Since the coronavirus pandemic began, one issue has come up again and again: How do we best care for the nation’s homeless population? San Francisco lawmakers have taken a noble and aggressive approach to shelter the homeless in their city by ordering the mayor to lease thousands of hotel rooms to be used as safe housing.
According to NPR, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance Tuesday requiring Mayor London Breed to secure 7,000 hotel rooms to house homeless people during the crisis as well as an additional 1,250 rooms for frontline workers by April 26.
Up until now, efforts to deal with San Francisco’s massive homelessness problem during this pandemic have been pretty moderate, prioritizing shelter for the most vulnerable among the homeless population: people over the age of 60 and those with underlying health conditions. As a result, only 2,000 hotel rooms had been secured as of Tuesday, and less than half of those rooms had actually been filled.
Board members all agreed that these efforts simply weren’t enough, as keeping homeless people from dying of COVID-19 infection is only part of the battle. Keeping the outbreak contained is the other part, and that’s not easy to do while leaving scores of homeless people either on the street or in close quarters. According to NPR, the board’s unanimous decision requiring Breed to expand efforts to secure hotel rooms came just hours after city health officials released updated figures showing that over 100 guests and staff members at MSC South, the city’s largest homeless shelter, had tested positive for coronavirus infection. Several board members have said that city officials ignored warnings that “congregate” shelters like MSC-South were hotbeds for the spread of COVID-19.
Breed’s position on the matter has been that the logistics involved in housing all of the city’s estimated 8,000 homeless people in hotel rooms would be overwhelming.
“It’s not as easy as everyone would like to think,” Breed said during a press briefing on Monday, saying that the roughly 750 homeless people who have already been placed in rooms have caused an increase in necessary labor as hundreds of staff members are being required to conduct wellness checks, manage behavioral issues and provide food and transportation.
To Breed’s credit, she’s done a good job in her handling of the coronavirus outbreak in San Francisco. Her decision to shut the city down early has been widely praised and credited for slowing the spread of infection in the region. Securing safe shelter for all of the city’s homeless will likely ensure that conditions in the city continue to improve.