San Francisco will continue ushering people off the streets and into shelter-in-place hotel rooms for at least two months, after the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an extension of a program that would have expired in just two more weeks.
The city is quietly experiencing a scary spike in COVID-19 cases among the unhoused population. According to city data cited by the Chronicle, 43 unsheltered people have contracted coronavirus thus far in December. That compares to 43 in the entire month of November, up from a mere six new cases recorded in October. And this outbreak comes amidst the winding down of the hotel program that has kept people sheltered, and roughly 500 people would have been booted from those hotels December 31.
But now they won’t, in fact, more people will be given new rooms under the program. The Chronicle reports that on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an emergency ordinance extending the homeless hotel program, albeit for only 60 days.
Our legislation to keep shelter in place hotels open--exit current residents to long term placements, bring in more older, medically vulnerable people, still reimbursed by FEMA--passed unanimously. This will keep people off the streets & save lives. https://t.co/XOsDCRkfWr— Matt Haney (@MattHaneySF) December 16, 2020
“For the last eight months, the shelter-in-place program has provided shelter, meals, healthcare, and safety for 2,300 vulnerable individuals, youth, and families during the pandemic,” the ordinance’s author supervisor Matt Haney said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “It has been cost-effective, with the majority of the cost being reimbursed by state and federal governments.”
“There was an urgent need to put in safeguards so the people in hotels that were now housed did not have the looming pressure of hotel closures, and that we also continued to have options for people to get off the streets and inside and safe,” he added. Haney also noted that a significant percentage of these rooms are still vacant, with taxpayers still paying for them.
- As they exit, unhoused people will fill vacant hotel rooms, but only up to 60% of the first vacancies (340 rooms)— sam #FreeThemAll (@samklew) December 16, 2020
- This will be renegotiated later on: emergency ordinances must be renewed every 60 days
- The SIP hotel extension will end when FEMA funding ends /2
As noted in the tweet above from Coalition on Homelessness policy director Sam Lew, current hotel residents are slated to be moved into permanent housing in March 2021. New unhoused residents will temporarily move into 60% of those hotel rooms, which is a compromise funding amendment. The whole program is contingent on FEMA subsidies, which could of course end abruptly as Trump attempts to scorch the nation’s earth on his way out the door.
This extension only covers the next 60 days, so this is not some milestone that permanently ends homelessness in the city. Moreover, the supervisors had to put in several amendments to get that unanimous, veto-proof approval, with limits on how many new residents can move into the rooms, and other cost-related measures.
But there’s also a cost to not extending this program. The city is running out of ICU beds amidst record numbers of infections, so it’s probably more optimal to have people in hotel beds instead of hospital beds. The hotels in question are financially devastated from a lack of tourism, so this program is keeping plenty of hospitality workers on the job. Mayor Breed cannot veto the unanimous move, and it will likely lead to one less group of protesters giving her grief about the coronavirus crisis.
Image: Amanda W. via Yelp