Ask Christin Evans, who runs Booksmith, a store on Haight Street.
Evans found herself last weekend trying to help a disabled, senior,homeless person – and ran into a bureaucratic nightmare.
Here’s how she described it:
Meet Cuba. He’s 70, he *was* in a Nav Center but when that congregant shelter had a Covid case he was moved to a city hotel (for quarantine) where he tested negative 3 times. So… the city *was* going to transfer him to a SIP hotel but they had RUN OUT of ADA hotel rooms… pic.twitter.com/6XlPS1d873
Evans met Cuba when a city worker asked her to deliver him a tent. She asked why he was on the streets, and he told her that they had moved him to a hotel where his wheelchair didn’t fit through the door.
So now he was back out on the streets.
Evans, who is sophisticated at working the city bureaucracy, started making calls. Perhaps because it was Memorial Day weekend, she got nowhere:
“Calls to 311 were sent to the Homeless Outreach Team. She called that number several times; nobody ever answered, and she was told to leave a message – but the voicemail box was full.”
Next, she said, “I tried the Street Medicine Team. A nurse answered the phone but said she had only one other nurse on outreach – and they would not be able to refer someone to a hotel, only HOT could do that.”
Finally, she reached a doctor who worked with homeless people – but he said he didn’t have the authority to send Cuba to a hotel. Someone else had to do that – but nobody with the authority could be reached.
Evans is persistent: When a lot of people would have given up, she kept going. She met with Cuba and made more calls, pushing her way up the ladder at the Department of Homeness and Supportive Housing.
It took five days. Five days this vulnerable 70-year-old was on the streets when he should have been in a hotel room.
And it only happened because one person who had the time, the ability, and the patience pushed the case over and over until the city finally responded.
Think about all of the hundreds of others who are in his position and are still on the streets.
Her message to the mayor:
“If you are listening, your city system is broken (1,000 vacant hotel rooms!) Because Cuba is 70 years old, living through a pandemic, and there is no excuse why he shouldn’t be inside. We must do better.”
One month since the supervisors mandated hotel rooms for all of the vulnerable homeless people in the city, San Francisco has added exactly 19 new hotel rooms to its available capacity.
And less than half of the 3,000 rooms that the city is paying for are currently occupied.
That’s the information several supervisors and medical and faith leaders provided in a press conference today.
“It’s unacceptable that people are sleeping on the sidewalks in the shadow of empty hotel rooms, including rooms that the city is paying for,” Sup. Matt Haney said.
Haney, along with Sups. Hillary Ronen, Shamann Walton, and Dean Preston, demanded that Mayor London Breed present a plan to deal with the huge numbers of tent encampments that have emerged all over the streets since the city started closing congregate shelters.
“If you are unwilling to implement our plan, what is your plan?” Ronen asked.
The numbers are just staggering.
The city has seen a 300 percent increase in people sleeping in the streets. “It unacceptable and inhumane,” Haney said.
The city has identified more than 2,200 people who are at high risk and should be in hotel rooms – but fewer than 80 people a week have been moved inside.
“Progress has been painfully slow,” he said.
It’s a matter of life and death, Dr. Michael Snavely, a family-practice physician at SF General who is working in the hotel rooms that have been procured, said.
He described a homeless patient who arrived in a suicidal condition, on the brink of taking his own life. “But after a few days with a roof over his head and a door that can close, he feels like a new man,” Snavely said. “This hotel room has saved his life.”
Another patient living on the streets was using meth on a regular basis to stay up at night so that his possessions wouldn’t be stolen. “And now that he has a safe place, he has stopped using meth,” the doctor said.
“Hotel rooms are not only morally imperative but medically imperative.”
The city, Ronen said, “is covered with people living in human misery.”
The Mayor’s Office has put forward plans that have gone nowhere. The supervisors complained about endless excuses for why the city can’t move people inside, the latest of which is a lack of staff.
But the Coalition on Homelessness has put together a list of people who can staff the hotels. “What are we waiting for?” Snavely asked.
I have been asking that question for more than a month. Maybe the supes need to demand that the mayor appear for a special Question Time session to talk about this.
Because the situation on the streets gets worse and worse – when, as Haney put it, “we know there are solutions.”
At the Midtown housing complex in the Western Addition, tenants are doing their best to comply with the city’s shelter-in-place order, but are facing one major challenge—the loud, disruptive, non-essential construction in their buildings.
After a three-week respite, construction is scheduled to begin again this week in preparation for the relocation of off-site tenants to the Midtown property, unless the Mayor’s Office of Housing responds to residents request for peace and quiet— and no off-site relocations— during the order to shelter-in-place.
