Shelter shuffle - Page 9

Inside San Francisco's confounding system of housing the homeless
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Photo by Charles Russo

Tyler is one of them — he lives at MSC South but works for Episcopal Community Services, which runs Sanctuary, Next Door, and the Interfaith Emergency Winter Shelter Program. He shows me his pay stub to prove it, and I note that every two weeks he takes home more than I do. "Yeah, I make good money," he agrees.

He's been looking for an apartment, but rents are high and he hasn't found anything good. A plan to move in with a family member fell through, so he's just hanging out on the housing wait list. "What I really want to do is see what they're going to do for me. I've been on [Personal Assistance Employment Services] for six months. Where is my SRO if I can afford to pay for it? So obviously that shit doesn't work," he says.

He's bitter about the effect the Golden Gate Park sweeps have had on the SRO stock. "They got SROs right away," he said of the 200-plus people who were removed from the park by HOT, put into stabilization beds, and transitioned to SROs. "They took them right away 'cause Gavin had to clean that shit up," he says.

Tyler, like many people I spoke with, keeps as sharp an eye as possible on City Hall. They read the papers and have opinions informed by firsthand experience about programs like Care Not Cash. They know Kayhan is making $169,000 per year and they're making $29 every two weeks.

One morning, coming out of the bathroom at Sanctuary, I stop to study a posting for affordable housing on a bulletin board. It's a studio for $863 per month, more than I pay for my one-room Mission flat. The longer I stay in the shelters and the more people I talk to, the less secure I feel in my economic stability.

Ruby Windspirit has been homeless since Jan. 14, two days before I started my tour of the shelters. The 59-year-old Irish Navajo was attending school in Portland, Ore., studying photography and science, when she became ill with bone cancer. She came to San Francisco to convalesce closer to her daughter, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment in the Castro with three other people.

Windspirit knew she couldn't stay on the couch for too long and made a reservation for a $27 per night hotel in the Tenderloin. Despite the reservation, she couldn't get in for two days and the bed she was ultimately given was two box springs with a piece of plywood for support. The sheets were dirty. She left after two weeks and entered the shelter system. She says Next Door is "150 percent better" than the hotel. She has a bed off the floor and the extra blanket her doctor recommended, though she was scolded for trying to plug in her phone.

I try to imagine what people like Windspirit would do if there weren't shelters. But the Ten Year Council also recommended a phasing out of shelters within four to six years, to be replaced by 24-hour crisis clinics and sobering centers.

There are 364 fewer shelter beds in San Francisco than when Newsom became mayor. This year more may go. The city is currently requesting proposals to develop 150 Otis, which serves as a temporary shelter and storage space for homeless people, into permanent supportive housing for very-low-income seniors. About 60 shelter beds will be lost.

The HSA confirmed there are currently no plans to open any more shelters in San Francisco. The last plan for a new shelter — St. Boniface — fell through, and the money that was set aside for the project still languishes in an HSA bank account. Midyear budget cuts proposed by the mayor put that money on the chopping block.

Buster's Place is also on the list of cuts. By April 15, the only place where someone can get out of the elements at any time, day or night, could be closed for good.

Kayhan, who previously oversaw Project Homeless Connect, Newsom's private-sector approach to the problem, agreed that shelters will always be needed.