San Francisco’s Department of (Perpetual) Homelessness and (Un) Supportive Housing
Democracy is Not in Action
Fascism is defined as “dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society and of the economy.” Pretty bad stuff. Yet based on this description, San Francisco’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) checks those boxes. Here’s how and why.
HSH is attempting to railroad the purchase of four hotels to be used as “permanent supportive housing” (PSH) for homeless people, the majority of whom suffer from addiction and psychiatric issues. The sites are the Mission Inn, Eula Hotel, The Panoramic, and the Kimpton Buchanan Hotel.
On the surface, PSH sounds ethical and practical but this strategy has been tried and the reviews are abysmal. Rather than provide necessary recovery and mental health facilities with guaranteed security and qualified professionals that are always on the premises, case managers drop in and attend to as many as 60 clients each. The “24/7 onsite staffing”? A front desk attendant.
Consequently, the converted hotels have largely turned into drug dens. People have overdosed and died in them. A meth lab was set up and exploded. Crime and chaos erupts outside, hurting once calm, stable neighborhoods as well as those that are up and coming and that are already troubled.
The Kimpton Buchanan Hotel sale, especially, has elicited outrage. It is located in historic Japantown. Currently over 6,000 people have signed the petition opposing the project.
And then there’s the Panoramic, in the South of Market neighborhood. The department only sent meeting announcement notices to residents who live within 200 feet of the building, though it’s impact is far-reaching. Homeowners who rent their units did not receive notices at all.
The meeting was a sham. Those who spoke first were mainly proposal advocates and were given two minutes to speak while neighbors who objected came after and were given one minute. Not only was district supervisor Matt Haney a no-show, his representative called in to support the project from a New York City bar as he watched the U.S. Open.
The city has already taken the Panoramic over and turned it into a temporary Covid shelter-in-place residence. Meeting participants described gun activity and being threatened, a dead body on the street, being punched. “I don’t feel safe, day and night,” said a near-by resident. There is little to no police response when they dial 911 for help. One woman calls an average of five times a day for violent offenses.
A lowlight of the meeting was Jennifer Friedenbach’s appearance. As the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, she advanced Proposition C, which made funds available for such projects. Friedenbach is super excited by the sale. Suspicious? You should be.
Distraught comments such as “This is being rammed down our throats” and “Shame on you. All of you” “I never would have invested in a home or business here had I known,” were infuriating and heartbreaking. This hasn’t stopped HSH from trying to make the unilateral decision to move forward.
Dictatorial power - check
Forcible suppression of opposition - check
Strong regimentation of society and of the economy - check and check
Because there is so much community objection, I requested details about the plan from HSH. Denny Machuca-Grebe, the department’s public information officer, sidelined me again and again. Finally, with pressure to reply, he sent me the vaguest of responses.
Below is the entire QA. I am ES, and Denny Machuca-Grebe is DMG. My follow-up responses are capitalized. (I don’t normally make demands, but thought it appropriate to speak the language of activists who do).
ES: Services provided: Who will be conducting the services? How will success be measured?
DMG: HSH will partner with an experienced nonprofit organization that has expertise in managing supportive housing and working with people exiting homelessness. Selecting the operator and service provider will be conducted through a public process, as is customary for these projects.
ES: HSH DOES NOT GET TO DICTATE WHAT IS CUSTOMARY AND THEREFORE ACCEPTED. THE PEOPLE HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW WHICH ORGANIZATION YOU HAVE IN MIND AND WHAT THEIR SUCCESS RATE IS BEFORE CONTRACTING WITH THEM. WE DEMAND THE RIGHT TO CONSENT OR REJECT.
DMG: All contracts have a performance monitoring component to ensure providers are meeting outcomes/goals.
ES: THERE ARE ZERO DETAILS ABOUT THIS “PERFORMANCE MONITORING SYSTEM.” WE DEMAND DETAILS.
ES: Precisely what do these services entail? How often people would receive services? What are the desired results?
