Doubts over San Francisco's plan to move homeless into permanent housing

San Francisco has lodged more than 2,000 people in hotels to shelter-in-place during the COVID-19 pandemic, but now that program is winding down.

The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing said the goal is to move all of those 2,359 people currently in hotels into permanent housing, not another temporary option. 

"We have never said it is our intention or goal to move COVID vulnerable individuals to congregate shelter or safe sleep. That is not part of this rehousing plan but we understand this message has become muddied and many are confused," said  Abigail Stewart-Kahn, interim director of the department.

The shelter-in-place program was always designed to be a stopgap measure, costing an estimated $8,000 a month per person. City leaders said they have to move people out of hotels because federal and state funds will likely not cover extending the program.

So far only 49 residents have been rehoused since the program started in April. 

The Local Homeless Coordinating Board (LHCB) members said they're concerned there won't be enough permanent housing fast enough. 

"Knowing our historical ability to do things that quickly has not been there," said Del Seymour, co-chair of LHCB. "What has changed in the city system to allow this rapid, really literal rapid rehousing and we're not seeing that possibility."

Homeless advocates say they are worried too. 

"So they've got 2,359 people in hotels. They're saying right now that only 382 are going to get permeant housing," said Jennifer Friedenbach, Executive Director of the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco. "So, we don't know what's going to happen to the rest of them and they really, they're really fragile and they need to get into permanent housing."

As for a timeline, the city is already beginning the process of trying to transition those living in hotels into housing. The city has a four-phase plan, that is set to have all of those sheltering in hotels out of those hotels and in permanent housing by the end of June.