Midtown residents, many of whom are seniors and African Americans, are considered at high risk for contracting COVID-19. The Black community is made particularly susceptible to the COVID virus through de-prioritization and systemic discrimination in the healthcare system. But a less discussed susceptibility is exposure at a tenant’s place of housing, and interference in their abilities to effectively shelter-in-place.
“Having construction crews walking through our buildings without wearing masks, without protective gear,” says resident Phyllis Bowie, “is creating a huge problem for us.”
The unnecessary construction is not just posing a threat for Midtown’s elderly higher-risk residents, it also poses problems for families at Midtown with school-age children quarantining at home. One tenant reported redecorating a room in his apartment as a study room for his three kids. Once the room was ready for at-home lessons, construction began in the unit next door.
“It’s like the sound of metal on metal. It’s non-stop. I honestly can’t even imagine what they’re doing in there.” said Midtown resident Khalid Smahi, who has called both the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Midtown’s interim property manager without a response.
When one tenant succeeded in reaching the Mayor’s Office of Housing to ask why non-essential construction was happening at Midtown, a staff person said, “given that the work taking place [at Midtown] in the vacant units is to facilitate the rehabilitation of an affordable housing property, we believe it to be allowed as an Essential Activity under the Health Order.”
The problem with this approach is that it views affordable housing properties as a development asset of the Mayor’s Office of Housing, rather than a very essential place to shelter during the Covid-19 virus for the people who actually live there.
The city claims to be rehabbing some Midtown units so that tenants from other affordable housing and public housing sites can be moved to Midtown during their own construction projects. But this begs the question: why would the city ask at-risk tenants of any sites to move during the pandemic? Why wouldn’t the city prioritize the ability of tenants to shelter-in-place by putting a pause on all rehab projects across the city so that tenants can stay put?
“Its an enormous health risk for every single resident of Midtown,” said Bowie. “Preparing relocation units for affordable housing developers is not more important than our lives. In fact, we’re hoping that Midtown can become a priority site for COVID testing.”
Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Office of Housing has cancelled its monthly meetings with residents, and Midtown’s interim property manager, Kalco, has cancelled Midtown’s food bank service— all over virus concerns.
In the interest of applying consistency to precautions over the virus, Midtown residents say they hope that the Mayor’s Office of Housing will affirm its commitment to public health, particularly in the African American community, by ceasing non-essential construction and off-site relocations amongst its city-owned properties for the duration of the order to shelter-in-place.
The 25 pages of text records cover the period of just two months, July and August 2019. The mayor, it seems, texts the chief almost every day, sometimes several times a day.
And while some of the texts are about police business – reports of homicides, protests, and other activity that is getting news media attention – the bulk are messages from Breed to Scott demanding action on removing homeless people.
In one particularly callous message, Breed states:
“Man sleeping on bench on Hayes St. near Gough. Can someone come asap, I am in the area having lunch.”
A number of the texts involve the 800 block of Market Street, near John’s Grill, a favorite spot of Breed’s. She refers to the area as “our bread and butter,” and repeatedly says that she wants nobody sleeping in that part of Market.
“That’s the one block that needs to be clean!” one text message from the mayor to the chief states.
The texts appear to directly contradict the Breed Administration’s assertion that they are not conducting any homeless sweeps.
There is no indication in any of the text messages that the mayor is concerned about where the homeless people might go once they leave the area she wants swept.
She is persistent: She texted three times to complain about the man sleeping in Hayes Valley, and the chief said he was “sending a team.” A team of police officers to forcibly move a homeless man whose presence was offending the mayor.
A draft general order under consideration by the Police Commission would bar officers from telling homeless people to “move along” when there is nowhere for them to go.
It appears from the texts that the chief spends a considerable amount of time dispatching teams to clear out homeless people at the mayor’s demand.
On August 20, for example, she sent four texts in just one hour calling for police action on Market Street. “The 800 block of Market continues to be a problem,” she tells the chief. “We cannot allow that to continue. Please clear it and stay on top of it.”
A few minutes later she adds, “the north side” (closer to John’s Grill.)
A few minutes later: “The 500 block of Market needs to be cleared as well.”
She follows up: “By the 7-11 area.”
In each case, the chief promises to send officers to clear out the homeless people.
In other text, she writes: “Just drove down Market Street there are a lot of people laying on the sidewalk near the Burger King in particular at Civic Center it’s really dirty and there’s a lot of folks out. Can we please get the area cleaned up at least until I think about Turks (sic) street.”