DMG: The services provided at PSH sites are generally focused on community building, housing stabilization, and homelessness prevention. However, services are unique to each building, as well as based on the needs and goals of each tenant.
ES: THIS EXPLAINS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. WE DEMAND DETAILS.
DMG: Each tenant’s service plan is customized to meet their unique needs and goals. For example, the plan can be focused on accessing health care and addressing chronic medical needs or could be focused on job training and employment.
ES: WE DEMAND EVIDENCE THAT THERE IS EMPLOYMENT TRAINING AND THAT PEOPLE ACTUALLY GET JOBS AFTER THIS “SERVICE” PLAN.
DMG: For tenants suffering from substance use disorder, access to treatment can be the focus of their service plan.
ES: NO DESCRIPTION OF ADDICTION TREATMENT. THIS IS MEANINGLESS. WE DEMAND A DETAILED DESCRIPTION.
DMG: Permanent supportive housing includes 24/7 onsite staffing.
ES: THERE IS NO DESCRIPTION OF WHAT THE STAFFING IS AND WHAT IT IS FOR. SECURITY? OVERDOSE? ROOM SERVICE? WE DEMAND DETAILS.
ES: Substance use assistance: What harm reduction services and products would they receive? How would the HR services/products be disseminated (in lobby? in room? What detox and rehabilitation assistance would you offer? Would you offer 12-step meetings and other ongoing support for sobriety maintenance?
DMG: Harm reduction services would be administered by the non-profit provider partner.
ES: DID NOT ANSWER THE QUESTIONS ABOUT HARM REDUCTION SERVICES AND PRODUCTS. WE DEMAND DETAILS, INCLUDING ALL MATERIALS AND PRODUCTS. THIS ABSOLUTELY IGNORES THE QUESTIONS ABOUT DETOX, REHABILITATION, SOBER LIVING ASSISTANCE, AND 12-STEP MEETINGS. WE DEMAND AN ANSWER.
ES: What is the estimated per person cost?
DMG: This information is not yet publicly available as the City is still in negotiations with the property owner.
ES: THIS INFORMATION NEEDS TO BE PUBLICLY SHARED BEFORE ANY DECISION IS MADE. WE DEMAND THE PRICE.
ES: Community protection. How would you guarantee that the area outside the hotel be free of:
DMG: The project will have a Good Neighbor Policy. The provider shall maintain a good relationship with the neighborhood, including:
Collaboration with neighbors and relevant city agencies to ensure that neighborhood concerns about the facility are heard and addressed;
That Grantee management staff is available to respond to neighbors within three business days, if reasonable; and
Having a representative of the Grantee attend all appropriate neighborhood meetings.
ES: THE HOTELS THAT HAVE BEEN CONVERTED INTO HOMELESS HOUSING HAVE BEEN DESTROYED, INSIDE AND OUT. THE SURROUNDING COMMUNITY HAS EXPERIENCED A MARKED INCREASE IN CRIME, VAGRANCY, DRUG USE, NOISE, TRASH, DANGER.
THIS “GOOD NEIGHBOR” POLICY DOES NOT WORK. IT HASN’T WORKED BEFORE. IT DOESN’T WORK NOW. IT WON’T WORK IN THE FUTURE.
“MANAGEMENT WILL RESPOND TO NEIGHBORS WITHIN 3 BUSINESS DAYS.” THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.
The level of trust San Franciscans have in city departments and elected officials is at a nadir, as is evidenced by a flurry of recalls, from the district attorney to the school board. Much of the discontent is due to community desires not being considered in crucial decisions. Implementing plans without the will or agreement of the people is a totalitarian act. It’s how revolutions are born.
Looking at the property tax bill online for the Kimpton in Japantown, this property was assessed at a bit over $40Million as of its last sale in 2017. Assuming the City pays at least that much, at 131 rooms that's $305K per 1 or 2-person occupancy unit (assuming some rooms are suites). And then they'll probably have to spend a bunch of money to retrofit the rooms with kitchenettes (including ducting), etc..., so figure maybe $400K per unit all in, conservatively.
