COVID-19: Homelessness & Faith Communities in San Francisco

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Today we spent time figuring out how to organize collecting and distributing tents across the City for folks who have no place to ‘shelter in place’ during the pandemic. We were talking about locations in the City where there are folks who need tents and service providers or groups who could help give them out. We have plenty of folks to distribute in the Tenderloin, Haight and other key locations, but there are other areas of the City with few resources. This is when I thought about faith communities and how awesome they can be when it comes to charity so I decided to write this letter…

Dear Faith Communities,

People experiencing homelessness in our community need your help right now.

You may be under the impression that the City has things under control… that there are alternatives where people can safely ‘shelter in place’ like many of you are currently doing at home. You may be under the impression that the City has acquired hotel rooms or RV’s for folks who live on the street. This is what we are hearing in the media, but alternatives have yet to happen. The Human Services Agency is identifying and procuring hotel rooms for folks who cannot self quarantine, but eligibility for those rooms are limited to those who have tested positive, are symptomatic, or are awaiting test results. Waiting until unhoused folks are already sick will be too late for many.

It’s important to remember that homeless people are disproportionately elderly, chronically ill, and have multiple medical conditions. They need to be placed in some of the City’s 42,000 empty hotel rooms or vacant housing units immediately to prevent the spread and risk of COVID-19. This is a life and death situation for those in our community who live on the margins.

Here are two things you and your faith community can do to help:

#1Sign the petition demanding that Mayor London Breed house the City’s 9,000 unhoused residents immediately before they get sick to protect them from the deadly COVID-19 outbreak. Along with housing, groups have outlined six other key demands:

1- House every single homeless person in a vacant unit now.

2- Stop the Sweeps.

3- Provide comprehensive support to those “sheltering-in-place” outside.

4- Protect People in Shelter: Deconcentrate and Stabilize Shelters.

5- Leave no one hungry: Provide food assistance to shelters, encampments, and quarantined units.

6- Prevent homelessness: Ban all evictions and suspend all rent.

7- Create clear guidelines for homeless people from the Department of Public Health.

I have heard people express concerns about allowing these empty units to be used for people experiencing homelessness. I encourage you to see the value and dignity of the life of your unhoused neighbor over the value of property. Imagine if you had nowhere to shelter in place during a pandemic. If we hold the value of empty hotel rooms over the value of people’s lives, more people will needlessly suffer and die. This is literally a life and death situation.

#2- Collect and distribute tents to the unhoused neighbors in your community.

The city is working on decreasing shelter capacity to comply with CDC guidelines around social distancing. This is a process and it is taking time. If the city does not provide private rooms, they should provide tents and other provisions for homeless people to “shelter-in-place” outside. Since the city is failing to provide this much needed resource, community members are mobilizing to collect and distribute tents.

We need faith communities to help us with our efforts to procure tents and distribute them to unhoused people across the City. You can purchase tents online and have them delivered to us to distribute… we will get them to service providers and folks on the frontline to give out to folks.

It would also be extremely helpful if faith communities located in areas with sparse homeless services could help distribute tents to folks in those neighborhoods. These are basically the neighborhoods that aren’t downtown. We will be happy to loop you in to our organizing!

We have an opportunity before us to put our faith into action. I am pleading with you to please help.

Pace e bene,

Kelley Cutler

Locations to ship tents:

632 Ashbury St.

San Francisco, CA 94117

Drop off donations can be arranged, too.