by Simone Manganelli (originally published in Street Sheet)
The most direct way to permanently solve homelessness is to provide homes for people to live in. Every San Franciscan deserves to live in safe and permanent housing, including those who don’t currently have a home.
One of the promises of Proposition C was to find permanent solutions for people experiencing homelessness. This past October, the City purchased three hotels using Prop. C funding for just this purpose. The first was the Mission Inn in the Outer Mission neighborhood. Throughout the pandemic, the hotel was already being used as a temporary residence for previously unhoused veterans. If you’re a Will Smith fan, you may also recognize this hotel from “The Pursuit Of Happyness,” a movie set in San Francisco that was released in 2006.
In October, the City also approved the purchase of the Eula Hotel in the Inner Mission. The Eula Hotel will provide 25 units of housing for youth, and The Mission Inn in the Excelsior District will add 52 units of housing to the City’s permanent supportive housing portfolio. The Mission Inn’s capacity can also be expanded to provide even more housing in the future.
An apartment complex in the South of Market neighborhood originally built for students in 2015 called the Panoramic has also been approved for purchase. It has the ability to house homeless families, a rarity in San Francisco. Out of 160 total units available, 40 are large, three-bedroom units, appropriate for larger families. Like the Mission Inn, this property has also served as a home for formerly unhoused tenants during the pandemic. Many of these residents called in to a Board of Supervisors meeting, also in October, to passionately advocate for the City to acquire the property and maintain it as permanent supportive housing.
I chatted with one of the current residents of the Panoramic, Couper Orona, a street medic who lost her home while working as a firefighter in Sacramento ten years ago. Couper has been living at the Panoramic for almost a year, and it’s been transformative. “The ability to be warm, not worry about the elements, means I can relax,” Couper told me. “That’s a lot of stress being on the street, and being a female on the street is even more stressful. One thing less I have to worry about. You don’t have to look behind your back.”
The Panoramic has been transformative for other residents, too. According to Couper, “a handful of folks that were out on the street now have housing. It’s amazing to see the change that they have come through. These are folks that wouldn’t take a shower for a long time or were howling at the moon. I see these folks inside, they’ve taken a shower, they’ve taken pride in themselves. It’s a trip because five of the folks never really even talked to people—now they’re having conversations, sitting in the lobby. Amazing to see what having a home can do. They were basically untouchable before. Something so simple as being able to lock your door.”
The pandemic has been hard on Couper’s housing search. She told me she’s been “on every housing list possible. I didn’t even get into a [shelter-in-place] hotel.” And while the funding from Prop. C was finally released in September 2020 after litigation ended, Couper says that it still doesn’t seem like the City is doing enough to really help the most vulnerable San Franciscans. “I deal with folks out on the street every day, every night—I haven’t seen that money trickle down to the streets, no relief for the people that are outside on the street.” It’s “disheartening and disappointing,” she says.
You may remember Couper from when she participated in a 2020 protest calling out the City’s lack of dedication to its unhoused residents by occupying a vacant home in the Castro. As usual, instead of helping a neighbor in need to find housing, some of the nearby residents called the police, who quickly surrounded the building. Couper points out how the police were “protecting the property, not the people.”
“I love the City but I’m embarrassed by my city,” she continued. “[They] used a battering ram to knock down the door, didn’t ask us to get out.”
Which brings us back to the Panoramic, and how the prospect of permanent housing funded by Prop. C can be life-changing for long-time San Francisco residents, by focusing on the needs of residents themselves. “All in all, I want to say that the Panoramic and the way that they run the show there—it’s really positive for people,” Couper says. “[Residents] have a life and are a part of the community; [they] were these people sleeping under a tarp on the side of the street. Amazing to see the change in people just because they have a place to live. Happy to be inside, chilling inside in their apartments. We have to remember their human side, and not worry about property values. These are people that have a heartbeat that are living—we need to take care of them. No matter where you are, we are all San Francisco residents. Just because you have a hiccup in your life and you’re living on the street, these are people that need to be paid attention to.”