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Saturday, November 28, 2020
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News + Politics Housing Supes, service providers stunned at mayor's plan to close homeless hotels

Supes, service providers stunned at mayor’s plan to close homeless hotels

Hearing shows that there is no financial reason to kick people out of hotel rooms, and no place for them to go.

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The Board of Supes heard some stunning admissions from the Mayor’s Office Tuesday, and most of the news media don’t seem to have noticed.

The full board, sitting as a Committee of the Whole, spent more than three hours hearing from the director of homelessness and supportive housing, Abigail Stewart Kahn, the controller, Ben Rosenfield, and people who are front-line service providers.

At issue was the Mayor’s Office plan to start closing down shelter-in-place hotels and moving some 2,400 homeless people somewhere else – as many as 500 rooms could be emptied by the end of the year.

The hotel room program is a great success; why is the city moving to end it now?

The problem is nobody seems to know where “somewhere else” is.

The service providers all begged the city to slow the process down. Many of the supervisors had detailed questions.

And here is what we learned:

  • The mayor’s “plan,” such as it is, was conceived and prepared with absolutely no input from front-line service providers – the folks who actually work with and house homeless people. Joe Wilson, director of Hospitality House, testified that he first learned of the completed plan through an email late on a Friday night. Stewart-Kahn acknowledged that no member of the Board of Supervisors was involved in the actual drafting of the plan.
  • There is no compelling reason to start shutting down the hotels – except, in theory, for the cost. The city has budgeted $174 million for the program, Rosenfield said, and somewhere between $3 and $4.8 million comes from the city’s General Fund. The rest is federal and state money. And Rosenfield said that while the federal money will end at some point, there is no evidence that it will end anytime soon. Meanwhile, the city now has hundreds of millions of dollars from Prop. C to spend on programs like this one.
  • The Mayor’s Office, despite plenty of notice about the hearing, failed to provide any of the financial details of the plan, or the need for the plan. Sup. Hillary Ronen asked how she could evaluate the situation without that data; Board President Norman Yee said “I don’t even have the information to guess.” Rosenfield and Stewart Kahn said they would provide it later – although the supervisor who asked for the hearing made it clear he wanted it in advance. “We requested a detailed fiscal analysis,” Sup. Shamann Walton said. “It’s hard to accept this horrible fiscal problem without that information available to us.”
  • There is, quite literally, nowhere for the 2,400 people to go that is safe and protected from the elements as winter arrives. “There are no alternatives,” Ronen said. “The shelters are full. Shared sleeping spaces are even more expensive.”  Or as Wilson put it: “The takeaway is that moving 2,400 people [into permanent housing] in the next eight months is implausible and incredulous.” Walton: “We can’t set a date for closing the hotels without knowing where they will go.”
  • The presentation was misleading, as best. Stewart Kahn told the board that although every service provider who testified strongly opposed the plan, there are “some providers” who support the idea. Sup. Aaron Peskin noted: “I have spoken to them all, and with all due respect, Ms. Stewart-Kahn is the only one who says that.”
  • Stewart-Kahn acknowledged that – since the city clearly has to money to keep the program going – a major reason to end it is that people in hotel rooms have “no motivation to take steps to exit homelessness.” In other words: If we don’t threaten to take their rooms away, they won’t cooperate with social workers: “They need to engage with a sense of urgency,” she said.
  • There are, as Sup. Dean Preston pointed out, at least 6,000 more people who are homeless on the streets right now – and there’s no plan to put them into safe shelter. “It’s not a wise time to be scaling down and closing,” he said.

The homeless service providers and many of the supes were, it’s fair to say, stunned with what they were hearing.

The hearing started out with Stewart Kahn and Rosenfield talking about the cost of the program, which can run as high as $8,000 a month per person.

Their message: We just can’t keep doing this.

