Facebook and Google used this famed conference center to throw their largest events. Now it's being converted to a makeshift pandemic shelter for San Francisco's most vulnerable residents.

moscone center west san francisco apple

Christoph Dernbach/picture alliance via Getty Images

The Moscone Center hosts many of tech's largest events like Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference.

  • San Francisco's Moscone Center, a popular event venue favored by the region's tech companies, is being turned into a temporary homeless shelter.
  • The initiative is designed to create more social distancing in existing shelters and ones being created amid a public health emergency brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The move also means that existing shelters will stop accepting new admissions to maintain social distancing.
  • The shelter will house up to 400 people, with the first 30 moving in on Thursday.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Moscone Center is one of big tech's hottest venues for its annual mega conferences.

Some companies have relocated their productions elsewhere in recent years, like Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, but Facebook's Global Marketing Summit, Google Cloud's Next, and IBM's Think are all typically held in the glitzy center in San Francisco's SoMa district.Advertisement

But as mass gatherings were discouraged and social distancing was recommended as the coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19, began to spread, all conventions at the goliath center have been canceled until at least mid-May, spelling an estimated $200 million loss in business according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Back in February, the tech giants announced one by one that their events were being shelved or morphed into virtual events in light of the disease. The coronavirus outbreak had not yet been declared a pandemic by the WHO at the time.

Now, it's infected at least 826,000 people worldwide, including 450 in San Francisco. The virus has sent the city and region into a virtual shutdown that has since been extended through April, and upended life as we know it in the Bay Area and across the globe.
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People across the region have been told to stay home to avoid potentially spreading or contracting the virus, which studies have shown can still be transmitted before symptoms appear.

As part of the fight to contain the coronavirus, San Francisco is converting the Moscone Center, typically welcoming hordes of tech workers as well as conference attendees in other industries - will now be used to shelter members of the city's homeless population as the city grapples with how to protect its most vulnerable residents alongside the thousands already sheltering in place.The shelter is expected to open Thursday and will remain open "throughout the duration of the public health emergency." Up to 400 people will eventually be moved into the center, with the first 30 doing so on Thursday.Advertisement

Turning one of San Francisco's premier venue spaces into a temporary shelter is apart of a broader city mission to establish temporary housing and treatment sites within the city amid the virus outbreak. Specifically, the goal is to prioritize housing for self-isolation for healthcare workers, first responders, and vulnerable residents such as those living in homeless shelters and supportive housing.

The Moscone shelter, however, will not house those who have tested positive for COVID-19. The idea for using Moscone Center, specifically Moscone West, for housing is to allow more space for social distancing at existing shelters by relocating people into the center.

Recent CDC guidelines advise to not move homeless individuals into temporary housing units unless they have space to social distance once inside. That means that the potential makeshift shelters being created in hotels, schools, and other facilities in San Francisco are viable options to get people off the streets as long as there is enough space for social distancing in them. Advertisement

"At a time when we're encouraging everyone who can to stay home and stay six feet apart when they do go out, it's important that our shelters and navigation centers also have the space to follow the public health requirements," said Mayor Breed in a press release. "That's why we're creating this new space at Moscone West, to help create more space in our existing shelters and allow for required social distancing."

People will still have the same services provided by the city and nonprofits that they had access to in existing shelters. They'll also still have access to showers, meals, and hygiene products, as well as showers and other means of entertainment, Trent Rhorer, the head of the city's Human Services Agency told the Chronicle.

However, a side effect of this new focus is also barring new admissions into the city's housing shelters to "stabilize the existing communities within the shelter and limit the number of guests at each site," according to the press release. Meaning shelter managers will turn people away to maintain healthy levels of social distancing.Advertisement

Stay durations for people already living in the city's shelters have also been extended so that they aren't asked to leave amid the shelter-in-place order.

The city is also looking at more than 11,000 proposed hotel rooms as well as schools and other buildings like the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium and the historic Old Mint for a similar purpose.

"This expansion of hotels and Moscone West to serve people experiencing homelessness and others who need to isolate is a tremendous step forward in our response to COVID-19, especially for the most vulnerable in our community," said Abigail Stewart-Kahn, Interim Director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, said in the press release.Advertisement

The ritzy Bay Club San Francisco Tennis facilities in the SoMa district, slated to eventually be demolished and replaced with a Pinterest office, will also be turned into a temporary housing shelter.

The city has already been using Moscone Center South since March 16 for its emergency operations since there wasn't enough space for social distancing in its usual offices.About 350 workers use the facilities as a base for coordinating amid the coronavirus pandemic that has infiltrated the city.Advertisement

"Picture two football fields of space set up for the various city departments, so that everyone can keep their distance," City Supervisor Aaron Peskin told the San Francisco Chronicle.

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