San Francisco's lauded but temporary program of housing vulnerable and elderly homeless individuals in hotel rooms during the pandemic is set to wind down over the next seven to eight months, and next week the first wave of hotel closures begins.

About 2,400 previously homeless people are being housed in 2,088 hotel rooms — representing about one-third of the estimated total pre-pandemic homeless population in the city. This is coming at a cost to the city of about $8,000 per person per month, or between $15 million and $18 million per month — far more than would be spent if there were available supportive housing units for each of these people.

With the first group of 500 individuals set to be moved out of their hotel rooms beginning on Monday, four SF supervisors are sounding alarm bells over what they say is an unclear program of next steps to prevent these people from returning directly to living on the street, with the pandemic far from over.

As the Chronicle reports, Mayor London Breed and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing have committed to keeping the individuals currently in hotels from returning to group shelters or tent encampments, however it remains unclear where the needed housing units will come from. Breed announced an ambitious plan in July to buy or lease 1,500 units of permanent supportive housing over the next two years, but those units have yet to be procured. And last week we learned about a grant from the state for the city to purchase the Hotel Diva in Union Square to convert it into 134 units of supportive housing.

There are an estimated 500 vacant supportive housing units available right now, but most are already spoken for according to the homelessness department.

Only 27 of the 500 individuals in hotels have reportedly been connected with a local rent-subsidy program, and somehow, in the next few weeks, the city has pledged to make sure that the remaining 473 people are either re-housed or given bus tickets out of town to friends or family members who can house them.

Supervisors Matt Haney, Hillary Ronen, Shamann Walton, and Dean Preston co-signed a letter to the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, sent earlier this week, calling for a hearing on the issue in November.

They said the re-housing plan, so far, "is an admirable and exciting opportunity to address homelessness in the city at a scale we have never seen before. But as it stands, the plan lacks any detail that gives us confidence the plan will succeed."

Since early in the pandemic, when city officials feared seeing a mass outbreak of COVID-19 among the city's large homeless population, Mayor Breed has sought to toe the line between getting the most vulnerable among them off the street, and committing to providing indefinite hotel stays to every homeless individual, which would be financially infeasible.

Days after a 70-person outbreak was found at a group shelter in SoMa in April, supervisors passed an emergency ordinance demanding that the city house all homeless people in hotels — something which the mayor proceeded to sidestep for the next few months as the hotel program took shape, citing the "incredible logistical challenge" to staffing the hotels with 24-hour support staff to address the needs of those living there.

Notably in early April, Mayor Breed warned, "We are not going to be able to solve our homeless problem in San Francisco with this crisis."

The progressive bloc of the Board of Supervisors continued to push back, especially as the city began offering hotel rooms to people camped on streets in the Tenderloin that were the subject of a lawsuit from UC Hastings Law School.

The hotel-room program is set to fully end by June.

Photo: Markus Spiske