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Coronavirus: San Francisco to move 200 homeless residents from hotels into housing

San Francisco will move 200 homeless residents out of the hotels where they’ve been temporarily sheltering during the pandemic, and into housing, Mayor London Breed said Thursday.

The announcement marks the city’s first step toward answering a question that has plagued activists and experts for months: What will happen to homeless community members once the coronavirus crisis is over, and temporary shelter programs end?

Cities and counties across the Bay Area have moved thousands of people off the streets, out of group shelters and into vacant hotel rooms, in an effort to allow them to shelter-in-place safely. But those programs won’t last forever. And in a region that already has a marked shortage of housing for homeless residents, some advocates worry people will leave the hotels and end up back outside.

To avoid that, San Francisco has promised to move 200 people into long-term rental units by the end of the year, using a new $11 million pool of donated funds. The city already has moved 12 people as part of a pilot program.

“Even as we have implemented emergency responses to COVID-19, we have remained focused on long term solutions to homelessness, particularly more housing,” Breed wrote in a news release. “The Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool is an innovative and cost-effective way to get our unhoused residents out of temporary shelters, off the streets, and into permanent homes.”

San Francisco had leased 2,407 hotel rooms as of Tuesday — 1,860 of which were occupied, according to state data. The program is part of a state-wide initiative dubbed Project Roomkey, which provides federal reimbursements to counties that use hotel rooms to shelter homeless residents who have COVID-19, may have the virus, or are particularly vulnerable to infection because of their age or health.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is encouraging cities and counties to buy those hotels and turn them into long-term housing for homeless residents, and has promised funding to help.

In the meantime, San Francisco will tap into its new Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool, or “Flex Pool,” to house residents currently living in the hotels. City staff will refer eligible residents to the program. Nonprofit Brilliant Corners will identify landlords with vacant units available throughout the city, and match homeless residents to those units.

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