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S.F. will slow down plan to move 500 homeless people out of hotels, but mounting costs still a worry


San Francisco’s homeless department said it will slow down a much-criticized plan to move more than 500 homeless people out of city-funded hotel rooms before Christmas, following news that it will get millions of dollars from the state to support the program.

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced $62 million in funding for counties sheltering vulnerable residents in hotel rooms during the pandemic. It’s unclear how much funding will go toward San Francisco, where more than 2,600 homeless people are staying in hotels.

Last week, Abigail Stewart-Kahn, interim director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, said the department needed to wind down the program by June and close the first seven hotels by Dec. 21. Otherwise, she said, the city would risk more fiscal ruin.

The program costs the city about $15 million to $18 million a month. The current fiscal year budget projects the program will cost about $198 million, and the city expects federal and state funds to reimburse nearly all of that — about $187 million.and the city expects federal and state funds to reimburse nearly all of that — about $187 million. San Francisco has only been compensated for a fraction of the cost so far, and it is unclear when it will get the rest.

The department’s plan is to connect as many residents as possible with housing, but skeptics point to the city’s dearth of housing. While the city still needs to move people out of the hotels with “urgency,” Stewart-Kahn said Wednesday that the extra state support will help keep some hotels open longer, but she did not provide a timeline.

Still, Supervisors Matt Haney, Hillary Ronen, Shamann Walton and Dean Preston plan to announce legislation Thursday to “counter” the department’s plan to wind down the program and instead keep the hotels open as COVID-19 cases surge.

“As COVID cases spike dramatically and rain and cold has arrived, they should absolutely remain open, and we’ll take any legislative efforts within our power to ensure that is the case,” Haney said.

The legislation’s details were not immediately available. It was also unclear how the supervisors would pay for the program if it was extended beyond the current fiscal year and if the FEMA funding ran out.

City Controller Ben Rosenfield said it’s unclear how long the city can rely on the FEMA reimbursement. While he is more optimistic that the reimbursements will continue under the new administration, he warned the city could still lose the support with short notice.

San Francisco recently closed a massive $1.5 billion budget deficit largely caused by the pandemic, and then learned last week that it was facing another $116 million hole. The Board of Supervisors did not add any additional money into the current budget for the hotel program, despite calling for the program to be expanded by several thousand more rooms.

The budget for the next fiscal year does not include any funding for the hotel program.

Shawn Landrum-Teppish, who lives in a Civic Center hotel that was slated to close by the end of the month, has been nervous about where she will go next. The day after the Chronicle wrote about her earlier this month, she said she was given an appointment to see a room in the Mission.

When she saw the unit, she clutched her heart and started to cry at the thought that the tiny, sun-soaked room could finally be hers after years of living in a tent in San Francisco.

“Oh my god!” she exclaimed, as she walked inside. “It’s so cute.”

The floor slanted, the communal bathroom stank and a neighbor was blasting a raucous show that carried through the hallway. Still, as small and imperfect as the room was, she started to imagine how she could fill the space with artwork and plants. But the excitement faded a few minutes later after she learned she’d need to wait weeks for a procedural background and credit check.

It would be at least a month before she could move in, she was told.

“This isn’t the stuff they tell you,” Landrum-Teppish said as she started to cry on Valencia Street. “I’m ready to move in. I’ve already packed my stuff.”

Since then, Landrum-Teppish said she has felt a little more optimistic. She said a housing coordinator has connected her with a few other apartments she liked, just in case the other ones fall through. Now she is just waiting to hear if and when she can move in.

Many hotels residents faced a similar crush of uncertainty over the last few weeks after they learned of imminent hotel closures. Sam Dennison, co-director of Tenderloin nonprofit Faithful Fools, said some people wouldn’t engage with case workers to find housing because “they felt like it was futile.”

But now, with a little bit more time granted by the extra state funding, Dennison hopes that maybe the department can convince residents they won’t be left out on the streets.

Sherilyn Adams, executive director of Larkin Street Youth Services, which runs a hotel for homeless youth that was slated to close by the end of the year, was relieved to learn from a reporter Wednesday that the department is slowing down its plan to shut down the first phase of hotels by year’s end.

She is still concerned about where residents would go given the city’s few permanent options for homeless youth, but is glad they can now spend a little more time looking.

“We can breathe,” she said. “Now let’s work really hard on a collaborative plan.”

Trisha Thadani is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @TrishaThadani


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