She states: “No one should be sleeping on the sidewalk in broad daylight.”
At another point she writes: “Please come and get these people laying in the sidewalk on the 800 block of Market. We have tons of people down here shopping and no officers.”
Another: “There should be no homeless people sleeping in the 800 block of Market and that is still happening at 9:30 tonight. Please make sure that block is cleared.”
Another: “I just drove by the 600 block of Ellis between Taylor and Jones and it is an embarrassment! You can’t even walk on that block. Clean it up!”
A few minutes later she tells the chief, who is not part of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive housing, to solve the problem:
“Find somewhere for these people to go!”
Meanwhile, according to Sup. Matt Haney, only 37 percent of the limited number of hotel rooms the city has contracted for are occupied.
In essence, Dr. Tomas Aragon, the public health officer, said that he wouldn’t go beyond what the Mayor’s Office wants.
He said that the issue of homelessness and COVID-19 was a “policy” matter that went beyond his role at the chief public health officer of the City and County of San Francisco.
And according to testimony at the meeting, he told several supervisors that if he defied the mayor and ordered more aggressive moves to put homeless people in hotels, he would lose his job.
That, it turns out, is wrong: The public health officer, according to a May 20 memo from the city attorney, is appointed by the Board of Supervisors, and ultimately reports to the board, not the head of DPH or the mayor. That’s state law.
Sup. Dean Preston said on Twitter:
I’m appalled at the lack of leadership here. The Health Officer has issued orders about what businesses can open, what sports can be played, and what construction can happen, but won’t issue orders to protect the health and safety of housed and unhoused neighbors.
What’s going on here is not just a lack of leadership at DPH. It’s a stunning lack of long-term vision in the Mayor’s Office.
Breed, as is her current practice, isn’t responding to my questions. But people who have spoken to her tell me that the mayor is taking a short-term approach to the COVID issue. She assumes that this crisis will pass, sooner or later, and she will want to focus on restoring the economy and creating jobs. And she doesn’t want to have to pay for, or deal with, hotel rooms full of formerly homeless people.
In other words, the administration wants to get back to “normal,” and normal means 8,000 people living on the streets or in shelters while the city spends $300 million a year on a problem that has been around for decades, and that nobody at City Hall seems to be able to solve.
Except that now, there’s the potential for a dramatic change.
Many of the hotels that could be used to house homeless people will not survive the two years or more before tourism comes back to San Francisco. There is property all over town (including some office buildings) that won’t be needed as people increasingly work from home.
Hotel rooms aren’t perfect for everyone; families need more spacious affordable housing. Some people need more supportive services. But for a significant percentage of the homeless population, the equivalent of SROs with private bathrooms would be a big step forward. Not just now but for the future.
But the mayor isn’t talking about that.
So here’s what the city’s public health officer had to say.
Sup. Hillary Ronen: Dr. Aragon, what happens for your position when this board of supervisors passes a unanimous ordinance requiring that the city immediately open 8,250 hotels and the mayor responds that she won’t do it. Don’t you need to intervene from a public health perspective and do something?
Aragon: I have not thought about that specific question. I don’t have an answer for that
Sup. Sandra Lee Fewer: I am wondering if we were to bring a health order to you that we think should be implemented and should be actually addressed, do you think this is something that you would be open to, that the supervisors would say that, because I actually think there needs to be a health order around homelessness.
Aragon: I am absolutely willing to listen and talk about that. But I will have to work with the folks here at the department of public health because that is the resources that I depend on to try to make the best decisions in cooperation with all the departments here in the city.
Ronen: Correct me if I’m wrong, but one of your earliest orders was to prevent gatherings of over a certain amount of people on city property.
Aragon: That was correct.
Ronen: There is an example of you making a health decision for something that is completely under our control, is it not?
Aragon: That is true.
Ronen: So why won’t you do that when it comes to the most important population that is most at risk in our city other than the nursing homes — that I really appreciate the work you have done there, but for the homeless population that you and I have been talking about on the phone several times, and in these public hearings, for eight weeks now. And you just won’t budge on it.
Aragon: It’s not like I can in isolation tell all the departments to do something. It has to be something that is going to be achievable and doable and that there’s consensus that this is the way we need to move forward, and that is the way that one moved forward. Every time we do one of the principles we apply in public health is we try to do the least restrictive option because we also realize that people don’t always comply and we try to sort of figure out what can people actually accomplish.
Then it got a little scary.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin: You agreed with the supervisors as a doctor over issues of reducing transmission in congregate settings, with the shelters, or on the street. You agreed with this supervisor. You agree with Supervisor Ronen. You actually expressed to us your concerns that if you made those decisions, your job might be jeopardized.
