SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — 20 hotel rooms at the Oasis Hotel are no longer sitting vacant during the coronavirus pandemic after dozens of homeless families officially moved in.

San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston went around the city’s red tape and partnered with Providence Foundation of San Francisco to secure private donations that paid to put people up in hotels, giving people who are homeless a shot at social distancing.

“Hours matter, we can’t just sit around discussing these ideas we need to move forward,” Preston said.

Henry Banks, his wife and their three young children were one of the first families chosen for the pilot project.

“This is a blessing for us because it gives us a shower, a refrigerator,” Henry Banks said.

Julia Elliott is also getting a room. She says social distancing at the women’s shelter has been difficult.

“I think it’s ideal and it’s necessary there are plenty of empty hotel rooms at this time and people that need them,” Elliott said.

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San Francisco has about 34,000 hotel rooms and most of them are vacant due to cancelled conventions and suspended travel plans caused by the statewide shelter-in-place order during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Preston secured rooms at the Oasis hotel for $80 a night, all funded by private donations including $10,000 from Preston himself.

The idea of putting the homeless in hotels was first floated by Governor Gavin Newsom. His team identified 901 hotels that could house the homeless. Next, Mayor London Breed identified 31 hotels in San Francisco, but most of those rooms won’t go to anyone on the street or in a shelter.

Instead, the mayor intends to prioritize first responders, people in Single Room Occupancies (SROs) who have to share community spaces and patients who have had the virus and need to be discharged from the hospital to self quarantine.

“If we only had a couple thousand rooms available then the city’s approach would make sense, but we have an estimated 30,000 hotel rooms sitting vacant,” Preston said.

He cautions if the city doesn’t find a way to create some distance for people in crowded shelters, social distancing by the rest of the community won’t do much good.

“It’s not enough to do everything right with respect to one small segment of the population, because we have people living in big congregate living situations there’s a serious risk that those folks spread the virus amongst themselves and then out in the community,” Preston said.

Alameda county is also working to identify hotel space for the homeless, it’s prioritizing people who have tested positive for the virus. The county expects to have it’s first emergency hotel operational by the end of the week.

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