Offering extra supportive housing is one of the best ways to heal the homeless – The San Francisco Examiner
By Diane Qi and Rani Mukherjee
With the spread of COVID-19, cities across the country were forced to see the homelessness crisis in a new light: Large groups of people without a residence who slept in camps or shelters were at high risk for the transmission of COVID-19 . In response, San Francisco opened 25 shelter-in-place hotels in just six months to protect more than 2,500 people.
For many residents, the hotels have become a place of refuge to recover from the physical and mental stresses of an unhindered life. A resident’s experience of dealing with diabetes shows this crucial relationship between living and healing:
“[Before the hotel] I looked really, really bad. My kidneys were shut down, my health was deteriorating rapidly … Due to a … lack of time and privacy, I didn’t pay as much attention as I should … When you are with people all the time, thoughts are difficult having to think about the pros and cons or making decisions that are so important to my health … When I moved, I was given time, medicine and support from the medical staff …[Now]I am on my diabetes. My [blood sugar] has come down amazingly … Things are looking good. ”
In the hotels, all residents are examined for their health and social needs and can connect with basic care, mental health care, substance treatment, physiotherapy and social services. Often these services are provided directly in hotel rooms.
Naomi Schoenfeld is a nurse and medical anthropologist who provides medical care in the hotels and is currently studying how the hotels have affected the health of residents. She shared her experiences with us: “
I have seen remarkable improvements in the health of some patients. The hotels have been very successful in connecting patients to the services they need. People with severe leg ulcers, ulcers that just haven’t gotten better due to the instability of homelessness, are finally getting the wound care they need. Beyond healthcare, however, it is also the simple dignity of living that has enabled patients to heal. Being able to rest, go to the bathroom without having to walk from place to place, have three nutritious meals a day – these are the basic dignities that are essential for managing a state of health. ”
The shelter-in-place hotels have shown us that a radical restructuring of our housing system is not only feasible, but also curable. Now we should build on this moment in order to usefully address the inequality of housing conditions in the city beyond the pandemic.
In the medical community, we know that homelessness leads to negative health outcomes and that the most effective solution to homelessness is permanent supportive housing: housing that, like shelter-in-place hotels, provides medical and social services, but not housing – In-place hotels are permanent.
Right now, we in San Francisco have a rare opportunity to reduce homelessness by investing in permanent supportive housing. Between newly released Proposition C funds, state and federal emergency funds, bond money, and a declining housing market with hotels and student residences for sale, we’re in a unique position where funding and buildings are exceptionally no barrier. It is entirely possible that the city is urgently buying at least 600 new permanent support housing units for unhodged people, including those who have not been offered hotel rooms.
As clinicians, we are often at the receiving end of the failures of a revolving door care system and limit ourselves to plastering solutions. But at this moment we have the perfect confluence of opportunities to address the source of the disease. Housing is the cure. We ask the city to act now and purchase hotels and student housing as permanent supportive housing.
Diane Qi and Rani Mukherjee are medical students at UCSF caring for unhodged patients. They are both involved in research and advocacy at the intersection of health, housing and homelessness.
Bay Area NewsHousing and HomelessnessPoliticssan Francisco News
If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Learn more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/