Aragon made no comment, and the meeting ended.
I emailed Dr. Aragon and haven’t heard back. But if the Breed Administration is threatening to fire a public health officer if he makes decisions that are counter to the mayor’s policies but are in the interest of public health …. That’s really, really alarming.
— excerpt of the poem People Cages by Dee Allen /Po Poet
“It feels like we are back in prison,” said Ronald, one of POOR Magazine’s roofless radio houseless reporters from the Tenderloin. He was talking about the Cage, I mean, “Sanctuary” aka the Safe Sleeping Village that was constructed in the Civic Center of San Francisco this week for socially distant sleeping of houseless people while thousands of hotel and motel rooms still sit empty.
“I don’t trust any fences, I have been in jail too long, can’t go back, I just wonder where the hotel rooms they were promising are,” said Marcus, RoofLess radio reporter from the Tenderloin, who was living in an alley three blocks away from the SSV. “I just hope they don’t use this as another excuse to take our tents, which this city has been doing even with the pandemic.”
“Have you heard of cages for immigrant children? Well they have them here for homeless people,” said Pastor GW, a formerly houseless poverty skola and pastor from Mission Dei Congregation in Occupied Seminole Territory (which we call St. Petersburg).
When the Cage, (Sanctuary) showed up in San Francisco this week, right after we did an action on Monday about the hoarding of hotel rooms, many of us were brought back to our own experiences of jailing, criminalization, and profiling for the sole acts of being a person of color, houseless or in poverty.
We also remembered a terrifying journey some of us went on to last year to Occupied Seminole Territory aka St Petersburg, Florida to present on the Poverty Scholarship- Poor People-led Theory, Art words and Tears text book, where we witnessed what Pastor Wright and Pastor GW called, The People Cages” which were actual cagesof chain link fencing on the streets of Downtown St. Petersburg.
People had to “check in” to the cages by 7pm and couldn’t leave until 7am, at which point they were kicked out.
The ones who spear-headed and supported the St. Petersburg cages were also “helping” or charity organizations, non-profiteers, city government and several so-called advocates, not to mention police, sheriffs, and poltricksters.
“We used to have tent cities right down this street here in St Petersburg, me and GW were the ‘street-sheriffs’ making sure folks were safe at night,” said Bruce Wright, formerly houseless poverty skola with the Poor Peoples Economic Human rights Campaign and pastor of the Refuge Ministries of Tampa Bay, pointing at the long empty dark street next to the “people cages.”
“I can’t even speak,” said Aunti Frances. At Driver Plaza in Oakland, Aunti Frances deals with an endless amount of police harassment when she operates her beautiful Black-led Self-Help Hunger Program. “This is too much and what they want to do with all of us,” she concluded.
Is this Cage or is it Sanctuary?
Many of us poverty skolaz are already clear that most of the “services” provided to poor people are rooted in violent scarcity, that is, how little we can provide poor peoples versus how much is needed by a person or family to survive, and the criminalizing of our lives and actions and homes with constant inspections, evaluations, applications and assessments and the slippery slope of shelter beds and SRO’s that require check-ins, check-outs, IDs and more.
So really, the nine-foot fence around a parking lot that’s now called a “safe sleeping sanctuary” isn’t that different from any of the soft cages built for poor people, including the ultimate cage that’s now the biggest “public housing project” for many of the disabled, very low-income and/or peoples of color in this occupied land – that is, prisons and jails.
Nor is it any different from the hater solution to COVID-19 in Las Vegas which threw its houseless people out of the meager one shelter that town had and had them sleep in a parking lot, “socially distant,” or the recent move of cleaning houseless people out of the New York subway only to have them cramped together in the lobbies of homeless shelters dangerously close together.
The Virus of poverty has been going on a lot longer than the virus called Covid19, including the violent removal of houseless disabled people from the old Trans-Bay terminal in 2010 so the shiny new tech colonizers building Salesforce could be built to house more tech commuters, something POOR Magazine shed light on in our Stolen Land /Hoarded Resources Tour earlier this year.
To get clear about where this comes from and why people need to resist it, we must go back to the anti-poor people history to a terrifying thing called the Ugly Laws that Leroy Moore and myself have written and reported on multiple times and a book by Sister Shero Susan Schweik.
