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One of San Francisco’s principal shelters is gambling on a new lottery system, operational as of today, that it says will more effectively allocate available beds for homeless people.
The plan by Multi-Service Center-South, a 300-bed shelter at Fifth and Bryant streets, was first announced last week through a series of notices posted inside the facility. Shelter clients were officially informed about the change at a specially arranged meeting Thursday in the drop-in center.
At the gathering, staff said they hoped to put an end to the competition among shelter seekers, who line up daily during the early morning hours in the hopes of obtaining one of 60 single-night bed reservations available across the city.
Under the new lottery system, clients at the service center will receive a numbered wristband when they show up to make a one-night reservation in the morning, said operations manager Wayne Garrett. The numbers on the wristbands will then be thrown into a lottery-style drawing to be held each afternoon at 5 p.m, with results posted at 6:30 p.m. Confirmations will be available until 7 p.m., at which point any unclaimed reservations will be made available to others seeking a bed.
“Number 1 will not be number 1, and number 60 will not be number 60,” Garrett told the 40-person audience. “The numbers will change every single day.”
During a question and answer session at the meeting, a client asked what will happen to lottery bidders if the city’s computer system — known as Coordinated Homeless Assessment Needs through Guidance and Effective Services, or CHANGES — suffers a shutdown, as it did during an entire weekend in March, delaying confirmations for hundreds of people seeking shelter from bad weather.
Garrett said the lottery numbers “aren’t part of CHANGES,” contradicting a notice issued the previous week by the city’s Human Services Agency, which said wristband numbers would be recorded in the system.
Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, doubts that the lottery will be a big improvement.
“The changes further indicate how the shelter system in San Francisco is nowhere meeting the needs of homeless,” Friedenbach said, adding that regular changes to the system like these are “confusing to follow.”
“They're constantly closing homeless programs and changing access points,” she said.
Previously, clients would form a queue as early as 6 a.m. outside the shelter’s entrance on Fifth Street, which opened its doors at 10 a.m. Once inside, they would provide clerks with basic information — their names and the last four digits of their Social Security number — and receive wristbands along with an order to return later in the day for bed confirmations.
For those waiting too far back in line, however, the only option was to return at 5 p.m. for a second, and even less likely, round of reservations.
Under the new lottery plan, that first-come, first-serve fight will end, as the distribution of wristband numbers will take place at 9:30 a.m. for everyone, regardless of his or her place in line, Garrett said.
MSC-South is one of only four reservation centers that makes referrals to homeless shelters throughout the city, and is the first such center to institute a lottery system.
WHERE AND WHEN TO MAKE HOMELESS SHELTER RESERVATIONS
Multi-Service Center-South, 525 Fifth St: daily at 10 a.m., or 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
United Council of Human Services (also called “Mother Brown’s”), 211 Jennings St.: daily from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, 165 Capp St.: Mondays to Fridays from 7 a.m. to noon, and 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays until 8 p.m. Saturdays between 7 a.m. and noon.
Glide Walk-in Center, 330 Ellis St.: Mondays to Fridays from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., and from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
(Source: SF Human Services Agency)
T.J. Johnston is a San Francisco-based journalist. He has been published in Newsdesk.org; Street Sheet; Street Spirit; Poor Magazine; Race, Poverty & the Environment; and Now Public, among other publications and Web sites.
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