But under questioning, they acknowledged that the federal government pays 75 percent of the cost of sheltering anyone who is over 60 or has other COVID risk factors – and that’s 85 percent of the population in hotels.

So the cost to the city is pretty low.

Rosenfield warned that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is putting up the money, only renews its contracts on a month-to-month basis, so it could end at any time. But he also admitted that he has seen no evidence or warning that it will end this year – and next year, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be in the White House, and it’s highly unlikely they will cut off this funding.

Preston also pointed out that – while the Mayor’s Office and other resisted the hotel plan, saying it wouldn’t work and would be too expensive, it’s actually been one of the most successful homeless programs in the city’s modern history.

It works. There have been very few problems or complaints. In fact, Ronen noted, the board passed legislation mandating that 6,000 more hotel rooms be opened up, which the mayor refused to do. (The Mayor’s Office says the supes never put up the funding for that program, but again: Most of the money is federal, and the local funding that’s needed is what we call “decimal dust” in a $12 billion budget.)

So why are we preparing to wind down this program now – not only in the winter, when it is cold and rainy and people on the streets are at higher risk of health problems, but at a time when COVID is roaring back to the extent that the mayor has institution new restrictions on re-opening?

Nobody outside of Room 200 seems to be able to comprehend that.

The service providers at the hearing were unanimous that they had no role in crafting the plan. When Preston asked Stewart Kahn about that, she said “it depends on what you mean in the development of the plan.” In other words: We did the plan, “because of the fiscal constraints,” then told everyone else about it.

I felt bad for her. She’s a social worker with the misfortune to be the mayor’s point person who has to defend something indefensible. Breed, of course, wasn’t at the hearing.

One of the few supervisors who seemed to support the mayor’s plan was Rafael Mandelman, who said that at some point, we need to start winding this down.

Preston noted that the projections of the local cost to keeping the program going are so small that “this is unbelievably cost-effective.” In fact, some of the supes suggested, we should be expanding the program.

There’s good reason to believe that the state and the feds will soon have more money to buy more of these hotels, and turn them into permanent housing.

Rosenfield said that the FEMA money could run out at any point. But when Preston asked if there was any sign of that happening, Rosenfield said “we don’t know.”

And, of course, FEMA will not reimburse the city for things like safe-sleeping villages, which are basically tent encampments, bring their own high costs. At several front-line service agency representatives noted, the plan is unconscionable. And yet, it goes forward.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Gorn, this is classic. You are clearly the person who posted all thar garbage. Seriously? YOU clearly trolled the group spreading lies about Ronan. Be honest. How much does Breed pay you to shill. It is not clear if you use several sock puppets, or if you have assistance. Right off the bat, weird claims against Rosen appear. Claims that are clearly you. No, you are not clever. You are just lame. The giveaway? This response to your obvious frad:

    susy1q
    I do not understand why there is a protest at Supervisor Ronen’s house? I have worked closely with her and she has always been very responsive and has helped support the families of those lost to violence, and always has supported when having to hold the police accountable. She is currently working on defunding SFPD…so why exactly is she being targeted.

    And this response from the organizers:
    defundsfpdnow
    We’re disappointed that there’s so much misinformation being spread through rumors about the goals and intents of our protest. It’s especially demoralizing that the people pushing this misinformation are those who are supposed to be our allies in city hall or are otherwise close to Supervisor Ronen. Our goals are absolutely aligned, which is why we’re so excited by Supervisor Ronen’s leadership on defunding.

    We’re protesting to defund the police, and we believe that means reducing the number of police officers. We have invited Supervisor Ronen to our protest, where we’re asking her to publicly commit to advocating for firing 200 police officers and to refuse to vote for a budget that doesn’t do that. These are commitments she has not made publicly yet.

    We’re asking Supervisor Ronen to announce her commitment to fire police officers when she joins our rally. We would love to see her in person but also understand if she would prefer to participate virtually. We have the technology prepared for that should she choose that option. We want to stand with Supervisor Ronen and cheer her on as our champion!