Ugly laws in the United Statesarose in the late nineteenth century. During this period, urban spaces underwent an influx of new residents, which placed strain on the existing communities. As a reaction to this influx of people who were impoverished, ministers, charitable organizers, city planners, and city officials across the United States worked to create ugly laws for their community.People charged under the ugly law were either charged a fine or held in jail until they could be sent to the poor house or work farm. The wording in the San Francisco ordinance indicates violators will be sent to the almshouse. This connects with the Victorian Erapoor law policy.
The ugly laws did not restrict performances of people with disabilities for the purpose of entertainment or eliciting disgust, but rather restricted people with disabilities from mingling with the general public.
Racism also played a role in the enforcement of ugly laws. In San Francisco, Chinese immigrants and their descendants were unlawfully quarantined to prevent spread of disease and epidemic
Cages, criminalization, and policing as a solution isn’t new, it’s just a continuation of a long process to make money off of poor people’s bodies and problems by the people who are supposedly here to “save” us, help us, house us. In the end, its why us poor and houseless people at POOR Magazine, the Poor Peoples Army/Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign, Reclaim SF, First they Came For the Homeless and Where do We Go Berkeley and Moms4housing have been vehemently launching our own solutions to our own problems.
Evil Sheriff Joe Arpaio tried his racist hate tactics out on houseless people in Phoenix, Arizona before he began his terror on indigenous refugees from the other sides of the false borders, throwing up barricades around a two block area and telling the houseless people they couldn’t leave until the morning, hoping ultimately we would kill each other
“There’s enough room to put us in a hotel or SRO (single room occupancy hotel) where they can keep us safe away from the virus. Why put us in a parking lot? That SRO could change someone’s life,” said Nick (in a beautiful story by Garrett Leahy of 48hills).
“They are still “sweeping” us in the Mission,” said Miguel, RoofLESS radio reporter, yesterday.
If Mayor Breed wanted to continue the hoarding of hotels and not house houseless residents of San Francisco, she could have just stopped taking people’s tents and allow people to sleep houselessly without fear of arrest and belonging theft. Why put a nine-foot chain link fence with barriers up around a parking lot?
The New York Times devoted its entire Sunday Review section this week to an analysis of the future of cities. It’s a critical topic: Cities have been for millenia the drivers of economic, cultural and scientific advances. It’s hard to imagine human civilization without cities.
And yet, in the COVID era, people are wondering: Does the density that makes cities work also put people at risk? Will big companies that once thought human interaction in the workplace was central and who were willing to pay high prices for urban office space now decide that it’s just fine for most people to work from home?
Will high-paid tech workers decide there’s no reason to stay in places like San Francisco when they can pay for less for housing somewhere else?
I’m not sure that some degree of telecommuting is a bad thing, and I won’t be sad if housing prices fall in San Francisco because Twitter no longer requires its staff to show up at the office on Market Street that the city gave the corporation a huge tax break to attract.
In the end, though, this crisis will pass, a vaccine will be developed, and people will again go to bars and cafes and dance clubs and libraries and museums and restaurants and poetry readings – and people who want to be a part of that culture will still want to be in cities.
The economies of cities may be very different. For decades, San Francisco has catered to office culture – to the idea that more office space means a better economy. That, I think, was never really true (if you believe that an economy needs to serve people, and that too much office space and too little housing makes for bad economic outcomes).
But there’s a good chance that the city leaders, from Dianne Feinstein to London Breed, who have bought into this theory of growth will have to acknowledge that its time has passed, that traditional offices may never be the same and that the heart of urban economic development may have to take a very different turn.
This particular crisis is medical, but cities have been facing serious problems for much longer. As the Times notes:
American cities were the hammering engines of the nation’s economic progress, the showcases of its wealth and culture, the objects of global fascination, admiration and aspiration. They were also deformed by racism, bled by the profiteering of elites and fouled by pollution and disease. But in their best moments, they offered the chance to slip the bonds of prejudices, second-guessing and limited horizons. They offered opportunity.
Then, cities worked. Now, they don’t.
I would argue that cities “deformed by racism, bled by the profiteering of elites and fouled by pollution and disease,” didn’t exactly work then, either. Never mind; that’s not the point.
The Times did a great job talking about the history of problems in cities, some of which very much exist today. (The paper still falls into the trap of saying that more market-rate housing will help the housing crisis, but that’s The New York Times, which has always been a neo-liberal publication.)
San Francisco is going to face a major budget deficit this year – maybe as high as $1.7 billion. That’s a lot of money.
But actually, it’s not.
If we assume that the average wealth of the 75 billionaires is just $2 billion – and that’s very low – we are talking about a handful of people sitting on $150 billion, just in this city. A wealth tax of just one percent – a penny on the dollar – would solve the city’s entire budget deficit, and not one of these rich people would miss that money.
