WATCH: San Francisco Moves Homeless into Hotels After Coronavirus Outbreak in Shelter

San Francisco moved homeless people into hotels after a coronavirus outbreak hit a homeless shelter.


KPIX reports one day after San Francisco announced 70 coronavirus cases at the city’s largest homeless shelter, buses were taking residents to city-secured hotels.

On Saturday, MSC South looked very much like an emergency medical ward. The sheriff’s deputies outside were in full protective gear as some residents, presumably those not infected, were ferried to hotels the city has secured to isolate vulnerable populations.

“We had plans to staff up hotel rooms as rapidly as we possibly can in case an outbreak occurred,” Mayor London Breed said Friday.

For weeks, a number of city supervisors and homeless advocates had been pushing for broader use of hotel rooms ahead of such an outbreak. The mayor’s has office resisted that approach, using hotel rooms on a more tactical scale, arguing that the city simply does not have the staff for housing the homeless at large and at will.

“If you can’t self-care you’re still going to come inside somewhere, but we need more care wrapped around you for that to be successful,” said Abigail Stewart-Kahn, director of Homelessness & Supportive Housing.

She says filling any room requires assessing the resident for any potential needs, then securing the necessary resources and staffing.

“Staff enough people, everything from monitoring, to security, to medical, to counselor,” says Stewart-Kahn.

“Making sure that we can feed people, that we can clean the rooms, and we can do the laundry,” added Mayor Breed. “Making sure we can keep the people who we are asking to
work in these hotels safe.”

“I’m in the business,” says Randy Shaw, Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. “My organization is in the business of housing homeless people out of shelters. And it’s not as fast process as many of the supervisors realize. It takes more time.”

Shaw says the risk inside shelters isn’t at all separated from the situation outside of them, and he points to MSC South as an example. While there was security visible today, yesterday afternoon we saw shelter residents mingling with those living in tents – just beyond the shelter door.

“The people we are talking about are not even able to get in the shelters,” Shaw says. “There’s no spacing on the streets, and the city doesn’t care. When they say that they are allowing tents, that’s not true. They are only allowing them in the Tenderloin. So you can’t even – literally – walk out of your apartment or hotel in the Tenderloin and be safe outside your front door because there are tents there.”

His suggestion, and one the city is now considering, is a large-scale outdoor encampment for those still on the sidewalks.

“I mean Civic Center Park behind you it’s completely vacant,” Shaw says of the plaza just outside San Francisco City Hall. “The Fulton Mall by the Asian Art Museum and Library is completely vacant. And they could do it with bathroom structures and food. They could do that tomorrow. There’s nothing to stop that, and they don’t do that. So I think advocates are very frustrated that the whole process, at every, level is taking more time. We have tolerated homelessness in our society since 1982. Now the chickens have come home to roost and you see just how damaging and destructive it is to the whole population.”

The city says it is working its way towards something it calls ‘shelter equilibrium.’ That would mean getting the vulnerable out, while those left inside can be safely distanced from each other. As for any large, sanctioned outdoor encampment, the mayor’s office says those plans will be detailed in the coming days.