moving into a hotel.
On top of potential flood zones, city workers stopped by the Mission’s common encampment areas, said Santiago Lerma, Ronen’s legislative aide. That includes near the freeway by Division Street and Erie Street near 14th Street, which Lerma estimates encompass between 25 and 75 tents.
Resources for the Safe Sleeping Village at 1515 South Van Ness Ave., a site for homeless tents that is partly covered and partly exposed to the elements, is not yet concretely confirmed. Lerma believes city workers offered residents at 1515 South Van Ness Ave. extra tarps, and possibly congregate emergency shelter.
The city’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) and HSOC was apparently reporting more shelter acceptances on Tuesday “because of the storm,” Lerma said. The recent partial injunction on homeless sweeps has not affected HSOC’s efforts, Dodge said.
It’s unclear how many unhoused residents in the Mission live in flood-prone areas. About 644 unhoused folks live in District 9 as of 2022, according to that year’s Point in Time Count.
On Tuesday evening, Harrison Street near 18th Street, often populated with a larger encampment, had four to five tents. Some residents there said they had been visited by the city’s Homeless Outreach Team several days ago. Others said they had not seen anyone from the city.
Alejandro, who only spoke Spanish, said the Homeless Outreach Team told him last week that he would have to leave, but he wasn’t sure where to go and whether he would leave. If he does, Alejandro said, it would just be to “another street.”
At the corner of Division and Folsom streets, near Rainbow Grocery, it appeared that someone had abandoned a number of goods. Across the street, two tents remained on Division, but no one was around. The tents, however, did not appear to be abandoned.
The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing was not immediately available for comment. A missive sent from HSH to city supervisors and obtained by Mission Local confirmed the four emergency shelters, and listed other sites for unhoused people to shelter in during the day, including the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center on Capp Street.
On Wednesday, Lerma expects HSOC to deliver data on how many folks the team encountered for outreach, which is a part of Ronen’s weekly homeless count. The last count available during the week of Dec. 19 showed HSOC reached out to 70 individuals and placed 25 in shelter.
If an unhoused person is still on the streets during the predicted storm, neighbors can assist by calling the city hotline to place folks in shelter.
“If there is somebody they know has expressed a desire for shelter, or appears to be in bad shape, they should call both the SF HOT Dispatch hotline for shelter and leave a location, but also, if they look like they are in poor health they can call 911 and ask for street wellness,” Lerma added.