Less than two weeks before the planned closure of a shelter for unhoused families, housing and homelessness advocates converged on the steps of San Francisco City Hall to protest the Oasis Inn’s December 15 closing date. The demonstrators—many of whom live at the Oasis and are facing imminent displacement—demanded that the City move to buy the building in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood, while also calling on the Oasis’s owners to sell the property to the City or a prospective nonprofit contractor at the December 6 action.
Among the people and organizations calling for these demands were the Coalition on Homelessness (publisher of Street Sheet), Oasis Shelter residents, Homeless Prenatal Program, Hamilton Families, San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium, The Riley Center, GLIDE Memorial Church, Compass Family Services, multiple health care providers and public health officials, as well as advocates for homeless families. Also in attendance were District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, whose district includes the Oasis, and District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston.
The Oasis Family Shelter is a safe haven for homeless families. The Oasis is the City’s only low-barrier emergency family housing available where clients aren’t required to complete a days-long intake upon entry , and provides 25% of the approximately 200 beds available for families to stay together. The Oasis shelter is slated to close, because the owners want to sell the property, and the City and County of San Francisco have yet to make an offer to purchase it.
According to Tracey Mixon, a housing justice organizer at the Coalition on Homelessness: “It is so vital that families are still able to access the Oasis shelter on an emergency basis. This was a positive step in the right direction at the beginning of the pandemic and should remain the same. Stop unhoused families from falling through the cracks.”
Although the City promises to provide alternative shelter for those who will be displaced, families might have to split up into different hotel rooms and possibly share those rooms with other families to stay housed. Additionally, there are over 70 other pregnant people and families currently on the waitlist for shelter, and the closure would dramatically extend wait times. Advocates are also concerned that some soon-to-be-displaced families might not qualify for relocation to other shelters—potentially leaving people on the street again.
Unhoused pregnant people are an especially vulnerable population who will suffer greatly from the closure of the Oasis. Significant negative reproductive health effects are associated with housing instability, including decreased use of prenatal care, increased preterm birth and increased birth complications. According to Dominika Seidman, an OB-GYN specialist at UC San Francisco and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital: “The Oasis is an absolutely critical shelter option for pregnant people and families in San Francisco. It is the only low-barrier option for pregnant people, and allows people to enter with partners and pets. 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, while families and shelter staff alike often report families being turned away. 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.”