There’s nothing any of them could possibly want that they would lose if property taxes in the city included this type of wealth.
They clearly aren’t going to volunteer to chip in. So we have to talk about taxes.
California has about 165 people worth a billion or more. Same calculus, that’s $330 billion. A ten percent wealth tax (even just a one-time tax) would raise enough to cover most of the state’s budget deficit. A two-percent wealth tax over five years would do the same thing. And again, none of these people would miss a single meal, or a single new yacht, or a single new mansion.
They would all still be really, really rich, so rich that their grandkids will never have to work.
While homeless people are dying in the streets and families are going hungry and the state is looking at massive cuts to the public schools.
The ten richest people in the United States today have a combined net wealth of more than $700 billion. That’s just ten people. There are about 650 people in the US today worth more than $1 billion; their combined wealth is about $3 trillion.
There are a lot of zeros in this math, but if I have it right, ten percent of that is $300 billion, enough to make a huge impact on federal spending right now. And that’s just 650 people.
The top one percent of US society holds about $25 trillion in wealth. Again, do the math – a tiny wealth tax would solve the state, federal, and local deficits and put the economy back on track during this crisis.
There is really no intellectually honest or logical way to talk about the “recovery” and the future of cities without talking about these numbers.
In fact, there shouldn’t be any discussion of deficits, service cuts, cuts to education, or anything else to do with state or local budgets the doesn’t start with a discussion of how the very, very rich need to pay more.
The concept is not that difficult: California, like most states, collects taxes on property, but it’s mostly limited to real estate. Just change state law to allow local assessors to include stock wealth, bond wealth, and other sorts of investments in the definition of taxable “property.” And then exempt the first, say, $20 million. Or $50 million. Pick a number. So we wouldn’t even be taxing the rich, just the insanely rich.
Prop. 13 limits property taxes to one percent a year. I have always been in favor of repealing Prop. 13, but for the moment, I can live with that; tax all insane wealth at one percent a year (meaning Larry Ellison pays about $500 million a year) and this state and its cities are going to be in far better shape.
Many will be way better off, and nobody will suffer.
That ought to be the future of cities. And if The New York Times can’t get its collective head around that, the editors and writers are just wasting their collective time.
The Board of Supes Finance Committee approved today emergency legislation aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 in single-room occupancy hotels.
The measure by Sup. Aaron Peskin came in the wake of disturbing information about the spread of the deadly disease in the city’s more than 500 SROs.
Gen Fujioka, a staffer at the Chinatown Community Development Center, said at the hearing that in just six weeks, the number of SRO buildings with COVID illnesses has increased from eight to 53. The number of residents sickened by the disease has gone from nine to 144 – an increase of more than 1,500 percent.
That’s far, far greater than the city average.
And it’s a clear public-health emergency.
Peskin’s measure, which will go before the full board Tuesday/19:
Mandates protocols for the Department of Public Health on culturally competent SRO Contact Notification, Case Investigation, Community Education, Mass Testing and Isolation/Quarantine
Mandates Eviction Protections for SRO residents, including rent relief and a “right to return” to units after quarantining
Mandates accurate and transparent reporting on SRO data, including number of COVID-19 confirmed cases across buildings citywide, as well as numbers of quarantine units and fatalities.
The measure got unanimous support after public testimony from SRO residents and advocates who pointed out that the low-income people living in these buildings lack private bathrooms, often lack adequate ventilation, share kitchens and communal space, and are at high risk for infection.
It requires eight votes at the full board.
The committee also agreed to table a measure by Sup. Sandra Lee Fewer that would have mandated that the Recreation and Parks Department present a list of spaces that might be appropriate for some type of safe-sleeping sites or other facilities for homeless people.
Fewer reached a deal with Rec-Park to provide a list by early June.
The testimony was often nasty, and showed how badly misunderstood Fewer’s proposal has been.
An example: US Senator Dianne Feinstein (whose record on homeless issues as mayor of SF was terrible) wrote a letter to the board on May 4 saying that
I write to express my concern regarding reports that the Board of Supervisors may act to compel the Recreation and Park Department to permit homeless encampments within Golden Gate Park, especially as there are available alternatives.
Fewer’s proposal wouldn’t have compelled encampments in the park.
More from Feinstein:
San Francisco has numerous options to deal with the critical shortage of safe shelter: continuingthe Mayor’s hotel program, enforcing social distancing and healthy conduct ingroup housing and shelters, and expanding RV programs and temporary shelters. Thiscould include tents on unused parking lots and closed schoolyards, as well as public facilities such as the Cow Palace and Port property. These locations are available, have utilities, and can be more easily restored to original uses than can Park lands.
