In the early months of the pandemic, a San Francisco contractor in charge of supplying and servicing hygiene stations for homeless residents consistently failed to maintain the sites, despite repeated requests from staff at two city agencies that the company clean, fill or service them, according to dozens of emails between city staff and the contractor acquired by the San Francisco Public Press via public records request.
This year the census, a constitutionally mandated count of every person in the country every 10 years, is being conducted primarily online for the first time. While the shift offered convenience to the digitally connected, many communities already considered “hard to count” include people with limited digital tools or literacy that put the digital questionnaire out of reach. With the coronavirus pandemic and confusing federal directives, the in-person enumeration most likely to document them has been delayed and cut short.
The decennial census is used to determine how many seats each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives. And according to the Project on Government Oversight, California can also expect to receive more than $170 billion in census-guided federal funding over the next ten years. In a July memo, the President sought to exclude undocumented immigrants from the count used to apportion representatives. But past encounters with well-meaning government agents have already made some homeless, poor, undocumented and otherwise marginalized people skeptical that being counted will actually benefit them.
San Francisco will stop acquiring shelter-in-place hotel rooms for the city’s vulnerable residents and essential workers, the Emergency Operations Center confirmed in a statement late Wednesday. The city will continue to use the approximately 2,600 rooms under contract and plans to phase out the program by June 2021, the department said.
When Mayor London Breed announced a strict shelter-in-place order on March 16 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, health facilities scrambled to identify ways to safely see patients. For addiction medicine doctors, this presented a particularly difficult challenge: Patients engaged in medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction must be seen frequently, often every few days. Regular doctor visits are not just helpful for people’s recovery but until that point had been required by the federal government for the dispensing of certain opioid addiction medications. As doctors across San Francisco switched to telehealth visits — talking to patients over the phone or through video chat — an unexpected shift took place. Missed appointments, a norm before the shelter-in-place order, became rare.
Like most of the homeless residents on Willow Street Tuesday morning, Leif Skorochod was headed for either a city-sanctioned tent camp or the barracks-style homeless shelter at Moscone Convention Center after city workers arrived early that morning and gave them a choice: Accept shelter or leave. Homeless Outreach Team members discussed placement options with tent residents while Public Works crews tossed items into truck beds. At least two residents received hotel rooms because they have underlying health conditions. The rest of those the Public Press spoke to were either headed to Moscone or a sanctioned camp site.
In the reporting series “Driving Home: Surviving the Housing Crisis,” photojournalist Yesica Prado documents life on four wheels in Berkeley and San Francisco. The project, in partnership with CatchLight Local, offers an intimate look at what it really means for home to be a vehicle in the Bay Area, whether it’s an RV with lots of space and utilities or a sedan with neither. But with housing out of reach, for many, a tent is the only other option. Prado, who was and is part of one of the vehicle dweller communities she documented, said that vehicle living comes with the daily task of avoiding parking or law enforcement and securing access to basic needs like hygiene, food and water. “People are definitely stuck in a cycle that you can’t escape.
San Francisco’s housing and homelessness service providers worry that City Hall’s budget decisions will leave them unprepared to face an expected wave of housing displacement. Interviews with staffers at a dozen nonprofits found that calls for assistance have increased by at least 30% and at some organizations by as much as 200% since March when the pandemic forced San Francisco residents to shelter in place amid a recession characterized by widespread income loss. Many providers are concerned expected city budget cuts will hobble their ability to provide vital aid like rental assistance, legal representation in eviction cases, food and emergency shelter, just when clients need help the most. One likely outcome of expected cutbacks they predicted: a worsening of the city’s already daunting homelessness crisis. “We’re all bracing ourselves for a huge growth in the numbers of those who are living on the streets, no question,” said Sara Shortt, director of public policy and community outreach at the Community Housing Partnership, a supportive housing nonprofit.
In San Francisco, stringent and widespread parking restrictions are a fact of life. But to the hundreds of city residents who live in their vehicles, these regulations can also be an obstacle to maintaining stability and getting off the streets. Vehicle dwellers play cat-and-mouse with the government’s enforcement apparatus, violating local laws to survive outdoors.
En San Francisco, las restricciones de estacionamiento estrictas y generalizadas son una realidad. Pero para los cientos de residentes de la ciudad que viven en sus vehículos, estas regulaciones también pueden ser un obstáculo para mantener la estabilidad y salir de las calles. Los habitantes de los vehículos juegan al gato y al ratón con el gobierno, violando las leyes locales para sobrevivir al aire libre.
This photo essay accompanies the story “In the City, Off the Map: San Franciscans Struggle to Keep Their Mobile Residences,” which is part of the “Driving Home: Surviving the Housing Crisis” project.