San Francisco will shelter more of the city's homeless in hotels after backlash over turning its mega-conference venue Moscone Center into a mass 'camp-like' shelter

san francisco homeless coronavirus shelter in place

  • San Francisco is scaling back how it will use its mega-conference hall Moscone Center and the Palace of Fine Arts as makeshift homeless shelters amid the coronavirus pandemic.
  • After a backlash was stirred over the camp-like living conditions planned for the facilities, the city will instead focus on moving the homeless from existing shelters into hotel rooms.
  • The purpose of using the Moscone Center and the Palace of Fine Arts was to create more beds for better physical distancing practices.
  • But now, the city needs 1,000 more hotel rooms than the originally projected 3,500 to establish enough temporary housing sites as a means to prepare for a surge of confirmed cases.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

San Francisco is changing its plans to uxe the city's Moscone Center and the beloved Palace of Fine Arts to house some of its homeless population to fight the coronavirus disease.

City officials had intended to use Moscone Center, a popular conference venue favored by the region's tech companies, to shelter up to 400 people living in existing homeless shelters in the city. The goal was to thin out existing homeless shelters in the city by distributing some residents to makeshift shelters. That would create more space for physical distancing to prevent the spread of the virus throughout the homeless community.Advertisement

And on Monday, the city announced it was turning to its beloved Palace of Fine Arts facilities, originally built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, to house up to 162 people.

But now officials say the city will focus more heavily on hotel rooms to house the homeless.

"Neither Moscone nor the Palace will be used for homeless moved from other shelters," Trent Rhorer, director of San Francisco's Department of Human Services, told Curbed SF. "Instead, physical distancing in the shelters will be achieved by moving vulnerable individuals from shelter into hotel rooms."
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Moscone Center will still be used to house members of the city's homeless population, but no more than 200 at a time, as the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The center will house those exiting rooms used for self-isolation and who have tested negative for the disease or are recovering and have tested negative, according to Curbed SF.

The change of plans means that officials now need more rooms, roughly 1,000 more than were originally projected according to the Chronicle. The decision comes after the StreetStreet, a publication operated by the Coalition on Homelessness, reported that the city's plan for the Moscone Center included placing thin mats on the ground six feet apart from each other for people in the "indoor camp." Homeless people had already started moving into the center this past weekend.Advertisement

"It looked like a World War I flu hospital," said San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney, according to CBS San Francisco. "Exactly the kind of environment we need to get people out of, not put people into."

Renting empty hotel rooms throughout San Francisco has been apart of the city's broader mission to prep temporary treatment and housing sites for not just those who are homeless, but also first responders and healthcare workers who require self-isolation. A similar plan to house the homeless population in New York City is in place.

The city's travel and tourism industries have been slammed amid the coronavirus pandemic, rendering hotel rooms empty throughout San Francisco.Advertisement

The homeless people in San Francisco who would be moved to the hotel rooms are those who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who have been tested and are waiting for results to return. The most vulnerable within the homeless community, people over the age of 60 with underlying health issues, also qualify to be housed in a hotel room designated for this purpose.

About 150 rooms are currently occupied, and 945 rooms are under contract across eight hotels according to Curbed SF.

Some officials argue that the thousands of empty hotel rooms in the city should be used to house the entire homeless population in the city regardless of the need for self-isolation. The plan has never included those living on the streets - only those in existing shelters - and unhoused people are at a much higher risk of contracting the disease. But Mayor London Breed said despite the pandemic, there are limits to how officials can house people.Advertisement

"We are not going to be able to solve our homeless problem in San Francisco with this crisis," Breed said Friday.

The first confirmed case within a San Francisco homeless shelter was announced on Thursday. And two more homeless people housed at San Francisco's largest shelter were confirmed to be infected with the virus on Monday. They had come into contact with at least 19 people who had moved into the Moscone shelter over the weekend, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

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