Great article Erica! Thank you. San Francisco residents and business owners don't get the complete story.
More than a quarter of the city’s entire homeless population is currently housed within a quarter mile of Union Square in about a dozen SIP hotels. With the program having gotten extended until the end of next year and two new proposed shelters there will be upwards of 2,500 homeless right here.
Every block on and around Union Square has a number of empty storefronts. Building owners cannot get new tenants, even with reduced rents, because of the negative effect of the homeless population being housed here, the majority of whom suffer from addiction and psychiatric issues. Many of the city-run properties have turned into drug dens, and drug dealing and crime have increased tremendously in the area. The police is overloaded and cannot show up in time or at all, and all of us living and working here don't feel safe night or day. Now they want to add two more shelters, one of which will serve as short-term housing for mostly single men, no families, and will have no restrictions on drug use, criminality, or mental health status, and not treatment programs.
We also experienced what you described as “the meeting being a sham”. Construction has already started for the proposed shelter proposed on 711 Post Street. while notices for the community meeting set during Hanukkah were sent right before Thanksgiving, and businesses and tenants in the neighborhood did not receive one. After not enough people got to speak during the first meeting they scheduled another on a few days ago, where they walked back a number of initial admissions and provided national homeless data to proof their point. In both meetings participants were given two minutes to speak and got cut off when the time was up, and at times had their mike was muted when they used less time and HSH was responding, not providing room for conversation or additional questions. Many concerns were not really addressed. The city did not commit to increased services such as policing or cleaning, nor any treatment services for its so called guests. Weapons will be locked away upon check-in and returned upon leaving to be used for self defense outside the facility. What do we have to defend ourselves? The proposal for this and another longterm shelter on 505 O’Farrell will be presented to the Board of Supervisors on the 14th, to be voted on January 5th. Sneak it in during the holidays when people don’t have the time voice their opposition effectively!
Tourism has already suffered greatly due to the pandemic, and will be decimated if these policies continue. Many of the small businesses in Lower Nob Hill rely largely on tourism. The private police force and cleaning crew of the Union Square BID have been overloaded with the challenges. So within the square it can look OK most of the time. But then you encounter someone screaming obscenities you can hear a block away, defecating or doing crack or heroin right out in the open. It is quite shocking! You see it get significantly worse immediately, starting even on the first block outside the BID perimeters. What tourist would want to stay across or next to a homeless hotel with people smoking, doing drugs and loitering outside?
Anyone against these policies is labeled a Nimby, or racist, having prejudice against those in need of help, not understanding the homeless problem, or simply lacking compassion. This includes those who regularly volunteer, feed or clothe homeless on their own accord, but simply disagree with an ill advised and very costly approach. The city is spending double of what a tax-paying citizen on minimum wage makes on each individual homeless. But they have not come up with a viable solution in all these years. On the contrary, these policies are literally destroying neighborhoods while they continue to feed the beast and keep the money train going. I am no conspiracy theorist, but actually solving the problem appears to be against another underlying goal, especially considering the additional hundreds of millions of state and federal money that has come in recently. We have some of the highest paid city workers in the US, countless non-profits just for the homeless, and multiple other city associates benefitting from the problem NOT getting solved. For example building owners get more money from the city for SROs and shelters than for other uses without having to do the necessary upgrades required for that. Also the city's payments to SIP hotels match or exceed tourist room rates. Where is the incentive to actually solve the problem by spending funds on the root causes of mental health and addiction and having a stronger stance on crime, as well as increasing the police force to keep us safe? San Francisco is No. 1 in regards to the highest property tax paid in the country, and we are footing the bill for this misuse of power while living in filth and fear. It is a disgrace! I personally know more than a dozen people who sold or are trying to sell their home in San Francisco because they are fed up. This includes some of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city. What happens in one area effects us all!
Please sign this petition against the proposed shelter on 711 Post Street. https://www.change.org/p/mayor-london-breed-and-san-francisco-board-of-supervisors-stop-the-proposed-711-post-street-250-bed-no-rules-homeless-shelter Thank you.