SF Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson, whose paramedic teams often interact with the city's homeless population, says that three-quarters of the homeless people in a tent encampment that recently sprang up along one side of the Asian Art Museum are new arrivals from out of town.
Mayor London Breed said in a press conference last week that "People are showing up in San Francisco from other places and asking where their hotel room is." She said that people arriving from other cities should not get the wrong idea about how San Francisco is offering free hotel space to anyone who asks. "I want to get the message out loud and clear,” she said. “If you are not in this system, and were not in this system as of the beginning of this pandemic, then we will not prioritize you over people who have been waiting."
Those comments appear to have been prompted by field reports given to her from Nicholson, as the Chronicle's Phil Matier reports today.
"People are coming from all over place — Sacramento, Lake County, Bakersfield,” Nicholson tells him. “We have also heard that people are getting released from jail in other counties and being told to go to San Francisco, where you will get a tent and then you will get housing."
The city's Homeless Outreach Teams have also picked up on this influx of out-of-town homeless people. And one paramedic tells the Chronicle that in talking with many of these new arrivals, most are very up front and honest. "They come right out and ask, ‘How do I get a hotel room?'" the paramedic says. This person added that they have had cases of homeless people calling 911, and when paramedics arrive they cough and ask to be evaluated at a hospital.
The city had an estimated 8,000 unsheltered homeless people as of last year's census, though an exact number of how many were in the city when the pandemic began can't be known.
The SF Board of Supervisors has used that 8,000 number to insist that the city lease 8,000 hotel rooms to house all of the homeless during this crisis. Mayor Breed has consistently pushed back, saying that the homeless problem won't be solved with this crisis, and that hotel rooms must be reserved for front-line healthcare workers needing to quarantine, homeless people diagnosed with COVID-19 who need to isolate, and the elderly and most vulnerable homeless in need of shelter. Currently the city has about 2,700 rooms leased for these purposes, and as of last week only about 1,100 of them were reportedly occupied.
After a deadline passed last week to comply with the Board of Supervisors ordinance to lease 8,000 rooms, protesters staged a "die-in" outside Mayor Breed's home to call attention to the homeless in this crisis.
Last week Mission Local reported that the Civic Center encampment was the sight of some unusual police attention — namely the enforcement of a curfew that seemed aimed at both keeping people in tents at night and keeping out possible drug dealers. The SFPD confirmed that this was the work of officers at Tenderloin Station — and Matier surmises that the action was "Not exactly the welcome wagon. But then, maybe that’s the point."