    If Supervisor Ronen cannot make our protest either in person or virtually, we were hoping to deliver our demands to her in person (as best as social distancing will allow) at the office where she primarily works from now, which, because of the circumstances, is her house. We want to take on the responsibility of certifying that she has a copy our demands. We hope you will join us in celebrating Supervisor Ronen’s leadership and in calling for a substantive reduction in the number of police officers in our city.

    But the smoking gun? This:
    sfmarcos
    @susy1q It was YOU who attacked young activists of color trying to hold a white lady accountable politically.

    We lost The Mission on your watch. You have no credibility or standing to attack volunteers like me or these young people for not kissing your failed asses and sucking up to power like your cohort has.

    Clearly that is your post. The same drivel you post her. You created a lie, and you are trying to promulgate it by crating “AstroTurf” BS. Give it up. You are again pwned.

  2. A protest was planned for 18 Aug. Here is the instagram of the announcement:

    https {colon slash slash} www {dot} instagram {dot} com {slash} p/CD71ETGjVrS/

    As is evident on that instagram comment thread, Ronen’s nonprofit, labor and supervisor aide allies rallied to defend her against the protest before the protest happened.

    The peaceful protest march from Holly park to Ronen’s home happened without adverse incident.

    After the protest, Ronen claimed that her children were traumatized by young people of color organizing and marching against funding the SFPD, positions that Ronen states she supports but which she votes against.

    Please, keep posting how I support defunding the SFPD but am a tool of London Breed because I call the “progressives” out as the self-serving liberal scamsters they are.

  3. Gorn, so you cannot back up your claim, and provide verification. Now, you backtrack. It was not a protest, but a “planned” one. Sounds imaginary to me. Provide a legitimate source, or admit it is fiction. There is no evidence of this supposed protest. Nothing in the Chronicle or SFGate. Out up, or shut up.

    You sound like the endless Trump supporters accusing liberals of racism, often between obviously racist posts. Flip that script. Prove it, or admit you are lying.

    Lots of claims no proof. Provide valid proof or admit you are shilling for Breed.

  4. Geek freak: When a powerful white lady mobilizes her political operation to police young activists of color who plan to protest at her home to demand she follow through with her stated positions of Black Lives Matter and defund the police because City Hall is closed, then that is white supremacy.

    When a powerful white lady asserts that after the peaceful protest of young activists of color demanding defunding the SFPD, that peaceful protest at her home caused trauma to her children, then that is white supremacy.

    It almost is like Ronen was lying about wanting to even begin to defund the SFPD, about Black Lives Matter and about being an acitvist legislator. Activist legislators would WELCOME external pressure and use that to expand the range of the possible, not rage at being held to account for not following through on her stated political program. And activist legislators teach their children that protest is healthy, essential and nothing to be traumatized about.

    Ronen ran interference for the SFPD against peaceful young activists of color. And the identitarian/intersectional professional “progressives” did not say a word, as offending the powerful white lady who has veto power over their agencies being funded would not be good for their businesses.

  5. Ah, Gorn is showing his/her true colors. Gorn thinks herself/himself clever, but only a fool would be taken in. Gorn implies that Ronen is white supremacist, but would a white supremacist support this: “The ordinance, sponsored by Supervisor Hillary Ronen, would expand on a state law that took effect last year, which requires those 15 and younger to consult with legal counsel when law enforcement takes them into custody. Ronen’s ordinance would push that age up to 17.” But, I am going to call BS on Gorn’s remark about Ronen having “performed white supremacy when young POC protested at her house,” since I can find no article about a protest or pickets at Ronen’s house on either SFGate, or the Chronicle. Perhaps Gorn can provide evidence? Or not.

    Gorn is a shill for Breed.

