The effort that began two weeks ago to move hundreds of homeless tent-dwellers off the sidewalks of the Tenderloin has succeeded in relocating at least 388 people — and it all seems to be thanks to threats of legal action that were taken by UC Hastings and a neighborhood merchants association in early May.
Witnesses on the ground began seeing tent-dwellers being offered hotel rooms on June 11, just one day before a settlement agreement was made public in the lawsuit filed by the law school over what it said were increasingly "squalid" conditions in the neighborhood that had been condoned by city government.
An ongoing effort to lease hotel space for the more vulnerable among the homeless population — or the already infected and in need of quarantine — has been happening since the earliest days of the shelter-in-place order. However, in practice, the city did not secure most of those leases until at least a month later, all while the Board of Supervisors pressed the mayor to provide hotel housing for all of the city's currently homeless.
Meanwhile, recommendations from the CDC and homeless advocates kept city crews from doing any of the encampment sweeps they have been accustomed to doing in the last decade, because tents at least provided some ability for unsheltered people to shelter in place. And this came to a head with UC Hastings and the merchants group filing suit, and the city agreeing a month later to remove 70 percent of the tents in the neighborhood by July 20.
That job appears just about done, as Phil Matier reports in the Chronicle, with the number of tents in the Tenderloin down from 443 in mid-May to 172 as of Tuesday morning. Many of those individuals have been moved into leased hotel rooms, but some have been relocated to city-sanctioned "safe sleeping villages" like the one that opened in Civic Center in mid-May.
District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, who's been sounding all year like he's running for mayor, tells Matier that he's pleased with the effort overall. "They’re moving street by street, block by block to move people off the streets, so in those areas on those streets, it’s absolutely positive," Haney says. "[But the city] should be doing this in a broader way, across the neighborhood and district, and they should have done it three months ago," he adds.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen tells Matier that she's impressed enough with the swiftness with which UC Hastings' lawsuit worked, that it may not be a bad strategy for other neighborhoods — with it being a win-win for homeless people, mostly, if they end up temporarily housed.
"At this point, when my constituents threaten to sue to get results for the Mission, I’m running out of arguments for why they shouldn’t," Ronen says.
Mayor London Breed has consistently said that the city does not have the personnel resources to manage hotel living situations for every homeless person regardless of circumstance. "We are not going to be able to solve our homeless problem in San Francisco with this crisis," Breed said back in April, and she continues to argue that it's infeasible to provide hotel rooms for everyone who wants one.
As mayor's rep Andy Lynch said in April, "We need to make sure we have adequate staffing to run these hotels, which requires hundreds of workers being trained and working around the clock to provide support for people staying in these rooms." And because of the addiction and mental health challenges of many homeless people, staffing remains a major consideration.
Also, it's not clear how many homeless people are currently in the city. The last point-in-time homeless census happened 18 months ago, which found around 8,000 people living on the city's streets. However anecdotal evidence suggests that more unhoused people arrived in the city in recent months after hearing on the news about the broad effort to give people free hotel rooms.
Photo: Darwin Bell