That’s just wrong.
We heard some of this same stuff during the testimony today.
As Peskin pointed out, the mayor’s hotel program has been a total failure: As of today, the city has secured only 2,056 hotel rooms, “and we expected by the administration’s own projects that the number would be about three times that many” at this point.
The city is already looking at parking lots and school yards – and guess what? Some of those (as well as staging areas and other non-recreational facilities) are under the control of Rec-Park, which manages 15 percent of all of the land in San Francisco.
“Moments like this bring out the best and the worst of society,” Peskin said.
Nobody at any point was asking to let homeless people camp at will in the parks, Fewer said. “This has been purposely misconstrued,” Fewer said.
And the problem with the Cow Palace, and other places where you could have indoor, congregate shelters, is that the virus spreads much faster inside, in congregate settings. There is very little opportunity for “healthy conduct” in those places.
Fewer asked the people who opposed her plan to explain what their alternative was. As Peskin put it during the discussion on SROs, “we have tried to secure hotel rooms… we asked what the city would do and got no answers. I have been disappointed by the lack of urgency.”
The streets around City Hall were filled with the sounds of cars honking, wooting, and chants of “housing is the cure!” on Friday evening as roughly 50 cars participated in a caravan protest calling for the city to house San Francisco’s homeless population in hotel rooms as well as increase their focus on acquiring long term affordable housing for the homeless.
The cars passed by city hall, the Painted Ladies, and along Pierce St. near Mayor London Breed’s home. The caravan protest was organized by homeless rights advocacy organizations the Coalition on Homelessness, the Do No Harm Coalition, and Faith in Action.
“We’re coming from different directions but we have one common goal which is to house the vulnerable for moral reasons, for health reasons, and it’s for the benefit of us all,” said Reverend Sadie Stone, a pastor at the United Methodist Church on Sanchez St and a member of Faith in Action.
“As faith leaders we come at it from a moral perspective, everyone has a right to human dignity, everyone has a right to housing and basic human needs…there are thousands of empty hotel rooms, and it seems like one of the most crucial and moral opportunities to house people not only right now but also towards a long term solution for housing folks,” said Stone.
The Coalition on Homelessness demanded that the city use vacant hotel rooms to allow the unhoused to shelter in place as well as purchase hotels to be converted into affordable housing for unhoused folks. These hotels could be used both for transitional housing oriented towards homeless youth and permanent housing for elderly homeless people, according to Cristin Evans, a homeless rights advocate who collaborates with the Coalition on Homelessness. Evans said that with the economic downturn caused by COVID-19, hotels and new housing developments may not survive due to the decline of the tourism economy and more reluctance to purchase realty property from buyers made more frugal by economic hardship brought on the pandemic.
“The housing situation has always been a crisis, but with the economic shock there’s also an opportunity… to create longer term solutions for people currently being put into hotels and safe encampments. For these housing projects which are going to be finished, will there be the same appetite for people to buy them or rent them with the economic shock? New developments and hotels may not survive the decline in tourism rates,” said Evans.
Members of the Do No Harm Coalition also called for homeless people to be placed into hotel rooms, saying that it is impossible for them to safely shelter in place without access to private rooms with separate bathrooms and hygiene facilities.
“Everyone should be offered hotel rooms where they have the resources they need to protect themselves from COVID-19. Beyond that, permanent solutions need to be put into place to maintain housing access. This pandemic reveals the inequities that existed well before COVID-19,” said Annie Le, a family medical resident at UCSF and a member of the Do No Harm Coalition.
Le told me that physicians are often pained by having to discharge homeless people knowing that many have no option to shelter in place safely, putting them at great risk. Le told me about one of her patients last month, a woman in her 70s who was severely malnourished due to being unhoused and had “several co-morbidities,” making her particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
“It is really worrisome after someone being hospitalized and us taking care of them for them to have to go back to the street. There’s only a fraction of what we can do to help someone maintain their health when they’re put into this situation,” said Le.
San Francisco’s first city-sanctioned safe sleeping site began operations yesterday afternoon. The site, referred to as the Safe Sleeping Village, has 50 spaces for tents to be pitched six feet apart from each other in a parking lot between the Asian Art Museum and the San Francisco Public Library.
But some residents and activists say that the site is far from adequate, and that people would be better off in hotel rooms.
The Department of Public Works is responsible for cleaning the site, installing hygiene facilities, and installing the entry gates, according to deputy director of operations Larry Stringer. Residents enter from the gate on Hyde St. and the emergency exit gate is on Larkin St.