  6. Everybody is wrong but Geek Girl and the “progressives.” She’s suggesting that the “progressive” who managed to buy a home in leafy and desirable Bernal Heights at the top of the market with two public sector incomes and two expensive kids, who said that she can’t wait to help the poor, ignoring the working class, who would not vote to cut one single SFPD, who performed white supremacy when young POC protested at her house, who will most likely vote to ratify the POA giveaway, would do anything to stand up to Breed.

    One of these days, after 20 years, the “progressives” on the Board are going to get it together, just you see.

    In reality, so long as the connected nonprofits are hooked up to public revenue streams, the “progressives” do nothing.”

  7. h brown, I am shocked you would make such an outrageous suggestion, You may think it would be humane, but no, shipping people out on cruise ship is not.

  8. Breed panders to the haters. Her base are those who irrationally hate the homeless. Like the bigots who dominated the South during the Jim Crow era, these people hate viscerally. I grew up in Birmingham, AL during that era, and saw it all. The rhetoric I hear from the mayor and especially her base is identical to what I heard from the racists around me. The hateful term used to refer to African Americans has been replaced by terms like “vagrants” and “bums,” meant to dehumanize. I hear the same sort of slurs. I doubt the haters realize this. They, like the racists of the South, think they are good people.

    Breed treasures the homeless as a person political football. To maintain this, she needs to keep them front and center, and that means living on the streets, where they can be abused for the pleasure of the haters. Having them safe, and relatively living in dignity in hotels is unacceptable. The hotel program has saved lives, and improved the conditions for those forced to live on the streets. And yes, FORCED. We have nowhere near enough shelter beds. We could, but not under Breed. That would take away her football.

    Bottom line, RECALL BREED. She has been mayor long enough that it can be done, and with the elections over, now is the time. She is clearly vulnerable, and the Trump Republicans who are backing her are unlikely to be able to lie enough to protect her.

  9. First off, please ignore Gorn. This person is apparently a shill for Breed, trying to undermine the BoS, and progressives. Thanks to Willie Brown, the mayor is granted outrageous powers. The BoS can pass laws, override vetos, but the mayor can simply ignore them. Since most everything involves money, and the mayor has absolute authority over money in most cases, this is an outrageous situation. This can, and will be changed, but such actions are politically volatile, and have to be timed and carried out carefully. The Trump Republicans backing Breed, as well as the Chamber of Comumerce, haters, and such will balk, and spend millions in an effort to kill such an attempt. Gorn likes to push for this to be rushed, knowing that such a move would fail, and cement the mayor’s abusive authority. This person has trolled here numerous time, and has been repeatedly banned. At least they have learned to play nicely. Or, if not, we will soon see.

    Simple answer, if the BoS chooses a progressive President, which seems likely, hopefully Ronen, Preston, or Haney, though Peskin is also a good choice, RECALL BREED.

  10. Campers,

    Buy an ‘under the water’ luxury Cruise Ship line, load em up on two of em and head to sea until the Pandemic ends.

    Well, that was easy.

    Go Niners!

    h.

  11. What is the “progressive” Board of Supervisors going to do to compel Breed to act? Call her out and shame her? Bleed on her?

    The service providers played nice with Breed and city corruption and for that they expected to be consulted. Without any downside for not consulting with the city funded service providers, Breed is free to act as she would.

    Let the Board pass an emergency ordinance by a veto-proof margin and then go to Superior Court to compel compliance.

    Otherwise this is little more than sound and fury, signifying nothing.

  12. People are not going to be booking hotels for probably another year or two even if there is a vaccine. The economy is in shambles and we are entering another bad phase for a covid/flu surge. The hotels would benefit from the money and might be in bankruptcy otherwise.
    it takes a while for an economy as big as the US to recuperate from a systemic shock of a vacuum of leadership and a health care crisis. If anyone doubts how bad things really are and the extent of the dysfunction in American health care , Doctors Without Borders are now in the United States as this is the global hot spot. We are in more danger than any third world country.

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