SAN FRANCISCO - San Francisco city supervisors and homeless advocates on Tuesday denounced Mayor London Breed's refusal to acquire more than 8,000 hotel rooms to protect the city's homeless from the coronavirus as part of an emergency ordinance approved unanimously by supervisors earlier this month.
Although Breed had the power to veto the emergency ordinance since supervisors approved it on April 14, she did not, allowing it to become law.
The ordinance, initially introduced by supervisors Shamann Walton, Matt Haney, Hillary Ronen, and Dean Preston, required the city to secure at least 8,250 hotel rooms, including 7,000 reserved for the city's homeless, regardless of their age, health status, or whether they're on the streets or in the city's shelter system by this past Sunday.
"I am trying to understand how the executive branch can totally disregard the laws of this city just because they simply disagree," Walton said. "The executive branch's refusal to enforce laws passed by the Board of Supervisors sets a dangerous precedent, especially during a declared emergency."
"For the first time we have 30,000-plus empty hotel rooms, where we can house everyone who needs shelter," Ronen said. "We have an opportunity to dream big here, and instead of leadership and vision from the mayor, we are getting nothing but the same old negative stereotypes and poverty blaming excuses that have led to the failed policies in this city for years."
Haney said, "This is the moral thing to do. It's the financially smart thing to do and it's the thing that is going to protect the public health of everyone in this city. It's also the law. There should be no question about this, despite the statements that the mayor has made."
"If the mayor does not like a piece of legislation, she has every right to veto it, send it back to the board, and engage in a discussion with the Board of Supervisors and lobby for votes, and the board can re-vote on it," Preston said. "The mayor did not do that here. She allowed this law into effect, so this is the law and it's not too much to ask her to comply with it."
City officials are currently only offering hotel rooms for homeless people in the shelter system and single room occupancy hotel residents who either have tested positive for COVID-19 or may have been exposed, as well as homeless individuals in the shelter system or on the streets who are over 60 or have underlying health conditions.
Some rooms are also being offered to city employees who work with the public daily and frontline workers who need to quarantine.
Mayor Breed has continuously cited staffing as a major challenge in securing more rooms for the general homeless population, many of whom have addiction or mental health problems. She has said necessary staff would include clinicians, nurses, and city employees who have been activated as emergency workers, as well as meal, laundry and cleaning services.
The supervisors on Tuesday sent a memo to Breed with 10 key recommendations that would allow the city to meet staffing needs. The recommendations were made with input from homeless service providers, labor unions and disaster service workers.
The supervisors said they are in talks with the City Attorney's Office, looking into possible legal options to get the ordinance implemented.
According to Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, the current situation for people living on the street during the COVID-19 pandemic is dire.
"They can't get tested if they're asymptomatic, they can't get a hotel room, they can't shelter in place to prevent the spread to others, they can't regularly wash their hands, they can't charge their phones to keep up with the latest warnings of the virus. They can't shower. They're forced to stay in tents in crowded conditions on the sidewalk," she said.
In response to the staffing issue, Friedenbach suggested the city use already-trained homeless shelter staff at the hotels.
"This is a situation where we're creating barriers instead of thinking creatively and really building on the natural resourcefulness that really exists within the community of impoverished San Franciscans that experience homelessness," she said.