SF Mayor Breed says city must prioritize who can access hotel rooms

Coalition on Homelessness holds a "car blockade" protest outside San Francisco Mayor Breed's COVID-19 news conference.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Friday responded to calls from supervisors and housing activists that the city house all of its 8,000 homeless residents in hotel rooms, in the wake of a confirmed novel coronavirus case at a homeless shelter.

During a briefing on the city's COVID-19 response, Breed maintained the city would only provide hotel rooms for homeless people in shelters who either have symptoms of the virus or have tested positive, but don't require hospitalization.

Additionally, hotel rooms will be used for homeless people on the streets who are most at risk, such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, as well as for first responders who need to isolate or quarantine.

Following a confirmed case on Thursday of COVID-19 at the Division Circle Navigation Center, supervisors Hillary Ronen, Matt Haney, Dean Preston, Shamann Walton and Aaron Peskin said the case could have been avoided if the city moved earlier to take shelter residents out of congregate settings and into hotel rooms. The supervisors are calling on the city to lease 14,000 hotel rooms for all homeless residents, including those on the streets and in encampments, by the end of April.

Breed said social distancing as well as increased cleaning, is being maintained at shelters in order to prevent the spread. San Francisco has also opened a new shelter at Moscone Center West and is looking to open more in the coming weeks.

Breed said the city must prioritize who can access hotel rooms, as the resources to house all homeless, including those in encampments and on the streets, don't yet exist.

"It's not as simple as 'we can open up a hotel room' except for those who we know can self-care, people that we are working with in our shelter systems," Breed said.

"In other places, it's a real challenge, because the fact is if there is someone who is diagnosed or suspected of coronavirus, they have to stay in that particular hotel room and we have to make sure that there are resources there, including food, the cleaning, the security to make sure that they don't leave those locations."

She added, "We are hopeful we can, of course, do more but that's going to require more money, more staffing and there are going to be limitations in terms of what we're going to be able to not only cover but we're going to be able to get reimbursed for by the federal government. So, it's a lot more complicated than what some are trying to imply," she said.

Governor Newsom on Friday said as many as 900 homeless people in the State of California have been moved into hotel rooms to isolate during the pandemic. Newsom said there are plans to eventually move thousands experiencing homelessness into hotel rooms.  

Thousands of California's homeless will move into hotels: Gov. Newsom

Ahead of the news conference, activists with Coalition on Homelessness held a raucous "car blockade" protest outside Moscone Center where the mayor spoke. Signs that said things like "House Us Now!" adorned honking cars as they slowly rolled passed the venue.  

"SFPD can block off the street but we will NOT BE QUIET until homeless people get housing! The city says there will be 2,555 hotel rooms available by the end of this week. FILL THEM UP WITH UNHOUSED SAN FRANCISCANS NOW!" the housing advocates wrote on their Twitter page. 

The Coalition countered the mayor's stance on lack of resources and repeated what they said the previous day about the hotel workers' union being willing to staff the hotels used to house homeless individuls, given they are provided necessary protections.  

When SFPD appeared to have blocked the street from protesters, the activists moved to a different area. They said city hotels have offered up to 10,000 rooms. 

"London Breed, why aren’t you taking them up on their offer & housing our homeless families, youth , ill + elders??" the Coalition wrote. 

During Friday's briefing, San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said officers reported six businesses this past week that were open and are not considered essential, but only cited one. Additionally, officers cited just one individual for not adhering to the shelter order, he said.

"Bottom line is we're looking for compliance," he said. "This is not a test or a race to how many people we can cite. If we have to go back, we will not ask twice." 

KTVU's Andre Torrez contributed to this report.