San Francisco to Provide More Sinks & Toilets for Homeless During Pandemic

A homeless person sleeps on the sidewalk in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. (Courthouse News photo/Nicholas Iovino)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — As part of an ongoing effort to protect San Francisco’s homeless population from Covid-19 infection, the city’s Board of Supervisors passed an emergency ordinance Tuesday requiring more restrooms and hand-washing stations for those living on the street.

The unanimously approved ordinance mandates that the city install at least one restroom and one handwashing station for every 50 unsheltered people.

“This will help to protect our city, help to keep folks healthy and make sure people’s access to the basic right of bathrooms is protected,” said Supervisor Matt Haney, who introduced the emergency legislation.

The ordinance requires emergency bathrooms placed in areas with the greatest need, located within 1,000 feet of an encampment and staffed 24/7 unless they are in a low-need service area or another 24-hour pit stop is located within a reasonable distance.

In a separate action Tuesday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s office announced an expansion of the city’s existing Pit Stop program. The expansion will increase the number of pit stops operating 24/7 from three to 49, including 62 toilets.

According to the mayor’s office, the city recently deployed 37 temporary portable toilets and sinks that are staffed 24/7 near known encampment hot spots. Those temporary pit stops will stay open while the city’s shelter-in-place order remains in effect.

“We have been pushing to open more staffed restrooms, including 24-hour facilities, in San Francisco, but this pandemic has really highlighted the urgent need for these facilities,” Breed said in a statement. “People living on the street need available facilities, and the fact that they are staffed helps to ensure that they remain open and operating.” 

Overall, the city has 136 staffed public toilets at 62 locations, including bathrooms at city parks. The mayor’s office insists that number exceeds United Nations emergency sanitation standards, which call for a ratio of one toilet for every 50 unsheltered residents.

The board has butted heads with the mayor’s office in recent weeks over the best approach for protecting San Francisco’s homeless population from Covid-19 infection.

Last month, the board approved an emergency ordinance directing the city to secure 8,250 hotel rooms for homeless people following a Covid-19 outbreak at an improvised indoor homeless camp at Moscone West convention center. As of Tuesday, the city had acquired 2,731 hotel rooms, with only 1,163 of those rooms occupied.

At an April 29 press conference, Breed said she has heard from frontline workers that some people are coming to San Francisco from other places “and asking where their hotel room was.”

The mayor said the city will only provide hotel rooms to people who were living in San Francisco when the shelter-in-place order was issued March 16.

“No one from other cities should be coming to San Francisco expecting that they’re going to get prioritized over the people who are here,” Breed said. “We have enough challenges with trying to provide services and support to our existing residents.”

During that same press conference, the city’s director of homeless services, Abigail Stewart-Kahn, said the city would prioritize hotel rooms for “vulnerable individuals” based on age and medical conditions.

On Tuesday, Breed said in a statement that the city is “moving as quickly as possible to bring homeless residents into hotels and other alternative housing sites during this pandemic.”

Some residents have criticized the mayor’s slow pace at getting homeless people into hotel rooms.

On Thursday, a group of protesters staged a “die-in” in front of the mayor’s home, lying flat on their backs on the pavement to draw attention to the lack of hotel rooms for homeless people.

Homeless activists also occupied a vacant home last week in the city’s Castro neighborhood to highlight the shortage of available lodging for people living on the street during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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