By John Ramos

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — Protesters demonstrated in San Francisco Sunday over what they say is the city’s effort to phase out the shelter-in-place hotels for the homeless.

When the pandemic hit, San Francisco leased hotels to house 2,300 homeless people most vulnerable to the virus. But city officials have been nervous about that because funding was coming from FEMA

“…With the understanding that we potentially had a 30-day window in the future at which FEMA was going to cut funding and we would have to figure out how to house 2,000 people,” explained T.J. Holsman, an organizer for an advocacy group called “Hotels Not Hospitals.”

Sunday, housing activists gathered in Union Square to protest what they believe is an effort by San Francisco’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) to phase out the shelter-in-place hotel program.

“The city will be kicking thousands of people out of the only shelter they have as COVID cases and deaths are at the highest they’ve ever been!” said activist Sylvia Viviana.

Recently, the board of supervisors voted to continue the hotel program but with a condition that, as people are moved to permanent housing, only 60 percent of the hotel space can be refilled with homeless individuals.

“So, for every 10 people that are moved out of shelter-in-place hotels, only 6 people can be moved in … instead of 10,” said Holsman. “So, what that means is, HSH can begin actually shutting down shelter-in-place hotels.”

There may be a shortage of homes but there is no shortage of people who need one. The protesters displayed paper flowers to symbolize the estimated 10,000 people living on the street.

Facing his own eviction, San Franciscan Ron Carter is afraid he may be joining them soon.

“To wind up being evicted and homeless on the street — it’s a life and death situation,” he said.

Paul Breed joined the protest but he understands the practicalities of the problem. It may feel good to condemn wealthy landlords or blame government officials for not creating enough affordable housing “But the reality is that we have managed to freeze our construction to prevent it,” Breed said. “How do we reverse that? I don’t know. That’s a political problem and it deserves political attention.”

The housing activists say the day after the supervisors’ vote, FEMA announced it will continue to fund the hotel program throughout the length of the pandemic but, as of now, they say the city is still holding to its plan to reduce the number of new homeless people assigned to the hotel rooms.