Get Informed

Subscribe to our newsletters for regular updates, analysis and context straight to your email.

Close Newsletter Signup

San Francisco Mayor Opts For Mass Indoor Homeless Camps To Further Concentrate Vulnerable People

To leave hundreds of people in mass congregate shelters could be a death sentence for many of our vulnerable neighbors.

San Francisco Mayor Opts For Mass Indoor Homeless Camps To Further Concentrate Vulnerable People

To leave hundreds of people in mass congregate shelters could be a death sentence for many of our vulnerable neighbors.


Originally published in the Street Sheet.

While hundreds of advocates have been desperately contacting Mayor London Breed imploring her to place homeless people in hotel rooms and vacant units, it seems she has her own plan for addressing poverty during the pandemic: opening indoor camps to further concentrate vulnerable people. The Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco opened its doors on Thursday and already has dozens of people sleeping inside.

But these beds are not available to anyone currently sleeping outside. Instead, homeless San Franciscans will be moved out of smaller local shelters and into these massive congregate shelters, where hundreds of people, the majority of whom already have disabilities or chronic illnesses, will sleep on mats on the floor exactly six feet from each other.

Right now there are 390 mats in the Moscone Center that they plan to fill with homeless people. An inside source who asked to remain anonymous reported that there are currently no hand-washing stations, bathrooms facilities are shared and limited, staff don’t have Narcan and there are no sharps containers. Folks coming in are not allowed to bring any property with them and are told they must leave all their belongings at their shelters. Mats on the floor are sectioned off with masking tape.

“People are given a wristband with their bed number on it and shown to a tiny mat on the floor with a folding chair,” the source said. “There aren’t many people staying here yet, but there are going to be hundreds of people, all breathing each other’s coughs.”

While the city blasts out alerts urging housed San Franciscans to stay home and practice social distancing, homeless people should have the ability to do the same. Mayor London Breed and Health Officer Tomás Aragón of the Department of Public Health both have emergency powers that allow them to commandeer hotel rooms and other vacant units at any reasonable price in order to offer emergency housing to those who need it. With more then 30,000 vacant hotel rooms across the city, only a few hundred have been made available to a small handful that meet the stringent FEMA criteria.

Homeless people should have the ability to follow the city’s own DPH guidelines and stay at home to stay safe from the virus. And yet the director of San Francisco’s Human Services Agency Trent Rhorer wrote in an email to the Street Sheet that “there is no medical need to isolate this population in hotel rooms” and that offering the ability for homeless individuals to follow the city’s health guidelines is not “fiscally prudent”. As it stands San Francisco will only be offering hotel rooms to homeless people who test positive for COVID-19 or who have been tested and are awaiting results, or to those over 60 or with health conditions whom the city deems capable of “self care”.

Everyone else will be herded into these mass “shelters” or left in the streets.

Emergency Operations Center Director Rhorer stated April 1, 2020 that they will prioritize unhoused people meeting the Department of Public Health’s definition of medically vulnerable and living on streets, in shelters or in residential hotels for hotel rooms, but none in this situation have been placed to date. However, our source said that the city has ended all shelter reservations, so they have no plan to shelter anyone who is living outside.  Instead people will be asked to move from smaller shelters into these massive congregate spaces. But our source doubts anyone will move voluntarily, and reported already witnessing at least one case where someone was tricked into moving to Moscone after being promised he could have a job there. When he arrived and was told there was no work for him, he asked to go back to his shelter, where all his belongings were, and was told he could no longer go back.

The source also told us that another woman showed up to the Moscone Center after being hospitalized due to possible exposure to COVID-19. She was given a test and then moved to a hotel to await her results. That hotel was then evacuated due to sewage problems, so residents were bounced to a second hotel that was infested with bedbugs. But once her test came back negative she had lost her bed at her shelter, and had nowhere to go and no belongings. Staff at the Moscone Center called dozens of places trying to find her a bed in a shelter before eventually making an exception and placing her there on a mat.

“The city is totally desperate and they don’t know what they’re doing,” the source told Street Sheet over the phone. “None of the supervisors have visited the site. The Mayor came to give a press conference but she was across the street and never stepped foot inside.”

To leave hundreds of people in mass congregate shelters could be a death sentence for many of our vulnerable neighbors. A recent study found infected homeless individuals would be twice as likely to be hospitalized, two to four times as likely to require critical care, and two to three times as likely to die if they contract COVID19.  With hotel rooms and Air BnB units sitting vacant all over the city, San Francisco has to do better than this. We have to do better.

If you are currently staying at the Moscone Center or any other congregate shelter and have any more information about what is happening inside, please contact the author at qwatts@cohsf.org