Part of what makes Central SOMA such a great neighborhood is that its proximity means it is the heart of the Bay Area. Adjacent to both BART and Caltrain stations, and served by the 101, I-80 and I-280 freeways, it takes less time to (or from) here than pretty much anywhere else in the six counties. This transit infrastructure is mirrored by other infrastructure including the largest homeless shelter in San Francisco, MSC South, which typically serves 340 people per night in extremely cramped quarters. To promote social distancing, the facility was serving only 150 clients; On Friday April 10th it was announced that 70 of these people had tested positive for the Corona Virus. On Monday April 12th it was announced that a total of 82 residents and 10 staff, i.e. 92, people had tested positive at the facility.
“For the last few weeks we’ve been agitating and raising our voices to demand that unhoused people go into reasonable shelters…Which in the context of a highly infectious pandemic is hotel rooms or vacant units.” UCSF Dr. Rupa Myrafrom SF Chronicle
Apparently homeless advocates had complained that the facility had taken a cavalier attitude towards Covid mitigation not respecting social distancing and with staff not wearing appropriate face masks. Despite all this, the MSC South facility is being converted into a medical outpost to serve the homeless community. It remains to be seen whether the center, which typically operates with a line of perhaps 20 people waiting to enter, will interact differently with the neighborhood. Of course just across Bryant Street from MSC South is the 84 person Bryant Homeless Navigation Center.
What does this mean for the neighborhood?
While we should always have empathy for the lease fortunate, practicing extreme social distancing from this high risk population can keep you and your neighbors ill. Remember just because you feel fine does not mean you are not an asymptomatic carrier of the virus. Following public health guidelines seems reasonable, as does avoiding places where homeless tend to gather (for example in front of the entrance to the Mission Bay Public Library, and at the entrance of the King Street Safeway Store). If you want to learn more about homelessness in San Francisco, the seminal work is “Hobos, Husters and Backsliders” written a decade ago by ethnographer Teresa Gowan.
In our dense neighborhood, many people live in multifamily buildings (aka apartment buildings like those run by Avalon or condo buildings like The Beacon). These multifamily buildings have their own approaches to risk mitigation, and incredibly enough some do not even allow residents to practice social distancing by using the stairways instead of just the elevators. If you have to use an elevator to reach the outside world it is best to ride with no one else and regardless to wear masks an gloves. For people who live in single family homes it is a good idea to sanitize door nobs and other places you are likely to touch.
Ultimately living in a dense neighborhood means that services will, and should, exist for those less fortunate. As fellow denizens of the neighborhood it is critical to realize that while homeless are intrinsically at high risk for this disease, among others, we should also try to have empathy and care. At this time it is best to avoid them, but also for those able to support charities that help homeless…like the St Vincent de Paul Society which runs MSC South. If you wish to support them, donate here!