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San Francisco Supervisors Order Mayor to House Homeless in Hotels

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a pandemic-driven emergency ordinance giving the Mayor 12 days to secure 7,000 hotel rooms to house the city’s homeless population and an additional 1,250 rooms to house the city’s frontline workers.

During a Tuesday video conference, the Board rebuked Mayor London Breed’s more moderate strategy to place only the city’s most vulnerable in hotel rooms during the pandemic. The unanimously-approved emergency ordinance requires the mayor to secure rooms for San Francisco’s entire homeless population by April 26. If Mayor Breed is unsuccessful in brokering deals with hotel owners, the ordinance allows her to use emergency powers to commandeer the rooms.

Prior to the vote, San Francisco had leased about 2,000 hotel rooms but filled just under half. The city prioritized rooms for homeless persons more vulnerable to COVID-19, old people and those with underlying health conditions. Mayor Breed had resisted advocate calls to house all or most of the around 8,000 homeless San Franciscans, calling it logistically impractical.

“It’s not as easy as everyone would like to think,” Breed said during a media briefing on Monday. Managing the roughly 750 homeless people already in hotels required hundreds of staff. Additionally, although most hotels are empty, owners have refused to offer their properties to house the homeless.

Then, a majority of the people staying at MSC-South, the city’s largest homeless shelter, were infected with Coronavirus. Over 100 staff and guests tested positive, forcing officials to rush shelter residents to hotels where they could self-quarantine and recover.

During the vote, several members of the Board of Supervisors recognized the city failed to heed warnings from experts and advocates, who warned them that shelters like MSC-South would become fertile grounds for COVID-19.

“I am sorry,” Supervisor Dean Preston apologized to shelter residents, “that after weeks of warnings, only the confirmed outbreak in your shelters spurred action from all of us.”

NPR, 4/15/2020; the Mercury News, 4/14/2020; CalMatters, 3/20/2020

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