Homeless shelter increases from 35 to 75 beds in SF SoMa

The late San Francisco Mayor, Ed Lee, hoped to get a thousand homeless people off the streets this winter.

The city came closer to that goal when a new wing to the Medical Respite & Sobering Center , 1171 Mission St. officially opened in the South of Market area on Monday. 

Acting Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Jane Kim paid tribute to their fallen colleague by cutting the red ribbon at a ceremony this afternoon.

"To go from 35 beds to 75 beds is tremendous," said Mayor Breed. "[It] means we have a larger capacity to serve more people and that means everything for the person using this service."

For the past 10 years, the facility has provided extra care and shelter for those who've just been released from the hospital.

"In the past we only accepted referrals from hospitals. With the expansion we can now accept from shelters as well," said Dr. Kelly Eagen, Medical Director of the Department of Public Health's Medical Respite Center.

After a $3.78 million expansion in May, however, the facility has gone from 45 beds to 75, while the sobering center on site is at 12 beds. 

Thirty new beds next door at 1179 Mission St. will be reserved for homeless residents in the shelter system with medical needs beyond what shelter nurses can provide. Clients get access to beds in a dormitory setting, group meals, bathing and laundry facilities, nursing care and various social services and supports including assistance in obtaining housing.

Lovey Tookas is recovering at the center right now after suffering from a debilitating case of gangrene. The 66-year-old had to have the toes on her left foot amputated. After the operation, Tookas didn't know what would happen to her. She had been kicked out a shelter where she'd been living for the past year due to a squabble she said over a timesheet sign-up.

"After the two weeks I thought I was going to be put out on the street but I wasn't, I came here," said Tookas, exhaling and appearing relieved.

Solving the homelessness issue was a mission close to Lee's heart.

He worked with Supervisor Jane Kim to secure funding for the nearly four million dollar project, touring the facility this spring.

"It's a little sad and melancholy to be here without Mayor Ed Lee, "said Supervisor Kim, who was inspired to expand the center after spending the night in a homeless shelter herself.

"In my first night there it became exceedingly clear to me that homelessness is not just a poverty issue, it is a public health issue," said Kim.

Tookas agreed. "It is a big burden lifted off of me because I didn't know where I was going and I didn't know if I was going to be able to you know, have a place for me until I heal," cried Tookas.

30 percent of the people who've stayed at the respite center go on to receive permanent housing. It's a thought that brings tears to Lovey's eyes.

"Just looking forward to having my own key, like a lot of people have- that's the only thing I want...just to live."