SF Supervisor Wants All City's Homeless Tested for COVID-19 After Shelter Outbreak

Currently unhoused, Sue Ranek sits outside of the MSC Homeless Shelter in San Francisco on April 21, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Advocates for homeless people are concerned that people living and working in shelters are still vulnerable to outbreaks of the coronavirus. Now, one San Francisco supervisor says the city needs to step up and expand testing to everyone experiencing homelessness.

Supervisor Matt Haney, whose district includes SoMa and the Tenderloin, introduced a resolution Monday urging the city’s public health department to provide free, universal testing at city shelters and single room occupancy hotels.

related coverage

“Thousands of workers every day continue to go into work and serve some of the most vulnerable people in San Francisco,” Haney said in a virtual press conference. “And thousands of San Franciscans continue to live in crowded shelters and congregate living sites like SROs. All of them lack something that should be easily available, which is testing.”

Haney and other San Francisco supervisors have been critical of Mayor London Breed's response to protecting the homeless and fear more outbreaks of the coronavirus among the city’s unhoused will surface. The board of supervisors recently voted that the city has until Sunday to acquire more than 8,000 hotel rooms to house the homeless and front-line workers. The city says it has now moved more than 750 homeless people into hotel rooms.

San Francisco’s first confirmed homeless case of COVID-19 was announced April 2 in the Division Circle Navigation Center. A week later, an outbreak of 68 residents at Multi-Service Center South, San Francisco’s largest shelter, was announced. As of Monday, the number of confirmed cases from MSC South surpassed 100.

“It should have been prevented with proactive testing,” Haney said.

Testing remains scarce at some shelters and congregate living facilities, according to staff on Monday's virtual press conference.

“We are the forgotten ones on the front line,” said shelter worker Stanley Edwards, who felt he and his colleagues deserve hazard pay and should be recognized as essential front-line workers.

Sponsored

Others said physical distancing is hard to enforce in places where residents share bathrooms and kitchen areas. Joe Williams, a residential case manager who works at the city’s supportive housing facilities, said he and his colleagues don’t feel equipped to care for patients who may be sick with the coronavirus.

“Every day, many workers go home to our families, including myself. We don't know if we're carrying the virus,” Williams said.

“When we are putting our own health in jeopardy, it really puts us in a difficult place,” he said.

San Francisco Department of Public Health Director Grant Colfax said Monday the city is only testing people with symptoms who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. Colfax said the city does plan to expand testing criteria to people who are not showing symptoms, including for people who are experiencing homelessness.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has also promised to expand testing across the state, including for the homeless population.