I have been in this apartment for a little under two months. It feels like so much longer. It feels as if I have been in here forever, whilst simultaneously feeling like five minutes. I am aware of the tick tick of time clicking on by, time that will eventually run out and demand I can pay for this apartment all by myself, and I am terrified. I am scared of not being able to do it. I am scared of there not being another subsidy available to give me more time. I am scared of losing this delicate fragile safety, comfort, livability. Normalcy, of a kind that I have never had before, not as a child, not as a teenager, not as an adult; and never as a mother. I have never been able to be a mother that could wrap gifts for my child, that could give him his own room, that could sit down on a sofa and watch movies, after cooking a meal in a kitchen in an oven, and wave him off as he walked down the street to go out for the day, with a cell phone in his bag, and $30 in his wallet.
This kind of mundane, conventional sweet-life is priceless. It is blissful. It is giving the both of us the chance to make a life, both him and me. Being inside has given us the ghost of a hope of a future. In the five years living outside, the two of us had no hope of a future. He didn’t have access to regular internet or schooling. Instead I homeschooled him with books that I managed to buy here and there. He now goes to school five days a week and is doing very well indeed. He is a grade ahead of where he should be and is able to dream about college.
Our first step towards this future was getting inside, and that was only possible because of the Shelter In Place Hotel Program. Getting inside, however hard it was living there, however grueling, however noisy, however difficult, however restrictive and intrusive the ‘program’ was, sometimes feeling like a ‘soft prison’ rather than shelter, was the only way either of us had a future.
Hotels have generally been a place of shelter to me, rather than somewhere I go to vacation in. I suppose there was that time in Kyoto when the children were young that Mr Charming took us on vacation, in a nice hotel. That one time in Tokyo Disney we stayed overnight in the Hilton in Chiba, and his friends mother’s ryokan inn in Ibaraki. All times to be mostly withstood, not enjoyed, and the only times when I actually had a real home to go back to when the clock wound down and my time was up. Most of the time, it was a case of looking at the clock, sadly realizing that it was almost 11.30am and we would have to vacate the room, before going back outside. There were a few times on the road, when getting inside in a snowstorm, or a heatwave was a matter of urgency, of life and death. 120 degrees in Medford in a tin can on wheels is lethal. Fall in Montana on the way back west, the snow falling thickly, nowhere to hook up the RV to the electric and get some heat running, freezing half to death, and nowhere to park safely and unbothered, anyway.
Piling into a motel, scraping together the cash, falling into hot showers, and warm clean beds, turning on the TV and watching drag racing reality tv shows, or some silly thing where they made swords and knives and had some silly catchphrase about ‘this blade will cut!’ and cuddling up, groaning and feeling sad that even though we had only got there at 6pm, we would still have to be out of there at 11.30am. It didn’t seem right that we didn’t get 24 hours before we had to leave. Always almost leaving, always almost being thrown out. Always wishing we could stay just a little longer and recover.
Being outside is grueling. Being able to have hot showers inside a building, not in an unheated outside block, freezing half to death, is a luxury that I will never take for granted again. I step into my own shower now and let the hot water run over my head and cry I am so grateful, so happy, so blissfully thankful. I sleep in my own bed. I have a hope that I can actually have a career that will pay to keep me and the Boy in here. Getting inside didn’t fix everything, but it is far closer to being solved than it was before. If I had not left the campgrounds and the road…..things would not be as they are now. In fact, I don’t think my health was going to hold up. I think I would have probably died, and then who would my darling Boy have?
The 25 SIP hotels that housed over 2000 homeless people – including me and the Boy – during the pandemic, are scheduled to close, according to a plan published in June by the City’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. Seven of the SIP hotels are scheduled to close in September, and the rest in two more phases, until all of them have closed. With the closing of the hotels there is also the closing of the window of opportunity for their residents. Losing safety, opportunity, a chance to rebuild lives, to keep families together, saving both adults and children, young and old from the streets, from losing their lives, their hope, their futures, their dignity. Their ability to sleep somewhat safely, in a bed, with a shower, to get proper rest, so that they have the ability to work up enough energy to do more than simply survive.
Some people are going to end back up on the streets. Some people are going to end up falling back into addiction. Some will probably die. Some might lose their children. Some of those children might lose all their opportunities and be back out on the streets.
In the program I was in there were people who had worked so hard on their sobriety, their lives, on getting work, getting documentation, on their parenting skills, and the SIP hotel program enabled them to keep their family together. From pregnant women who had been sleeping on the streets, to men doing their very best to be good fathers who got to be there for their partners and children, and children, who like my Boy, had spend much of their childhood homeless and living in vehicles, outside in tents, or else couch surfing. These people who are still in the programs, still in the shelters, consider those hotels their homes. The hotels are central, so people can find work and don’t need a vehicle. They have private bathrooms. They provide dignity. Hope. I started to feel like a human being. I started to finally feel like I was clean, instead of permanently filthy and smelly. I started to feel like less of a failure as a mother, as I managed to put clean clothes on my son, and give him the opportunity to shower regularly.
People can rebuild their lives, and given half a chance, the vast majority of people will thrive given the tiniest of chances to do so. Those who need more help in order to live a meaningful life should be given support not thrown away. People are not trash, even if society wants to treat humans as if they are disposable. The covid pandemic might have been got under control, but the epidemic of homelessness, spiraling rents, heartlessness, and poverty is wiping through this country, and San Francisco is at the epicenter.
The difficulties in the programs that run the shelters are not enough to deny the fact that Hotels for homeless people work. Why should tourists with a place to live come before humans that need that room for their very survival? San Francisco is not going to be able to fill all these hotels with tourists, it makes sense to keep the homeless in them, and give people the chance to thrive. It is better for the city to have people in the hotels, instead of out on the streets. Better for public health, better for the safety of everyone involved. Everybody deserves a place to live, it breaks my heart to think that those people I shared a shelter with might not have got into housing in time. I know if I had been told I had to get out of there by a certain date, and had no clear plan of where we would go, it would absolutely have destroyed me. All hope, all calm, would have been disappeared. I don’t think me and the Boy would have made it through together. I have no idea what we would have done. People don’t have places to go.
I hear that currently many residents of the hotel programs which have closed thus far, have been moved to other SIP hotels. When those close too, those people will be pushed out. This is not good for San Francisco, and not good for humanity, and more importantly throwing people out onto streets is going to hurt those people who are so very close to being able to fix their lives and find their purpose in life. The pursuit of happiness is the right of every person in this country. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence as intrinsic to the American way of life – they are promised. Food, medicine, and a safe place to shelter are essential to those promised declarations that America is built on. It should be unconstitutional to throw people out of their basic shelter, let alone people with children.
If you want to take action in San Francisco, the Coalition on Homelessness has a newsletter you can sign up for with action alerts. Action is worth just as much as money. If enough people are outraged, and start pushing against the barriers that keep the most struggling members of society from thriving and being safely housed, then those barriers will fall.
Make a difference! Get involved, even if that means just turning up to meetings in the community, writing letters supporting the hotel program, and supporting actions that help get people off the streets and into housing, if that is what they want.
The hotel program works. Please support it.