Rapidly house homeless persons in vacant hotel rooms now.

The Current Situation: The City is now starting to move unhoused people who are COVID+, exposed, vulnerable (over 60 or underlying health condition) from shelters, and is about to start moving those same people from the streets this week. As of 4/14/20, there had been around 750 unhoused people placed in hotels, mostly coming from shelters. However, the city still does not have plans to provide hotel rooms for the vast majority of unhoused San Franciscans before they become sick, nor do they have any clear process or referral system at this point to place vulnerable individuals into hotels. This highly selective and bureaucratic process has resulted in an extremely slow roll-out of hotel rooms and a cumbersome and costly selection process.

What We Want:  Not only do unhoused people lack the ability to “shelter in place”, but homeless people who contract COVID-19 are more likely to be hospitalized, need critical care, and die than similarly aged people in the general population. We are calling on the City to shelter all homeless people in vacant hotel rooms and other units as a preventative measure. This includes both those unsheltered and those in congregate settings. Doing so would not only decrease the spread of the virus, it would greatly increase the speed of implementation and drastically reduce the price of selective triage.The programs that shelter the remaining 1,600 people in congregate settings could move operations over to hotels, to avoid the need for new staff, and thus saving city staff for unsheltered hotel population. The Mayor and Public Health Officer have the power to immediately commandeer hotel rooms and pay a “fair price” at a later date.

Increased Testing

The Current Situation: Last week, the City chose not to test everyone residing in the three shelters where there has been a positive, with the exception of MSC-South.  At this shelter, they tested 182 people, including 57 staff and 125 residents. 102 people tested positive, including 10 staff and 92 guests. 

What We Want: Department of Public Health guidelines should be adjusted to make widespread testing an accessible option for all guests in congregate shelters, whether exhibiting symptoms or not. At the very least, every shelter where a positive has taken place, broad testing should occur to see if the high rates of infection is the case for other congregate settings.  It has been discovered that the virus aerates from feces in a toilet flush, can spread for a short period of time through the air and shelter residents are existing in close proximity to one another. We are shipping tests to other counties, and other cities, such as Oakland and Santa Clara, are proactively testing their homeless population. Testing should be much more easily accessible to those who present symptoms. Further, additional testing would lead to increased FEMA reimbursements for hotels, as inevitably unknown cases would test positive and qualify for funding.  

Transparency in Data

The Current Situation: The city added a data tracker, but it does not include housing status. There is no clear way for service providers, homeless people, or the general public to know how many unhoused people have the virus, how many PUI, including how many unhoused residents have tested positive, are hospitalized, or have died from COVID-19. This information should be shared alongside ICU bed capacity, hotel bed vacancy and hotel beds filled to date. There is no clear way for service providers, homeless people, or the general public to know how many unhoused residents have tested positive, are hospitalized, or have died from COVID-19.

What We Want: Provide a mechanism to report daily homeless cases, hospitalizations, hotel placements and deaths.

Due Process Rights in Shelter AND Hotels

The Current Situation: Folks in shelter have a right to a shelter advocate if they are asked to leave. Residents are not being asked to leave except under certain circumstances including threats of violence, and curfew violations. 

What we Want: It is imperative that residents in all shelter sites and hotels have access to advocates to ensure their rights are respected. If DPH is controlling shelter, it doesn’t automatically trigger the grievance policy, even though SCA covers DPH sites. 

Improve Shelter and Hotel Conditions

The Current Situation:  Currently some shelters and hotels are limiting guests to one-hour outside the facility each day for the duration of the stay at home order. These shelters are not designed for 23-hour occupancy in normal times, let alone in a pandemic. Common areas that would have had television cannot accommodate social distancing, and outdoor rec areas are not integrated into these spaces. In short, people are expected to remain in their beds for 23 hours a day. While hotels may be easier to stay inside for 23-hours, for those who have not tested positive the stay at home order should be enforced just the same as it is for the general population, voluntarily. It has also been reported that individuals do not have keys to their own rooms, are having their belongings searched, receiving pat-downs, and have a large number of security personnel onsite.

What we Want: The city’s stay-at-home order should be enforced equally to housed and unhoused residents alike. Shelters are not designed for conditions of a stay-at-home order, and lockdowns should be lifted. Our position for over four weeks has been that shelters should be relocated into hotels. Likewise, hotels being leased for unhoused individuals who have not contracted COVID-19 should have the same rules and regulations as the hotels being provided to front-line medical workers. Additional service provisions of care can and should be provided as necessary for vulnerable groups as needed.

Stop the Sweeps

The Current Situation: The city has posted on its website and given directives to agencies to halt the confiscation of tents. However, the city continues to violate CDC guidelines by ordering people to move along in cases that have nothing to do with the physical distancing requirements, including evicting camps from public parks. This violates CDC guidelines that clearly assert “Unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19.” The city has not carried out any outreach efforts to inform those on the streets or shelters of their policy change of halting property confiscation, which is likely leading many people experiencing homelessness avoiding medical care out of fear of criminalization and property loss.

What We Want: We call for the city to comply with CDC guidelines support an end to encampment clearings unless an individual unitroom shelter is offered.  We call for a public proclamation of a stop to all homeless sweeps including property confiscation, a moratorium on the enforcement of anti-homeless ordinances, and allowing those without housing to shelter-in-place on all public lands. These guidelines should be clearly and proactively communicated to unsheltered individuals so they do not fear seeking medical treatment and/or testing if COVID-19 symptoms present.

Leave no one hungry: Provide food assistance to shelters, encampments, and quarantined units.

The Current Situation: Many unsheltered homeless residents are going hungry as nonprofits and  other groups that typically provide meals have limited their hours or shut down completely, while unhoused people have lost income for food.

What We Want: Effectively deliver and provide 3 meals per day for those residing outdoors, in hotel rooms, and in shelter. Doing so will reduce their needs to move about the city acquiring food and resources and in turn reducing the risk of wider community spread.

Provide Water and Survival Gear  to those “sheltering-in-place” outside

Surviving in public space already presents a number of individual and public health risks. The city should immediately offer tents, hygiene stations, food, water and other provisions to all of those sheltering-in-place outside. The city should facilitate a number of Safe Organized Spaces in vacant lots, closed recreation areas such as sports fields, parking lots, etc. that could serve as efficient hubs for such provisions. It is critical that such spaces are in addition (and not in place) of other health provisions in public space and are voluntary. 

Prevent a spike in  homelessness: Ban all evictions and suspend all rent.

In order to prevent homelessness, the City must ensure that all eviction proceedings are halted and that a rent suspension is implemented. The City should create a financial assistance fund to assist with back rental payment and other debt incurred during the crisis. 

Please sign this petition and show your support for these policy recommendations!

This post originally appeared in Street Sheet.

The Coalition on Homelessness organizes homeless people and front line service providers to create permanent solutions to homelessness