SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) – San Francisco Mayor London Breed said putting homeless people in hotel rooms during the coronavirus crisis isn't proving as easy as it sounds.
"The first thing I thought was, 'wow, we are going to be able to take everyone to a hotel, like yesterday'," the mayor told Manny Yekutiel in a video interview for Manny’s Livestream. "But then the finances and public health realities collapsed. This is a public health crisis and we have to make every decision based on that."
Early Thursday, a homeless man tested positive for COVID-19 at the Division Circle navigation center on South Van Ness Ave. Because he had mild symptoms, he was not hospitalized. Instead, the city moved him to a hotel room along with anyone who was close to the man at the homeless shelter, as well as anyone over the age of 60 or who had an underlying health condition.
"This was something that could be prevented," said San Francisco supervisor Matt Haney. “We shouldn't have hundreds of people in congregated settings sleeping next to each other. Brush against each other when we know that that's exactly the type of environment where this virus spreads. "
Upon learning of the case, health officials provided the center with additional masks for both staff and residents to wear at all times.
Additionally, DPH has deployed doctors and health workers on-site to conduct symptom and temperature screenings for staff and residents. Anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 will be examined and transferred to a hotel room with quarantine personnel.
In a joint press release from San Francisco supervisors Hillary Ronen, Matt Haney, Dean Preston, Shamann Walton and Aaron Peskin, city leaders said the spread of the virus among the city's large population of homeless people it was inevitable and that the city government has failed to move those in shelters to available hotel rooms.
"This infection could have been prevented," the statement said. "This individual and hundreds of others should have been transferred from the shelters weeks ago."
"We knew this day was coming. We have been talking about it for weeks. We have been saying that we have to move everyone who is not staying off the streets to these empty hotel rooms. We've had people on the streets tell us they feel the city is leaving them to die to die here, ”said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the San Francisco Coalition for the Homeless. "And the city's response is: 'Well, we don't have enough support services inside the hotels, so we're not going to move people to those empty hotel rooms.' Well, people don't is receiving services on the streets now, so what exactly is the difference here? why would you leave the hotels empty? why would you allow thousands of saint franciscans to sleep on top of each other?
"It is not as simple as providing hotel rooms," said Mayor Breed. "We will provide hotel rooms to people who can operate independently."
The mayor said it is a much more complicated situation for those suffering from mental illness and addictions, as more health workers and even security guards are needed to prevent people with positive cases from escaping.
“We will not be able to take over all the hotels in the city and move people to hotel rooms and force them to stay here. That just isn't going to happen, "he said.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution earlier this week demanding that Mayor Breed and city departments urgently purchase private rooms to:
Move all shelter clients, especially those who are elderly or have underlying health conditions, to private rooms immediately, before they become infected
Transfer to high-risk private rooms sleeping on the street or in camps to private rooms, before they become infected.
Supervisors said they would introduce an emergency ordinance requiring at least 1,000 rooms to be used for homeless people in shelters, and that the city would lease 14,000 hotel rooms by the time the coronavirus is expected to reach maximum infection on May 28. April.
Late Thursday afternoon, Randy Quezada, a spokesman for the city's emergency operations center, released the following statement.
“The city is working to protect the health and safety of all San Franciscans. The city's strategy to resist the threat of Coronavirus in our community is based on science and the guidance of health experts. To better prepare for the coming weeks and months, we must ensure that our hospitals can treat the expected increase in patients with COVID-19. Securing hotel rooms for patients who need to be quarantined or isolated ensures that we can free up space in our hospitals. The rooms will be used as directed by medical professionals to house vulnerable populations, such as homeless residents, as well as lifeguards and people in coexistence who need a place for quarantine. Every action we are taking is based on the advice of public health experts to save lives during this pandemic. "