ABC7 News Exclusive: Inside Look at a Former San Francisco Tourist Hotel Turned into a Homeless Shelter

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) – As the COVID pandemic abates and tourism intensifies, demand for hotel rooms in San Francisco begins to return – as do homeless people on the streets.

And while many large hotels have been empty for more than a year, some smaller ones have taken advantage of state and city incentives to house some 2,000 homeless people in rooms that were once reserved for tourists. Now there is tax money to buy hotels and use them to permanently house the homeless – which will cost millions of dollars. Is this a possible way forward to resolve our homelessness crisis?

To help answer the question, we decided to visit one of the hotels to take a look at the program, the people served, and the challenges that might arise.

In a story you’ll only see on ABC7 News – we got an exclusive look inside one of those old tourist hotels turned into a homeless shelter.

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In exchange for access to this hotel, located a few blocks from Union Square, we were asked not to reveal exactly where it is. It was a real eye-opener. Before the pandemic, rooms at this hotel ranged from $ 200 to $ 300 a night. It was then. These days, from the second you walk in, you know this isn’t your average Union Square Hotel.

Wand security checks and temperature checks are required of all who enter.

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It’s one of 25 hotels in the city that closed when the pandemic shut down San Francisco, then leased by the city with federal COVID emergency funds to provide shelter for thousands of people camping out on the streets at the height of the pandemic.

Currently 79 of the hotel’s 96 rooms are occupied.

“It’s a back and forth situation, people come and go, but we also need rooms on each floor for an office,” said Steve Good, CEO of Five Keys, the non-profit association. lucrative who runs the hotel.

“It’s all part of a coordinated entry system in San Francisco,” Good says.

“When the pandemic really started to take hold over a year ago, the city had to react quickly to get as many of the 6,000 homeless people off the streets and it was kind of a win-win because you had the tourist season completely thrown off the cliff, we had caterers and restaurateurs bankrupt, so we had a huge problem with the fear of the threat of COVID, so the city reacted in May and opened a number of hotels and Site 35 has become one of the hotel shelters in place, ”Good says.

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What does someone get when they walk into a hotel like this: “They all have a private room, some hotels are different from others, but each of these rooms has at least one bed? It has a TV, a sink, and a full bathroom, ”says Good.

Site 35, as they call it, provides the occupants with food, laundry and medical care. All on site.

“All the rooms you see have different ratings, once a day a wellness check, cut off 9pm, how many guests are in the room, if there are any special needs like medical needs, physical needs or dietary restrictions, or whether there is a pet, ”Good says.

Well said “site 35” is actually one of the quieter homeless hotels.

But he still has problems.

“Arguments with the guests. Sometimes you have couples living together in the larger sites, sometimes there can be noise at night, kind of the same sort of thing you would see in any home or apartment, it’s not really different. ” Good said.

There are also mental health and drug issues.

“Unfortunately, this is quite high. You know that drug and alcohol problems are not the cause of homelessness per se, however, nowadays with Covid and hotels, over 80% were suffering from it. ‘one or the other or a combination of both,’ Good says.

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What about drug overdoses?

“Unfortunately, that’s a real problem,” Good said.

Drug overdoses tend to set new records in San Francisco. 700 people died in 2020 and more than 250 people already this year. Health officials say it is a byproduct of a fentanyl crisis sweeping the country. The opening of these hotels to the homeless has probably caused them to overdose on the streets.

“We saved 155 lives,” Good says. But they also lost about 20 people to overdoses at 8 sites in San Francisco.

Violence is rare, the staff here are trained in de-escalation techniques. When they needed backup, they called the police.

“The most important thing is trust and respect. They are human beings,” says a staff member as he walks around.

For locals, having a roof over their heads is better than being exposed to the street

“It’s wonderful – they really treat us – it’s a blessing to have these people,” said one woman who entered the program after living on the streets for 10 years.

For her and the others, Inside every old hotel room – there is now a house. A house that many do not want to leave – even if it means having their own apartment.

Good estimates that only about 30 to 40% of current occupants will ever have a place to go on their own.

“And that might be an optimistic guess,” Good said.

That is, a hotel room – may be the best long term solution for what many think is a short term problem.

As a result, the hotel program will cost roughly the same price per night as the $ 200-300 per night a tourist would spend.

But “we also provide nursing, we provide 24 hour help and support,” Good said.

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