The city has installed seven portable toilets, including two larger ones accessible to disabled residents of the SSV, on the Western and Eastern sides of the site, two handwashing stations, and a spigot with potable water.
The group tasked with cleaning the toilets and handwashing stations, providing health services, and providing food and drink to the residents of the site is Urban Alchemy, a non-profit services provider. They will also be enforcing social distancing and distributing masks and gloves to residents. According to their CEO and co-founder, Lena Miller, the Urban Alchemy team present was hand-selected based on their prior experience working in encampments in and around Civic Center, and they are all trained in first aid, CPR, and in administering Narcan to drug overdose victims.
“Guests,” as SSV residents are referred to by Urban Alchemy, are allowed to leave and return from the site, but must sign in and out at the gate and cannot stay out longer than 24 hours.
Despite the services available to residents of the SSV, its establishment has some unhoused folks worried. Nick, one of the encampment residents, told me that he feels uncertain about the social distancing requirements being implemented.
“What we have right now (the encampment) is good, I’m with a good group of people. If they break that up, I don’t know what’s gonna happen. We all get along, what if take us away from each other?” said Nick.
Nick told me that what he and others really want are hotel rooms or a stay in SROs in order to socially distance.
“There’s enough room to put us in a hotel or SRO where they can keep us safe away from the virus. Why put us in a parking lot? That SRO could change someone’s life,” said Nick.
Juliana Morris, a member of the Do No Harm Coalition, an activist group comprised of UCSF physicians dedicated to advocating for the public health of marginalized groups in the Bay Area, was also concerned about putting unhoused people into a sanctioned encampment with shared bathrooms and handwashing stations instead of giving them hotel rooms.
“I am concerned. I wish there were more efforts to speed up getting people into hotel rooms. Hotels have some clear health benefits like private bathrooms,” said Morris in a phone interview.
Olivia Park, another member of the Do No Harm Coalition who will soon be a practicing physician, described one scenario where having a shared portable toilet at an encampment could turn into a public health disaster.
“What if one of the porta-potties busts open and if it rains and there’s feces everywhere, that could cause a huge outbreak,” said Park in a phone interview.
Park also told me that she was told by encampment residents that the toilets were not being cleaned after each use, which puts those who use them at risk for contracting COVID-19.
“It blows my mind that these are the alternatives that the city is choosing. It’s better than nothing, but it’s a flimsy band-aid,” said Park.
Another encampment resident, Lisa, told me that the interactions with police have caused unhoused people to lose trust in the city and city workers setting up the SSV. Last night, according to Lisa, police were pointing lights at tents in the Civic Center encampment.
“They started last night with intimidation, pointing headlights at my tent… One was like ‘get out of your tent I know you’re smoking,’ that’s their attitude,” said Lisa.
Lisa said she is also worried that staying in the encampment will interfere with her ability to care of her mother, as she was told by a member of SF HOT, who was present for the set up, that being absent for more than 24 hours is not allowed.
“We’re gonna be prisoners,” said Lisa.
Morris seconded that opinion, telling me that the encampment residents she has spoken with and the presence of “patrolling” city workers and defined borders to the encampment make the residents of the SSV uneasy about living there.
Anxiety felt by homeless folks was further heightened due to police presence at the SSV as it was being set up, according to Lisa. At 8am, there were about ten officers and three cars. By 10am there only three officers at the site but six cars were across the street towards city hall and faced the SSV. Bryan Edwards, an organizer at the Coalition on Homelessness, expressed bewilderment at the presence of SFPD at the SSV during its setup.
“The police have no role in this,” said Edwards.
I contacted SFPD inquiring about the deployment of officers to the SSV, and Public Information Officer Adam Lobsigner replied with the following statement over email:
“Officers from Northern Station, Tenderloin Station, and SFPD’s HSOC Unit are collaborating with fellow city agencies to ensure a safe environment at the Safe Sleeping Village.”
Kelley Cutler, who is also an organizer at the Coalition on Homelessness, told me that she was worried about how living conditions would be at the site. She explained that the areas experience occasional high winds and tents not properly staked down could move or become airborne. The area also gets very hot on sunny days due to the asphalt’s tendency to conduct and reflect heat, and there is no shade to be found in the parking lot.
Miller acknowledged that the SSV, as a safe sleeping site with tents, isn’t perfect, but said it is a positive step that will improve the quality of life for unhoused folks that currently have no other access to shelter.
“The bottom line is that someone’s gotta do something. San Francisco is known for innovation, and we’re trying to be the change.”