COVID-19 and people experiencing homelessness

The coronavirus outbreak represents a significant health risk for people experiencing homelessness.

The coronavirus outbreak represents a significant health risk for people experiencing homelessness. People living in public spaces or in congregate settings, might have limited access to preventive measures like frequent hand-washing, staying home, cleaning or avoiding high-touch surfaces, and rapid access to health care. People living unsheltered are also far more likely to have chronic health conditions, one of the most significant risk factors with coronavirus.  

What should people in shelters do?

People staying in shelters should stay there. All shelter guests should wash hands frequently, and practice social distancing. The City is working to deploy enhanced cleaning services and meals to shelters and to expand the hours of those few shelters that were not already operating 24/7.

What should unsheltered people do?

Unsheltered people living in a public spaces, tents, in vehicles, or otherwise unsheltered, should use the City’s public restrooms and newly expanded hand-washing stations frequently. The City also recommends keeping tents at least 6 feet apart and sleeping only one person per tent. The City also is ensuring that the Homeless Outreach Team continues its work on the streets during this health crisis. 

What should I do if I am experiencing homelessness and think I have coronavirus?

People experiencing homelessness concerned about potential exposure to COVID-19 or who have been in contact with people who have been exposed to COVID-19, should contact a health care provider.  If they do not have a health care provider, they should contact Tom Waddell Urgent Care at 415.713.1963 and speak to a health care provider.  Additionally, they may contact ZSFGH Urgent Care at 628-206-8000.

What is the City doing to protect the health of people living in congregate environments, including shelters, single room occupancy hotels (SROs), and supportive housing?

San Francisco is undertaking a number of emergency actions to protect vulnerable populations who are at the greatest risk of getting very sick or dying if they contract COVID-19. These emergency efforts focus on reducing the risk of exposure to the virus for the many marginally housed seniors, people with underlying health conditions, people living in supportive housing and individuals experiencing homelessness, living in shelters single-room occupancy hotels (SROs) and other congregate living sites. The City and its partners are working to:

  • Enhance cleaning in shelters, resource centers, and SROs;
  • Increase meal offerings;
  • Expand shelter hours for the few shelters that were not already 24/7;
  • Enhance meal delivery programs for individuals in SROs;
  • Direct funding to support cleaning in privately owned SROs; and
  • Declare that anyone currently in a shelter or navigation center will not have to leave because of time limits during the health crisis.

How is the City modifying shelter operations for people experiencing homelessness based upon guidance from public health officials?

The Department of Public Health has issued guidance requiring social distancing in congregate settings. At this time, the City is not accepting new referrals into shelters and navigation centers. The 311 Shelter Waitlist is suspended.  

This policy will allow shelter providers to better implement social distancing within the shelter and navigation center facilities to keep our current guests safe. 

Note that the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing will still continue to accept shelter referrals from hospitals.

In addition, the City has temporarily adjusted the extension policy for adult shelters, family shelters, and navigation centers so that no one is timed out of a shelter placement during the COVID-19 crisis. 

What will the City do if people experiencing homelessness are diagnosed with COVID-19?

The City will provide temporary housing to individuals experiencing homelessness that have tested positive for COVID-19 or who have been exposed to the virus and have symptoms but do not have adequate shelter due to homelessness or shared living arrangements. 

Is the City providing alternative temporary housing for people who cannot self-isolate?

Yes, the City is working to provide alternative housing during the COVID-19 public health emergency by identifying public and private buildings that can be used as temporary shelters and alternative housing for high risk vulnerable populations that cannot self-isolate or self-quarantine, including but not limited to recreation centers, hotels, large venues, and other locations. High risk vulnerable populations include health care workers, first responders, people living in congregate settings including skilled nursing facilities, shelters/navigation centers, and SROs.   

The Department of Public Health will work in coordination with City officials to prioritize and identify individuals for referrals to temporary housing placements. Referrals for hotel rooms and temporary housing will be considered in direct consultation with health care providers.

Are homeless shelters, housing, and resource centers staying open during the crisis?

Yes. Homeless shelters, resource centers, access points, and supportive housing sites are essential services and will remain open throughout the shelter-in-place order. For more information please visit Link SF, a community directory of services for low-income or people experiencing homelessness.

The City is working in close partnership with nonprofit organizations that operate shelters, resource centers, access points, and supportive housing to ensure that they have the resources and supplies they need to stay open.  Resource centers will remain open for essential services such as meals, showers, laundry, and hygiene kits. 

What is the City doing to support unsheltered people in order to limit the spread of COVID-19?

The City continues to conduct outreach to people experiencing homelessness, focused on providing health tips and hygiene supplies.

The City has also deployed 30 hand-washing stations throughout San Francisco to complement the Pit Stops public restrooms located throughout the City. A map of locations can be found here.

The Healthy Streets Operation Center (HSOC), the City’s multi-departmental response to unhealthy street conditions, is refocusing its efforts on COVID-19 response. This response includes:

  • Not taking or removing tents;
  • Addressing criminal activity in encampments and on the streets;
  • Keeping areas clean (including regular street cleaning and power washing);
  • Collecting garbage from people living in tents,
  • Ensuring sidewalks are kept clear;
  • Not allowing large encampments (more than five tents) to form;
  • Asking people to stay one person per tent and keep tents at least 6 feet apart; and 
  • Educating people on COVID-19

What is the City doing to prevent homelessness during the crisis?

The City has taken a number of steps to help prevent individuals and families from becoming homeless during this crisis, including:

  • A moratorium on residential evictions related to financial impacts caused by COVID-19. The moratorium will prevent any resident from being evicted due to a loss of income related to business closure, loss of hours or wages, layoffs, or out-of-pocket medical costs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  
  • The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) will no longer shut off water or power for delinquent payments.

How can I help get supplies to shelters and people experiencing homelessness?

San Francisco’s Give2SF Fund allows the City to accept tax-deductible monetary contributions which can be spent on various City efforts to respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak and support residents. This includes providing shelter, food, and other types of assistance to help individuals across the City as well as assistance to small businesses impacted by the outbreak.

Last updated March 26, 2020