COVID has impacted all of San Francisco’s residents in more ways than one over the past year. For our unhoused neighbors, however, this impact is even greater as they face a pandemic on top of the ongoing homelessness epidemic. At City Hope we’re often asked about these impacts on San Francisco’s unhoused community. What happens next for the people who were staying in the City’s COVID response hotels? Has the number of people experiencing homelessness increased? What’s next in City Hope’s response to COVID?
At the start... COVID added trauma on top of trauma for City Hope’s guests experiencing homelessness. It was hard to find masks, sanitation, or a safe place to sleep as shelters reduced the number of beds available in order to maintain distancing. People experiencing homelessness age faster and have a higher rate of health issues, both of which put them at increased risk during the pandemic. At City Hope there was deep concern that our guests would be among the first to succumb to COVID-19. We prepared ourselves for the loss while keeping our focus on continuing to provide our essential services to the community.
The City, knowing that COVID could have an outside impact on the homeless community, quickly ramped up their response plan. In April 2020 the first Shelter-In-Place (SIP) hotel was opened, and eventually there were 25 hotels that housed 2,500 individuals, as well as four Isolation and Quarantine (I&Q) Hotels for those who had tested positive for COVID.
What’s next in the City’s response? The City’s SIP hotels are currently being phased out though there is conversation about continuing the program after the federal government announced a 100% reimbursement for shelter-in-place hotel costs. The City is committed to rehousing all individuals who were placed in SIP hotels before November 2020 and who are participating in the rehousing program. This massive rehousing effort began on November 2, 2020 is scheduled to be completed by this October.
Participants are being rehoused into either permanent supportive housing (PSH), given a 24-month subsidy (this is for people who the city believes will be able to pay full rent after that time), or provided with interventions to address their housing issue outside of the city’s response system. There are also another 1,935 housing resources that will be made available by June 2022. According to the City’s website, Mayor Breed’s Homelessness Recovery plan is the largest expansion of permanent supportive housing in 20 years.
Has homelessness in SF increased overall? While we have anecdotally seen the numbers of people experiencing homelessness go up during the pandemic, the cancelation of the annual Point In Time count means we do not have the 2020 numbers to compare with homelessness in 2019. With the City’s rehousing plan underway, we are hopeful that a count in 2021 will show a significant drop in overall homelessness numbers.
What about City Hope?
We continue to provide vital services during this time:
1) continuing to feed people - healthy food means healthier bodies. Through grocery delivery and warm meals, we can boost the health of our neighbors who are often dealing with a variety of other health concerns even in non-COVID times.
2) providing a sense of community to combat isolation - the silent killer for our unhoused neighbors during COVID has actually been drug overdose. Experts believe many deaths could have been prevented were it not for the isolation caused by sheltering in place. City Hope has witnessed and held that tension during this time. We believe strongly in taking all the necessary safety precautions and continue to implement them. We do this while also working hard to remain the place where people know they will see their neighbors and friends and be welcomed by friendly City Hope staff and volunteers. These connections can make that difference in whether people feel alone or not.
3) encouraging vaccinations and disseminating information- there is still some skepticism about vaccines among some of our guests. We strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated and are working to dispel any myths or misconceptions our guests may have about getting vaccinated. Another challenge for our guests is knowing where vaccines are available to them. We currently have flyers posted with information about vaccination availability. We are happy to announce that all of our Tenderloin guests currently have the opportunity to be vaccinated nearby at GLIDE and are hopeful that we will be able to safely gather together again soon.
Resources and additional information:
●San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing Rehousing Pandemic Prioritization Plan
●SF Chronicle "If COVID-19 isn’t driving a dramatic increase in homeless deaths, then what is?"
●National Healthcare for the Homeless Council “COVID-19 and People Experiencing Homelessness: Resources and Guidance”
●DataSF “COVID-19 Alternative Shelter Program”