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San Francisco to get at least 8,000 hotel rooms for homeless during COVID-19 pandemic

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“This legislation will save lives,” says Supervisor Hillary Ronen

The St. Regis, like other luxe hotels, uses its vacant rooms to light up in the shape of heart. Other hotels will instead open their doors to the homeless and front-line workers.
Photo by Brock Keeling

The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an emergency ordinance Tuesday that would grant roughly 8,250 hotel rooms in the city for people affected by the stay-at-place order, with 7,000 earmarked for the city’s homeless residents

“This legislation will save lives,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen shortly after the vote. “It’s a shame we needed it.”

Finally.

Ever since shelter-at-home orders went into effect, the city’s hotel industry has taken a major hit, with almost every SF hotel remaining vacant. In lieu of opening their doors to at-risk homeless residents (many of whom can’t use the city’s shelter system, especially since the largest one in SF saw a record 70 reported cases of COVID-19), most hotels, including the Four Seasons, the Intercontinental, and the St. Regis, opted to light up vacant room windows in the shape of hearts.

The legislation requires the city to procure the hotel rooms by April 26. According to the San Francisco Examiner, an additional 500 rooms will be for discharged or transferred hospital patients who need a place to quarantine and another 750 rooms will go toward front-line workers, which are included in the 8,250 figure.

Mission Local reports that it will cost $58.6 million to rent the 8,250 rooms for one month, which includes security, food, and other room cleaning expenses. The publication also notes, “Supervisors emphasized that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the California Office of Emergency Services could reimburse the city for up to 93.75 percent of emergency costs that it will incur in implementing the legislation.”

Mayor London Breed—the recipient of a glowing, albeit questionable and misguided, feature in The Atlantic for her work during the pandemic—has been criticized for her slow response in tending to the homeless population. Breed claims that staffing the hotels for the city’s most at-risk residents, many of whom suffer from addiction or mental disorders, proved the most challenging aspect of acquiring the space.

The mayor’s plan to house homeless people inside Moscone Center, a convention center, and the Palace of Fine Arts fell apart after Street Sheet published photos of too-close sleeping mats on the floor and inadequate bathroom facilities. The plan was immediately shelved.

The new legislation still needs to work its way through several channels before going into effect, with multiple departments needing to okay it. Although counts vary, there are anywhere between 8,000 to 10,000 homeless people in the city San Francisco.