The urgent need for more supportive housing in San Francisco is only a fraction of the challenge the city faces in helping unoccupied residents find shelter.
Preventing eviction and re-entry into homelessness is an entirely different obstacle.
The issue is increasingly preoccupying those tasked with reducing homelessness in San Francisco as the local population ages. Now The City is expanding a small pilot program called Collaborative Caregiver Support Teams that aims to accommodate formerly homeless adults.
“One of the biggest challenges facing providers of permanent supportive housing is habitability,” said Kelly Dearman, executive director of the Department of Disability and Aging Services. “We see a growing need to support displaced and formerly homeless San Francisco residents who are grappling with issues that put their homes at risk.”
The pilot started in November at Minna Lee, a one-bedroom building and permanent residential property in the South of Market neighborhood. Starting this month, it will become an additional permanent residential location and a third is planned for January with the goal of reaching 1,000 customers.
The idea behind the new program is to connect older, formerly homeless adults who are at risk of losing their home faster with carers who can help with everyday needs and help maintain clean living space, which is often a reason for Eviction is when individuals are fighting units to maintain themselves.
Currently, approximately 30% of the city’s approximately 8,000 residents in permanent care accommodation are receiving home support services, according to the San Francisco Human Services Agency.
The pilot is still in its infancy, but is already having an impact on residents like James Lucas, 57, who used to be homeless and now lives at Minna Lee.
James was threatened with eviction when the care team answered. He was initially skeptical of the help he might get, but agreed to sign up for the program and told the Examiner he was relieved to have help cleaning his unit so he could pass the inspection. Now, Lucas’s care team members meet with him regularly to keep his unit clean.
Enrolling in the services offered by the city’s Homelessness and Supportive Housing Department (HSH) and the Human Services Agency (SFHSA) is entirely voluntary. But that can be an incredibly difficult decision for people who have made it far on their own or have had negative experiences with health and social services.
James Lucas, a resident of The Minna Lee, has been threatened with eviction and has received help through the nursing program to keep his unit clean. (Craig Lee / The Examiner)
Lucas has seen some of the best and worst parts of San Francisco since moving to The City in 1978, and he remembers the tumultuous year that former supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were both murdered. But his vision has started to fade lately, making even small daily tasks more difficult.
“It makes it easier for me to just function, you know?” Lucas said of his previous experience with the program. “Somebody calls me and says, ‘Look, you know you have an appointment.’ I know it’s my job, it’s my responsibility. When people do that and help you, it inspires you to do the right thing first. “
More than just a roof
At the beginning of the pandemic, San Francisco opened 25 “Shelter in Place” or SIP hotels for the homeless. When it quickly became clear that some guests needed more care, The City responded by providing support services to residents of SIP hotels at home.
The success of providing these home care services in the SIP hotels was a driver for the new program that is now starting in Minna Lee, say the organizers.
“This partnership has been very successful in providing additional services to the people needed for stabilization. This is one of the lessons of the SIP hotel program that HSH is looking to bring to its larger housing portfolio, ”said Shireen McSpadden, executive director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing in San Francisco.
As San Francisco officials advance a controversial plan to relocate all SIP hotel guests to permanent accommodation, care teams seek to alleviate the difficulties and trauma that can come with re-admitting and moving.
Dorm room at Minna Lee. According to the San Francisco Human Services Agency, approximately 30% of The City’s approximately 8,000 residents in permanent care accommodation receive home support services. (Craig Lee / The Examiner)
So far, nearly 1,346 people are still living in the shelters, according to San Francisco data, and 2,380 have been relocated to permanent supportive shelters.
Those who work at the SIP hotels and supportive shelters hope the program provides a safer experience for those in the midst of San Francisco’s political debates on homelessness.
“Compared to my other cases, I know who to turn to when a customer needs help much faster,” says Jatzel Martinez, home support caregiver at Minna Lee.
From an organizational perspective, the team approach has given caregivers the simple but powerful tool of having a coordinated place to turn to when needs arise or change, Martinez said.
In many cases, residential solutions still come too little and too late. A recent pilot project in Santa Clara to provide permanent housing support found “extremely high mortality rates” even in those who were successfully housed. Out of 423 participants, including some who were not housed, around 70 died.
Residents like Ron Brannock, who moved to Minna Lee after living at Hotel Witcomb on Market and 8th Street, one of the SIP hotels, have witnessed the brutal realities firsthand. Emergency shelters and other temporary housing are not lacking in problems, he said. Days and nights can be noisy, sometimes there is fighting on the sidewalk, and the overall habitability in some SROs can be terrible.
For example, a group of 21 tenants of the Granada Hotel, an SRO in the Tenderloin, is now suing the property’s owner and property manager for abuse of the elderly, eviction among others.
But Brannock believes that things can be done better.
“This is a great place. Every Monday they make a pantry. And every other week they make hygiene kits. I came here with nothing and now I have a flat screen TV, a saucepan, and a refrigerator, all because of them, ”Brannock said. “I can have peace of mind knowing that I won’t wake up in the rain or that you aren’t sleeping outside somewhere.”