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Less than a week following the City’s much heralded, extensive outreach effort to connect chronically homeless people with city services, residents of Episcopal Sanctuary—one of the largest city-funded shelters in San Francisco—learned with less than 24 hours notice that they would be forcibly relocated to locations unknown on Tuesday, October 19th, 2004.

42 year old Episcopal resident Kenneth Johnson was angry. “Since Care Not Cash has taken over these [shelter] facilities, the system is stacked against people like me, who are only trying to find work, real housing, and transportation. How is Care Not Cash helping me get off the streets?”

The Sanctuary was being closed for an unspecified period to accomplish long-planned renovations. Although several vaguely worded flyers had circulated in the facility, advising residents of impending “very important meetings,” most of the Sanctuary’s residents were stunned to learn that they had less than twenty-four hours notice before they were required to relocate to makeshift accommodations at other shelters. As of 4 pm Monday, October 18th, most Sanctuary residents still didn’t know where they will be transferred, echoing memories of a similar debacle when the City suddenly closed a temporary emergency shelter at Mission Rock during Mayor Brown’s administration. Similar to that well-documented fiasco, most Sanctuary residents still didn’t know where they would be sleeping the next night, or even how they would transport their belongings from the Sanctuary to the City’s 150 Otis Street storage facility for homeless people.

Former Episcopal Sanctuary resident Paul Thomas Cahill, age 60, was worried. “Shelter residents are being forced to move and store their belongings at 150 Otis Street, just in time for this winter’s first big rain storm.”

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez introduced long-awaited legislation Tuesday, October 19th, 2004 to create a Shelter Monitoring Committee, providing public oversight of shelter conditions and policies. Sanctuary residents attended that meeting of the Board and voiced displeasure that they weren’t given adequate notice to prepare for their mandatory move.

The proposed Shelter Monitoring Committee would be comprised of homeless people, service providers and other members of the community. It would be responsible for visiting shelters, writing reports, and reporting their findings to the Department of Human Services, the department of Public Health, the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors. If such an oversight body had already been in place, residents of Episcopal Sanctuary would have been better informed and prepared for their relocation.

A hearing regarding legislation to create the Shelter Monitoring Committee was scheduled for 9 am November 10th at the Board of Supervisors’ Rules Committee in City Hall Room 263.

On Wednesday, October 27th, Supervisor Chris Daly scheduled a hearing on the Episcopal displacement matter at the Board of Supervisors’ Finance Committee. Again, Episcopal Sanctuary residents were on hand to dispute shelter management’s allegations that the shelter’s residents were informed of the move with adequate notice, or even given a firm move-out date.

According to the Sanctuary’s management, their outreach efforts regarding the move were targeted mainly to seniors and disabled shelter residents. Dariush Kayan, Director of Homeless Programs for the Department of Human Services, admitted under Supervisor Daly’s questioning that only about fifty of the over 150 shelter residents displaced could be located at other city-funded homeless shelters.

While not much could be done at the hearing to undo their current travails, Supervisor Daly’s recommendation that the Department of Human Services, their contract agencies, and shelter residents develop “best practices” scenarios for relocating shelter residents in not-uncommon circumstances such as this one was well received by all concerned.

If the many rumors that A Man’s Place shelter will be closing for improvements during the coming year are true, it’s vital that the Department of Human Services prioritize development of this best practices model for relocating shelter residents. Look to future STREET SHEETs for reports on how the process develops.

Coalition on Homelessness Executive Director Paul Boden summed up the current situation like this: “It’s ironic that if any private landlord had handled a tenant relocation effort this poorly-informing those affected as a seeming afterthought- the City Attorney would likely sue. After 22 years of the City operating homeless shelters, it’s not very encouraging to see they still haven’t learned to accomplish a simple relocation plan without creating needless drama and upheaval in these homeless people’s lives.”

Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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