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San Francisco to open hundreds of homeless shelter beds as winter, APEC approach

A cyclist rides past a tent housing a homeless person in the South of Market neighborhood. | Source: Isaac Ceja/The Standard

San Francisco is opening hundreds of homeless shelter beds over the next two months—with one shelter opening the day before the city hosts a major conference for world leaders and high-profile business executives later this month.

In preparation for winter, the city is ramping up its pre-planned homeless shelter expansion over the next few weeks, Shireen McSpadden, director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, said at a Thursday meeting. 

The department is planning to add 310 beds to existing shelters by December. The city is also opening a 30-bed shelter reserved annually for winter weather on Nov. 10, McSpadden told the Homelessness Oversight Commission meeting.

Tents from a homeless encampment on Erie Street near the Civic Center are hit by the rain during one of the largest storms in decades in San Francisco in January 2023. | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

The city is preparing to host a meeting of leaders from across the globe for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference that will run at the Moscone Center from Nov. 11 to Nov. 17. 

The Standard asked how many of the 310 beds would be open before the conference but did not receive a firm answer. McSpadden said the department is looking for even more capacity within its shelter system and expects to have “a fully fleshed [out] plan” in the next couple of days.  

“I think that we know we’re going to need more and not just for [APEC],” McSpadden said. “We’re running into the winter months, and we know that there could be a lot of rain this winter.”

The Multi-Service Center homeless shelter on Fifth Street will expand by 92 beds by December. | Source: Justin Katigbak for The Standard

‘Just in Time’ for APEC

The department isn’t opening shelters specifically for APEC, according to its deputy director of legislative affairs, Emily Cohen. The department is carrying out existing plans to expand beds. However, outreach teams will focus on the area surrounding the Moscone Center during the conference. 

“[The homelessness department] is not opening any special shelter capacity for APEC,” Cohen said. “That said, we do have some already funded new capacity coming online this fall that will help support our community during APEC and throughout the winter.”

Christin Evans, a member of the Homelessness Oversight Commission, noted at the meeting that the winter shelter is coming “just in time” for the APEC conference, which she said may displace unhoused people. 

The conference is set to run from Nov. 11 to Nov. 17 at the Moscone Center.

A map of road closures and checkpoints is displayed at a press conference about security measures ahead of the APEC Summit being held in November. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Hundreds of people have been waiting in line for shelter beds since the city reopened its waitlist in July. More than 440 people were on the waiting list on Thursday. The city previously said it has struggled to contact applicants by the time a bed becomes available. 

Over 4,000 people sleep on the city’s streets on any given night, according to the most recent count. Meanwhile, the city has maintained just over 3,000 shelter beds at 90% capacity to make room for emergency admissions from hospitals and jails. In July, Cohen announced the city would increase its shelter capacity to 95%.

David Sjostedt can be reached at