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Supes Spar Over How to Get Every Homeless San Franciscan into a Shelter: ‘The Streets Cannot be a Waiting Room’

Written by David SjostedtPublished May. 13, 2022 • 6:30am
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman speaks at a press conference outside of City Hall to expand “A Place for All” before the Board’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee meeting on May 12, 2022 in San Francisco, California. | Chris Victorio

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Supervisors are sparring over how to get every unhoused San Franciscan into a shelter bed, with a proposal that one lawmaker says will undermine an effort to hold the city accountable to an important deadline.

Under Supervisor Rafael Mandelman’s plan, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing would have six months to figure out how to find shelter for all the city’s homeless residents. But he worries that changes introduced by Supervisor Myrna Melgar to secure permanent supportive housing for each person in the program could delay his push to add more short-term shelter.

“The streets cannot be the waiting room for people to get more permanent housing,” Mandelman said. 

Melgar pitched the amendments to Mandelman’s “A Place for All” plan as a way to strengthen the streets-to-housing pipeline. Her changes passed through the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee by a 2-1 vote Thursday and will need to be heard again by the subcommittee on May 26 to give the public a chance to weigh in. 

Supervisor Catherine Stefani voted against the amendments at Thursday’s hearing; supervisors Gordon Mar and Connie Chan voted in favor. If passed again in two weeks, the amended legislation will go to the full Board of Supervisors for a final vote.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani speaks about the “A Place for All” legislation before the Board’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee meeting on May 12, 2022 in San Francisco, California. | Chris Victorio

Mandelman penned the proposed law in summer 2020 but got pushback from homeless advocates who called for a policy that does more to get people into long-term housing.

“The voters have said that we are ‘housing first’ city,” Melgar said during the committee meeting, pointing to a majority vote in 2018 to approve Prop C, a tax on certain businesses that pays for homeless services. “The right thing to do is to put [A Place for All] in the context of what we’re trying to do and what we’ve funded.” 

Mandelman told The Standard after the meeting that he worries the amendments make perfect the enemy of the good. Besides, he added, the city is already trying to bolster its stock of long-term housing.

Since July 2020, the city has added 2,544 permanent supportive housing units. But 800 remain empty, according to a recent report, and many pose serious health risks to tenants.  

Mandelman said his plan complements the city’s push for stable housing—and offers an immediate option for people who might not be ready for long-term accommodations.

“Are we supposed to have a plan for permanent supportive housing for everyone?” he asked. “I don’t think it’s feasible, I don’t think it’s a good idea and that’s not what my legislation was about.”

San Francisco’s most recent point-in-time count in 2019 counted 8,035 homeless people in the city proper. The Department of Public Health later tallied a much higher number: 18,000 individuals who accessed homeless services in 2020. 

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Mandelman pointed to an uptick in encampment fires as well as the public health hazard that sidewalk tents pose for the housed and unhoused alike.

Melgar also introduced an amendment that would create a hotline for homeless people to find shelter. This amendment, she said, addresses issues around the accessibility of shelter—which is often only offered when a homeless person is being moved from the sidewalk by the Healthy Streets Operation Center. 

The city’s 311 line used to offer the ability to reserve shelter beds before the pandemic. But the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing discontinued the service to allow for longer stays at the temporary facilities. Many homeless advocates have pushed to reinstate the service. 

“Homeless people actually had, for a brief period … the ability to just request a bed,” Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director for the Coalition on Homelessness, said at Thursday’s meeting.  

Mandelman said he thinks the phone service should be part of separate legislation.

Even if the amendments are concerning, Mandelman said he’s hopeful that the proposal seems to have enough momentum to become law—unlike last year, when the proposal died in committee.

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David Sjostedt can be reached at [email protected]


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