San Francisco falls short of meeting goal for leasing 8,000 hotel rooms for homeless, at-risk populations

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San Francisco has fallen far short of securing the more than 8,000 hotel rooms that city supervisors hope to lease to house homeless and other at-risks populations needing to quarantine or socially distance themselves during the coronavirus pandemic.

The city had set a Sunday deadline to lease 8,250 hotel rooms for the homeless, front line workers and those living in densely populated apartment buildings. But as of Monday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that only 2,741 rooms had been leased, with 1,130 of those remaining empty due to lack of staff at hotels or other failures in preparation.

While there is no formal punishment for failing to lease the 8,250 hotel rooms, the lack of rooms is a blow for a city that even before the outbreak of COVID-19 was struggling to handle a growing crisis in homelessness.

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The San Francisco Board of Supervisors' goal of 8,000 rooms was already 1,250 more than the city’s Human Services Agency had targeted at the onset of the outbreak, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed has said that it was unrealistic to believe the city could lease that many rooms for the homeless.

“I want to be clear,” Breed told the Chronicle earlier this month. “It’s not going to happen.”

While the board of supervisors has acknowledged that they had set an ambitious goal, supervisor Aaron Peskin said he had hoped the city would have been further along than it is now and that if it doesn’t find suitable housing for the homeless, it is going to be even harder to combat the virus in the region.

California is home to half of the country’s street homeless population -- and more than one-fifth of the reported cases of coronavirus nationwide so far – and state and local lawmakers have already thrown billions of dollars trying to tackle the mounting issue of homelessness. According to city statistics, there were 8,011 homeless individuals living on the city’s streets and in shelters in 2019 - an increase of more than 14 percent over the 2017 count.

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Public health officers for the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and the City of Berkeley announced on Monday a plan to extend shelter in place until the end of May. While the San Francisco Bay area, which was one of the first places in the U.S. to see cases of the novel coronavirus, has fared better than many had expected, public health officials worry that any move to reopen the densely-populated region could spark a second wave of the contagion.

"At this stage of the pandemic, however, it is critical that our collective efforts continue so that we do not lose the progress we have achieved together," officials said in a statement. "Hospitalizations have leveled, but more work is needed to safely re-open our communities."