Organizers say the action was in protest of Breed’s slow action to move unsheltered people into hotels.
On Thursday evening, protestors staged a die-in outside San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s Lower Haight home. Eight people wearing all black lay on the street on their backs as if dead, holding red flowers in their hands. Around them, nurses, UCSF medical students, clergy, and homeless advocates held signs and spoke into megaphones. The group of about 50 wore masks, and appeared to maintain social distancing throughout. The group demanded that all of the city’s unsheltered residents immediately be moved into vacant hotel rooms—not just those who meet the city’s current strict criteria: one must be displaying Coronavirus symptoms, have been exposed, or be in a high-risk group.
The protest came after Mayor Breed refused to immediately release the funding required to move unsheltered people into hotel rooms—despite an emergency ordinance passed by the Board of Supervisors on April 26 requiring the city to lease 8,250 rooms in hotels and motels for homeless people, frontline workers, and those living in crowded conditions. That’s 1,250 more than Human Services was initially working on leasing.
“If we are successful with everyone in San Francisco who is housed, but not everyone who is unhoused, we will be putting everyone in danger,” Supervisor Matt Haney said on April 14 at the meeting when the ordinance was passed.
But San Francisco is a strong-mayor city, which means that Mayor Breed is not required by law to act on this ordinance. She must release the funding to lease and staff the additional rooms. In an article posted to Medium on April 25, Mayor Breed wrote: “I cannot sign any legislation that does not acknowledge the challenges of operating these sites. I will not support a law requiring us to open thousands of rooms before we can do so safely, let alone by April 26th, which is tomorrow. I recognize the passion and advocacy behind the legislation, but our urgent actions must be paired with reality.”
Like many Bay Area cities, San Francisco has been slow to move unsheltered people into the hotel rooms being leased by the city. As of this writing, of the 2,741 hotels rooms currently being leased by the city, 939 homeless people have been moved in so far. 1,130 rooms are sitting empty or are inactive due to lack of staffing and other problems. (Updated numbers can be found here.)
Meanwhile, even unsheltered people who fit the city’s criteria have struggled to move into hotel rooms. Ian Carrier—an unsheltered 38-year-old San Franciscan—is one of these people. After spending four months in and out of the hospital where he was on dialysis and a ventilator, he was discharged from the hospital on Monday. Despite fitting the city’s criteria for a hotel room due to his poor health, service providers were told there were no rooms available. Carrier died the next day in his wheelchair on Hyde and Eddy streets. Carrier’s family told the New York Times they believed he had an undiagnosed case of COVID-19.
The action on Thursday evening lasted 30 minutes to symbolize the 30,000 hotel rooms that are currently sitting empty in San Francisco. Organizers held a moment of silence for Carrier as well as two other unsheltered people—Jill Dean and Anthony Monroy—who have died since the start of shelter in place. They also spoke about the recent outbreak of COVID-19 at MSC South, San Francisco’s largest homeless shelter, where 92 residents and 10 staff members became infected in early April.
“While those experiencing homelessness bear witness to our society’s greatest faults, our institutions’ greatest failings, they carry that proof in their bodies, in their muscles, in their bones, in their kidneys, in their hearts, and now their lungs,” Dr. Noelle Martinez said at the protest. “With this inaction you are sentencing them to yet another insult.”
The protest ended peacefully around 7:00 pm, with protestors leaving their signs on the mayor’s doorstep. It is unclear whether she was home, or aware that the action was taking place.
Alastair Boone is the Editor in Chief of Street Spirit.