Open the Shelter Waitlist and Stop the Sweeps!

With Jeff Kositsky at the helm, the “Healthy Streets Operation Center” continues to traumatize homeless San Franciscans

Bureaucrats lying is nothing new, but this is a really gross one. The former head of the SF Homeless Department was caught telling SFPD to give unhoused folks a 647e misdemeanor for a tent during a pandemic when resources are so lacking that they shut down the shelter waitlist.

What I’m seeing on the streets is shocking. Not the amount of people, but rather how desperate people are for basic resources. For a safe place to sleep. Bureaucrats use the narrative that people are “service resistant” and that’s a lie. What services are they resisting?

The City continues to do tent counts. Not people, tents. I suggested they count all the people who are now having to sleep hard on the ground with no protection because the City stole their tent and survival gear and threw it in the crusher truck. They didn’t seem to appreciate my suggestion.

If there are so many resources available, then the Shelter Waitlist should be open. That won’t happen because the truth is that City staff have been saying in meetings that they are only getting like one shelter bed a day. That’s the reason the waitlist is still closed.

Finding a safe place to sleep can be even more challenging if you are a woman. Women are often out of luck because an available shelter bed might only be in a male dorm. The shelter-in-place (SIP) hotels are no longer admitting new tenants. COVID programs are starting to wind down. Yet there is still no public access to emergency shelter.

I talk to service providers on a daily basis who are extremely frustrated because they are having to turn people away daily who are hoping to get a shelter bed. Do you realize how traumatic this is for the person seeking help as well as for those who are trying to help them?

People are being told to go to 123 10th St to enter the “coordinated entry” system. But the reality is that the number of people in the system looking for housing is growing much faster than housing is becoming available. In a recent article for Shelterforce, Mary Kate Bacalao breaks it down for us in no uncertain terms: “As coordinated entry systems try to match growing numbers of unhoused people with limited amounts of housing, it’s more like The Hunger Games than 

After reading this email it’s making more sense to me why Jeff Kositsky was such a huge fan of coordinated entry. He’s cool with sweeps and trying to hide “visible homelessness.” He needs to be fired. You can read more reasons in Street Sheet’s recent post on its Medium page.

Not only is it cruel for our system not to provide basic necessities to people forced to sleep on the street, it’s also cruel to put service providers in the situation of telling people in dire need of at LEAST a safe place to sleep that there is nothing they can do. Not even get on a waitlist.

We need service providers to track how many people seeking shelter they are turning away because there are no shelter beds available. Without a waitlist we are not tracking how big the actual need for shelter has grown and bureaucrats are getting away with lying about people being “service resistant.”

I feel like I should point out that staying in a congregate shelter during a pandemic isn’t ideal. It’s not ideal even when we’re not in a pandemic. In fact it sucks. But it helps to understand the reality of homelessness right now. The BASIC access to a shelter bed isn’t there.

The lack of fair and equitable access to shelter is not new. The “Navigation Center” was created as a new hybrid program where the exit was housing. Truth is it’s just a shelter. This rebranded shelter is “special” so there was neither public nor equitable access.

It’s a complaint driven system which shouldn’t be a surprise because Nav Centers were created to clear encampments aka “visible homelessness.” The guaranteed exit to housing soon changed to being time limited & many exited back to the streets because their time was up.

So now we have no public or equitable access to Navigation Centers or the rest of the shelter system. How offensive to say people are “service resistant” to services they can’t access.

They put up signs threatening a misdemeanor for illegal lodging — the 647e I mentioned earlier — but the new signs were adjusted by taking out the info about calling 311 to get shelter. It’s no longer an option to get help.

They put up COVID signs saying to find a safer place to sleep, but provide ZERO alternatives on these stupid signs. That’s just insulting and kicking someone when they are down and when they don’t have public access to resources.

We need to be tracking placements out of SIP hotels. I don’t want to hear that someone is “service resistant.” They clearly haven’t been resisting the SIP hotels. I’m talking to lots of folks who were kicked out of SIP hotels and now no longer can even get on a shelter waitlist.

City staff have stated in meetings that they are only getting like one shelter bed a day. Since that’s the case HSOC needs to immediately stop these “resolutions” that are straight-up sweeps. You can see for yourself from their own communication that the focus is on tents and enforcement.

We need to show who we aren’t helping. Who we aren’t counting. Who we aren’t caring for. This is literally life and death. Don’t tell me we need to have a discussion about shelter access and how we need to reimagine shelters. While they are reimagining shelters, HSOC is doing sweeps.

The Homelessness and Public Health departments need to get their staff out of HSOC because they are being used as cover for sweeps. What can they accomplish if they are only getting like one shelter bed? And that’s not even appropriate for many people. I couldn’t stay in a shelter.

I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a congregate shelter would not be an appropriate option for me. So what else does HSOC have to offer others with  PTSD? The experience of homelessness causes compounding trauma. Sweeps are NOT trauma-informed. Quite the opposite.

So if the City has nothing to hide, they need to reopen the shelter waitlist and track the people they are turning away. If they have all these resources, then they don’t need HSOC.