On Sunday, housing advocates led by Hotels not Hospitals protested in San Francisco’s Union Square over a city plan to scale back a program that has placed homeless individuals in hotels.
The program, started earlier this year to protest the city’s homeless population from COVID-19 transmission, has housed close to 2,200 people this year. The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) program costs about $178 million a year but $114 million has been reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. However, due to concerns about either losing or getting funding from FEMA, the HSH has introduced measures to scale-back the program somewhat, with a phase out being looked at beginning in January.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors halted the plan for 60 days due to public pressure, keeping all the hotels open for the homeless through at least March through an emergency bill.
“This has been an ongoing struggle since the beginning of this pandemic and it should’ve never been a fight,” said Supervisor Matt Haney during the weekend. “There’s no reason to end this program any time soon. The federal government has committed to funding this program for the duration of the emergency.”
But lingering fears of FEMA cuts, despite the agency saying that they would help pay for the program throughout the emergency, still have scaled back the program. While the emergency bill will continue the program, wording in the bill maintains that only 60% of hotel space can be refilled with homeless individuals once others have been moved to permanent housing, leading to the possibility of hotels gradually being removed from the program.
That reduction, as well as a push for an expansion of the program, fueled the protest on Sunday.
“The city will be kicking thousands of people out of the only shelter they have as COVID cases and deaths are at the highest they’ve ever been!” noted activist Sylvia Viviana on Sunday. “It doesn’t change the fears that the people have in the hotels that they are, eventually, going to get evicted. So, we need to do a lot more than just postpone evictions.”
Others pointed to the city’s budget shortfall as a likely reason for a cutback on the expensive program.
“The Supervisors and [San Francisco Mayor London] Breed need to see that not helping people off the street is pretty much a death wish, ” said Angelina Burns, who protested during the weekend in Union Square. “There are thousands more still on the streets of San Francisco battling lowering temperatures and COVID, but the city just doesn’t seem to care. San Francisco is always seen as compassionate and progressive until they suddenly aren’t.
“It’s not FEMA they’re worried about. It’s the city budget. The city is in a huge deficit. This is their sly way of cutting back.”
The Board of Supervisors is set to reconvene on the issue in March when an extension of the program will be up for a vote.
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