Rapidly Place All Unhoused People in hotel rooms now.
The Current Situation: There are now fewer unhoused people sheltered than before the pandemic. Last week a total of 1,200 unhoused individuals were housed in hotels. It was also announced that the number of unhoused people dying on the streets tripled from the same period last year, deaths that likely would have been prevented if hotel rooms had been available. The City is slowly moving unhoused people who are vulnerable (over 60 or underlying health condition) from the streets into hotel rooms, starting this process a full six weeks into the pandemic. Before the pandemic there were 2,425 people in shelter, now there are approximately 1,000 people who remain in shelter, who have been there before COVID and only 1,402 unhoused people housed in hotels and new congregate settings. The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an emergency ordinance to rapidly shelter 7,000 people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco, regardless of age or medical condition, before they contracted COVID-19. However, the Mayor continues to refuse to follow this order. The city lacks any clear process or referral system at this point to place vulnerable individuals into hotels. At this slow placement rate averaging since the start of hotel placements nine weeks ago it will take 54 weeks or over a year to implement this legislation.
What We Want: We demand that the Mayor follow the law and implement the emergency hotel ordinance. Not only do unhoused people lack the ability to “shelter in place,” but homeless people who contract COVID-19 are more likely to be hospitalized, need critical care, and die than similarly aged people in the general population. We are calling on the City to shelter all homeless people in vacant hotel rooms and other units as a preventative measure. This includes both those unsheltered and those in congregate settings. Doing so would not only decrease the spread of the virus, it would greatly increase the speed of implementation and drastically reduce the price of selective triage. The programs that shelter the remaining 1,000 or so people in congregate settings could move operations over to hotels, to avoid the need for new staff, and thus saving city staff for the unsheltered hotel population. The Mayor and Public Health Officer have the power to immediately commandeer hotel rooms and pay a “fair price” at a later date.
Regular Unhoused Access to Testing
The Current Situation: The city has finally responded to underserved communities by creating pop-ups sites in Bayview Hunters Point, Outer Mission, and the Tenderloin, by offering testing in these locations on specific days. While some accessibility issues need to be worked out, in terms of making the process easier, this is a big step forward. However, current on-going testing and test results delivery is not accessible to unhoused people without access to electricity to charge phones, internet or identification. Existing testing in Mission Bay and SOMA requires ID, and emails and internet to make appointments and get results.
What We Want: On-going low-threshold access to testing for unhoused communities. People experiencing homelessness, who do not have the privilege of sheltering, should have the privilege of easy, accessible, testing. Unhoused accessible testing must not depend on having electronic devices and internet to set appointments and alternatives such as drop in windows to get results should be available.
Creation of Safe Organized Spaces Following Offer of Hotel Rooms
The Current Situation: As few are offered hotel rooms, safe camps are considered by us to be better than living without any hygiene access, water or food, and under constant pressure to move. The city has created a safe camping village at Asian Art Museum with heavy involvement of police and DPW, using high imposing fences that create a “cage” feel. This space was not designed in partnership with unhoused residents who were already there. A new camp in the Haight has been created, developed organically from the community.
What We Want: After offering hotel rooms to all unhoused people, and after assessing there is still desire for encampments on the part of unhoused people, the city should facilitate a number of Safe Organized Spaces in vacant lots, closed recreation areas such as sports fields, parking lots, etc. that could serve as efficient hubs for such provisions. Safe sleeping space should be developed in partnership with unhoused campers that will be using the space, including democratic decision making on design and running of the spaces, and hotel rooms should be offered as a more effective vehicle to address the spread of the virus. These sleeping spaces should be seen as temporary and should not replace permanent housing. It is critical that such spaces are in addition (and not in place) of other health provisions such as hotel rooms and are voluntary, and that these villages do not replace permanent housing.
Open Up the Parks and Respect Human Rights.
The Current Situation: Since the current policy is to leave thousands of people on the streets during a pandemic, it is very challenging to maintain social distancing and shelter in place. The city has posted on its website and given directives to agencies to halt the confiscation of tents. However, the city continues to violate CDC guidelines by ordering people to move along in cases that have nothing to do with the physical distancing requirements, including evicting camps from public parks. This violates CDC guidelines that clearly assert “Unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19.” The eight sites presented by the Rec and Park, virtually only offering unused parking lots in inaccessible locations are inadequate.
What We Want: We call for the city to comply with CDC guidelines, open up the parks and end encampment clearings unless an individual unit/room is offered. We call for allowing those without housing to shelter-in-place on all public lands, including parks where they can spread apart.
Due Process Rights in Shelter AND Hotels
The Current Situation: Folks in shelter have a right to a shelter advocate if they are asked to leave. Residents are not being asked to leave except under certain circumstances including threats of violence, and curfew violations. The city released a policy that does not maintain independent due process rights, and has a city employee make decisions.
What we Want: It is imperative that residents in all shelter sites and hotels have access to advocates to ensure their rights are respected.
Transparency in Data.
The Current Situation: Last week, the city released shocking numbers on a tripling of deaths among the unhoused community, but stated it could ascertain the causes for many months. Meanwhile, the city added a data tracker, but it does not include housing status. There is no clear way for service providers, homeless people, or the general public to know how many unhoused people have the virus, how many PUI, including how many unhoused residents have tested positive, are hospitalized, or have died from COVID-19. This information should be shared alongside ICU bed capacity, hotel bed vacancy and hotel beds filled to date. There is no clear way for service providers, homeless people, or the general public to know how many unhoused residents have tested positive, are hospitalized, or have died from COVID-19, or the causes of potential COVID related deaths.
What We Want: Conduct an immediate investigation into the spike of deaths among people experiencing homelessness. Provide a mechanism to report daily homeless cases, hospitalizations, hotel placements and deaths. Testing should include housing status tracking upon registration.
Provide Water and Survival Gear to those “sheltering-in-place” outside. Surviving in public space already presents a number of individual and public health risks. The city should immediately ensure adequate, hygiene stations, food, water and other provisions to all of those sheltering-in-place outside.