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Fire Chief: More homeless on San Francisco streets coming from other cities, counties amid pandemic

San Francisco Homelessness

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – “The initial site by the Asian Art Museum, it was at least 70-75% of those folks were from out of town and very recently from out of town,” Jeanine Nicholson said. 

The San Francisco Fire Chief says they’re seeing more people out on the streets and a lot of them are coming from other cities or counties, hoping to score a hotel room.

In April, the city was supposed to secure more than 8,000 rooms for the local homeless population but fell roughly 5,000 rooms short.

The city says more homeless are planting themselves in San Francisco compounding the problem.

“What they’re telling us is “yeah, I just came here from lake county. I just got out of jail or I’m here from Stockton and I heard I could get X,Y, and Z.” We’ve had people walk up to our members and say, “Hey, where do I get a tent? how do I get a hotel room?” Jeanine Nicholson said. 

San Francisco Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson says the fire department and its paramedics, who frequently interact with the homeless, have seen and met a lot of new faces lately, especially near the Asian Art Museum.

She says roughly 75% of the people there came to the city, hoping to get on a list for one of the less than 3,000 hotel rooms that the city secured for its homeless.

“Some folks are calling 911 just to see if they can get on a list for housing, they believe they’re going to be able to come here and just sort of have a good time and get some housing,” Nicholson said. 

Originally the city was supposed to secure more than 8,000 rooms in April but failed to meet that deadline.

Just last week, Mayor London Breed echoed the fact that the city is already struggling to house the current homeless population, let alone any newcomers.

“A lot of feedback from people who are out there on the front line where people are showing up in San Francisco from other places and asking where their hotel room is. That’s a real problem for me because we already have a problem as it relates to homelessness as it is. No one from other cities should be coming to San Francisco expecting that they’re going to get prioritized over the people that are already here,” Nicholson said. 

However some aren’t convinced that there’s a growing number of out-of-town homeless in the city.

KRON4 asked Chief Nicholson how they’re sure that these people came from other places.

“I would say ride along with our engines, our paramedics or our community paramedics. Our community paramedics are really a specialized group of folks that are trained to deal with people who frequent 911 system a lot, people who are living on the street as well and they are really embedded in the community. they’re seeing the same thing. It’s not just one or two people at all, at all,” Nicholson said. 

In most cases, Chief Nicholson says the new arrivals are giving this information to their field crews, and asking for help.

She’s worried about more people coming to the city, not getting the resources they need and then causing larger public health risks.

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