The novel coronavirus pandemic has punched holes in the way the homeless and vulnerable are catered for in our societies. Most people are not homeless by choice, circumstances beyond their control virtually put them out on the streets.
Now San Francisco lawmakers are doing their bid to right some wrongs. They have ordered the city’s mayor to provide shelter for the homeless by leasing thousands of hotel rooms that are not operational due to the lockdown as temporary safe houses.
After not heeding to warnings of a potential outbreak in crowded shelter homes, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in a conference meeting passed an ordinance last Tuesday.
This ordinance mandates Mayor London Breed to make available 7,000 hotel rooms for the homeless on the streets of San Francisco during the period of the COVID-19 worldwide crises. Frontline workers will also be allocated 1,250 rooms, all of which must be ready by April 26.
Not knowing the severity of the exposure that homeless people in the city faced, San Francisco had put in place just the right amount of shelter for those they deemed are at higher risk. So only those above age 60 and those with underlying conditions were given accommodations as of Tuesday.
Reports by NPR indicate that 2,000 hotel rooms were availed to them but less than half have occupants. This clearly was a move in the right direction, but subtle moves like these endanger the greater number of homeless people in San Francisco.
The unanimous decision by the board members brought to bear the fact that the effort being made to prevent homeless people from being eradicated by COVID-19 is one side of the coin. The other side requires the virus to be contained so that it does not affect more vulnerable people.
They quickly realized if orders are not given to secure rooms for the homeless, then all their efforts to contain the virus and save more lives will be futile especially since being huddled up in congested shelter homes is by no means compliant to any social distancing measures.
According to NPR, it is now obvious that officials in San Francisco could have acted faster to prevent the spread of the virus only if they had heeded to warnings of an imminent spread of the virus among the homeless community.
The board’s unanimous decision that requires Breed to secure these hotel rooms for the homeless, comes just shy of the data released by the city’s health officials stating the number of homeless people dying from COVID-19.
“I am sorry,” said Supervisor Dean Preston, addressing shelter residents directly, “that after weeks of warnings, only the confirmed outbreak in your shelters spurred action from all of us.”
The research shows that the city’s largest shelter, MSC South, has recorded over 100 cases which includes staff members as well. Sadly, it was apparent that homes like MSC-South will be a hub for the spread of the novel coronavirus due to the large number of residents.
We are not in ordinary times, especially since most people have lost their jobs or have been asked to shut office due to the virus. According to Breed, this will certainly have a direct impact on the logistics needed to house an average of 8,000 homeless people.
Although many hotels have been shut down and some owners are reluctant to avail their facilities for use as temporary shelters for the homeless, some advocates for the vulnerable in society have pleaded with the mayors to use “emergency powers to seize the properties.”
Breed said in a press briefing on Tuesday that “It’s not as easy as everyone would like to think.” Her earlier arrangements made for about 750 homeless people called for heavy labor to cater for their food and transportation. The hundreds of staff members needed must also conduct wellness checks and deal with behavioral issues.
Many believe that Breed should, therefore, be lauded for her efforts to flatten the curve of the novel coronavirus in San Francisco because her city was among the first to implement lockdown measures.
“We’ve done so well in San Francisco on flattening the curve, and there’s a lot of concern about what this means if these huge outbreaks occur,” said Chris Herring, an advocate for the homeless and doctoral candidate at the University of California, Berkeley. “I think what the city is going to soon realize is what the cost of inaction will be.”