In a sudden reversal, Mayor London Breed announced San Francisco will begin utilizing hotel rooms to house more of the city’s homeless. To promote “social distancing” and reduce population levels at shelters throughout San Francisco, city leaders had previously unveiled plans to relocate hundreds of people out of shelters into large-scale homeless centers, such as a newly constructed 394-bed shelter at the Moscone Convention Center. However, on Monday – just three days after city leaders opened the Moscone West shelter – Breed announced her administration will instead rely on hotel rooms to relocate homeless individuals out of overcrowded shelters.
“We need to think about making changes to avoid having an outbreak, or situation, in places like Moscone West or any place else where we know there are large populations of people,” Breed said.
Policy Change Follows Criticism from Lawmakers
Breed’s change of course comes in the wake of heavy criticism from at least five San Francisco supervisors, who spoke out against the administration’s original plan to construct massive, congregate shelters to house the homeless.
“We have the hotel rooms, we have the staffing, why wouldn’t we do this right now and save thousands of lives,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen during a press conference on Friday. "We have been given every excuse in the book why this isn’t possible."
The shelter at Moscone West will now be used to house individuals who have tested negative for the coronavirus or have since recovered.
"This is a very fluid situation and will continue to be," said Trent Rhorer, who heads San Francisco’s Human Services Agency. "The state of California, as well as other counties, [is] now shifting gears away from congregate sites entirely and moving towards hotel rooms.
Three Positive Cases at San Francisco Homeless Shelters
To date, three people at San Francisco homeless shelters have tested positive for COVID-19: one at the Division Circle Navigation Center and two at the Multi Service Center South shelter. Those living at MSC South facility may have had contact with 19 others who were recently relocated to the Moscone West shelter.
"All 19 individuals at Moscone West are being moved into quarantine into hotels as a precautionary measure,” Breed said.
Moscone West Shelter Capacity to be Cut in Half
Moving forward, capacity at the Moscone West shelter will be reduced dramatically in order to spread out guests. The facility’s 394 beds will be cut down to 200. The makeshift shelter will also be partitioned off into four areas, each containing 50 patients. Everyone, according to Rhorer, will be afforded adequate physical distance from others and will have their own partition-wall for added privacy.
“This will help us really provide a relief valve on the back end of our system, allowing individuals who were quarantined in hotel rooms to exit out after having … tested negative,” sent Trent Rhorer, who heads San Francisco’s Human Services Agency.
“It will also help our hospital system – for homeless individuals, who may be in that system for a non-COVID related illness, those individuals also will have been cleared by the hospital and could choose to go to that shelter as well.”
San Francisco has leased 945 rooms in 8 hotels across the city to house the homeless and those unable to safely self-quarantine at home. By late Monday, the city estimated about 190 people have checked in so far. Since Moscone West will no longer be utilized as originally planned, city leaders now estimate they will need an additional 500 hotel rooms to safely space out individuals at homeless shelters across San Francisco.
Sick and Elderly Remain Priority for Hotel Rooms
Being homeless, however, isn’t enough to qualify an individual for one of the hotel rooms – the city is still prioritizing the sick and elderly.
“We will continue to focus on the population in our shelters -- individuals age 60 and above, as well as individuals who have underlying health conditions, that make them more vulnerable to COVID,” Rhorer said.
“We also continue to work with hotel owners and negotiate contracts to bring additional rooms online.”