ONLY ON ABC7NEWS.COM: SF women and children's shelter closes after child tests positive for lead poisoning

Friday, October 4, 2019
ONLY ON ABC7NEWS.COM: Child poisoned with lead at San Francisco women and children's shelter
EMBED <>More Videos

A San Francisco shelter for homeless women and children is closing after one of the youngest residents recently tested positive for lead.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A San Francisco shelter for homeless women and children is closing after one of the youngest residents recently tested positive for lead.

On Thursday, Catholic Charities called ABC7 News reporter, Kate Larsen, and said they are shutting down Star Community Home and moving out all the residents, after failing three lead tests with San Francisco's Department of Public Health in the past month.

"This is my third hotel," said San Francisco mother Ashley Austin, from inside her Tenderloin motel room, where she's living with her one and four-year-old sons.

Austin and her children left Star Community Home three weeks ago after Ashley says her one-year-old, Zakari, tested positive for lead during a checkup. "The city, they called me and my son's levels were higher. He was supposed to be at a zero and they were higher."

RELATED: Tech startup builds more beautiful Bay Area for homeless women & children

Ashley says Zakari's lead level was 7.5 when San Francisco's Department of Public Health called her on September 4th. She's waiting for the results of a second blood test from last week.

No amount of lead is safe, but levels under 10 are treated by removing the child from the lead source. A pediatrician that ABC7 consulted with, says that low levels of lead can result in subtle, but permanent, neurocognitive effects, like decreased IQ.

Austin, who has been featured in several ABC7 stories about Star Community Home, was living at the shelter for 10 months leading up to her son's lead poisoning.

"One of the staff told me this is an old building, all of the paint in here has lead. So my thinking is if you knew that and this is a place for women and children, that should have been all addressed."

Austin shared photos of decorative tape the Richmond district shelter used to cover her lead-contaminated window sills after a Department of Public Health inspector came out and tested the 90-year-old building last month.

"This is the playroom, community room space, that we had to seal off," said Ellen Hammerle, the Vice President of Client Services at Catholic Charities, who also showed where they taped off the door to the backyard, where City found lead in the soil.

"We went through three lead cleaning phases, with the specialized company that does this work and then yesterday was the final test and DPH was going to come back and check and unfortunately it failed the third time and that's when we decided we needed to move all the clients out of the facility," said Hammerle.

"The whole staff are also upset," said Lucia Lopez, who is the program director at Star Community Home. She and other Star employees will now be employed at different Catholic Charity programs.

Kate Larsen: "Has there been a lead inspection at Star in the five years you've been here?"

Lucia Lopez: "In 2014, there was a lead inspection in the building and we were cleared."

Lopez, Hamerle, and Catholic Charities deny knowing about any unresolved lead issues at the shelter, as does San Francisco's Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

"We're taking this extremely seriously," said Abigail Stewart-Kahn, a spokesperson for the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

HSH partnered with Star last year, and now the City provides the operating costs for the shelter.

RELATED: Homeless women, children see new permanent supportive housing in San Francisco

When asked how the City is responding to the lead contamination, Stewart-Kahn said, "as soon as this came to our attention we took very quick action to get the families to safety and start to work on what it would take to remediate those issues in the building."

Other children who have been living at the shelter have been tested for lead and are waiting for their test results.

Catholic Charities says all the families will all be moved out of Star Community Home and placed at other shelters and hotels by Friday evening, which will be paid for by Catholic Charities and the City.

Catholic Charities leases the Star Community Home building, on Geary Blvd. and 8th Ave., from the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Catholic Charities hopes to reopen Star next year. But at this point, Catholic Charities estimates lead remediation and other needed repairs, like a new roof, will cost more than $2 million.

They hope to raise that money through charitable contributions as well as working with the city for repair funds.