Officials vote to improve SF shelters

March 18, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
On Tuesday, San Francisco supervisors voted to require a higher level of basic care in the city-run homeless shelters. It's something many homeless people say is desperately needed.

On any given day, an estimated 1,300 homeless people take refuge in the city's shelters. And on any given day, it's not clear what conditions they'll encounter there.

This is what Mara Chaykin says she has experienced.

"There's no doors on the toilet stalls for privacy, women are sitting on the toilets behind shower curtains that are broken down, there are no toilet paper being provided in each stall," said Mara Chaykin, a homeless woman.

Homeless individuals and their advocates recently rallied outside San Francisco City Hall, demanding minimum standards for hygiene and safety -- a baseline that would be uniform throughout the shelter system.

This would include access to soap, toilet paper, clean sheets, drinking water, as well as training for shelter staff.

"You have any other institution and there are standards, whether it's a nursing home, a jail, a hospital and we don't have that in San Francisco shelters," said Jennifer Friedenbach from the Coalition on Homelessness.

Another man says there's often a lack of basics.

"There's so many of us by the time we get inside, there's no soap, no towels, we need help man," said a homeless man.

It's somewhat surprising since the city spends $16 million dollars a year on a dozen shelters.

ABC7's Carolyn Tyler: "Why don't these shelters have these basic necessities, some of them anyway?"

"A lot of the allocation of resources into the shelters has been around supportive services. We do have a lot of the hygiene items there and are allocating additional resources so that's starting to happen now, but there's room for improvement," said San Francisco Homeless Policy Director Dariush Kayhan.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano has authored legislation to guarantee that improvement.

"In a perfect world we don't want the shelters, we want housing. But in the meantime, we have to respect the dignity of the people who are forced to use the shelters out of extenuating circumstances," said San Francisco supervisor Tom Ammiano.

The Mayor's Office believes implementing the standards will cost about half a million dollars, but the administration is onboard and some changes have already begun.