No Oasis for Homeless Families

by Ian James, Yessica Hernandez and Migeul Carrera

The Oasis Inn family shelter once again sits empty, after the building’s owners decided to allow its lease with the City of San Francisco to expire at the end of January. The Oasis Inn provided shelter to dozens of unhoused pregnant people and families, including families fleeing domestic violence. 

The City’s lease was originally scheduled to expire at the end of December. But before the scheduled end date a powerful coalition of unhoused families, advocates, and health professionals successfully campaigned to persuade the 25 owners of the Oasis Inn into entering negotiations to sell the building to the City or a nonprofit that would maintain the building as one of the few low-barrier emergency shelters for unhoused families in San Francisco.

At the time, the owners of the Oasis Inn committed to extending the lease of the hotel to the City while in negotiations to sell the building so families in need of shelter could continue to stay in the building. However, this commitment was broken. 

“For families like mine, Oasis is the last option, and for many, it is a safe haven making the name ‘Oasis’ very fitting,” said Yaasmeen Williams, a former resident of the Oasis Inn. “This shelter is one of many first steps toward our liberation from a life destined for many unhoused people and has provided the means to protect us from the people who shielded our abusers. Without this shelter, we’d have nowhere to go, and I’m confident that there are thousands who can relate.”

The City has committed to providing shelter for the families who were exited from the Oasis Inn, but pregnant people and families currently on the waitlist for shelter now face an even longer wait for help. Before closing, the Oasis Inn provided 25% of the approximately 200 beds that were part of the shelter system for unhoused families. Other shelters for families include Compass Family Services, the Hamilton Family Center, Clara House and Jelani House.  

Unhoused pregnant people are an especially vulnerable population who suffer from the closure of the Oasis. Significant negative reproductive health effects are associated with housing instability, including decreased birth weight, increased preterm and active birth complications. Homeless people are also less able to access prenatal care.  

“The Oasis is an absolutely critical shelter option for pregnant people and families in San Francisco … and allows people to enter with partners and pets,” said Dr. Dominika Seidman, an OB-GYN at UC San Francisco and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. “It allows people to stabilize in shelter and access critical support and treatment to transition into longer term housing. There is always a wait list for Oasis rooms, and families are turned away daily. The closure of the Oasis will undoubtedly result in more pregnant people and families being unsheltered and on the street in San Francisco. Closing the Oasis is inhumane, unethical and a tremendous step backwards for the city of San Francisco in caring for its most vulnerable residents.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, unhoused families and pregnant people were moved to the Oasis Inn from the previous drop-in family shelter at the First Friendship Institutional Baptist Church. First Friendship was a congregate shelter where families were required to sleep on mattresses on the floor of a church basement. Residents at the Oasis have their own rooms that overlook a communal garden.

While the Oasis Inn currently sits empty, the City continues to negotiate with its owners to finalize a sale that would preserve the building as a shelter for families and pregnant people who need it.

“This is the only shelter that families desperate for a safe place to sleep can access with no questions asked and without any bureaucracy,” said Yessica Hernandez, peer organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness. “If they have space, they will let you in.  Stop unhoused families from falling through the cracks.”