By Sadie Stone, Pastor Bethany UMC
On March 16, 2020 the Mayor of San Francisco, announced that we were to shelter in place and only essential personal should continue to go to work. The order went on to note that the homeless population was exempt from this order to shelter in place, but they should seek shelter if they could. In that statement, there was no plan to assist the move vulnerable in our city, the homeless, those living in congregate shelters, and those living in SROs. In other words, the most vulnerable were left at the mercy of the virus with no help to be found.
At one point the San Francisco United Methodist Churches were asked to open our doors to create more shelter space, and while we are more than willing to open our doors to the most vulnerable in other circumstances, more congregate shelter space without proper social distancing and showers seemed like it would only create hotbeds of disease and spread. This was not the way to show love to our neighbors. While we were having these conversations the San Francisco supervisors were passing resolutions urging Mayor London Breed to make hotel rooms available for the vulnerable populations, along with pressure from various religious and community organizations; and more days and time passed, and residents in shelters began testing positive for Covid-19.
This is when District Superintendent Staci Current called the clergy of the 9 San Francisco UMC churches and our deacon for community engagement and advocacy together and proposed that we take radical action, in the way of a $100,000 gift from SUMM, to immediately move residents from a shelter into a hotel, and within a few days that is exactly what happened. This past weekend every resident of Hospitality House shelter were moved into hotel rooms, assuring them safety, comfort, and dignity.
Hospitality House Executive Director Joseph T. Wilson stated, "All of us at Hospitality House are grateful beyond words for the incredible generosity of the United Methodist Church. Ensuring that the most vulnerable are valued, reflects the time-honored tradition of doing 'all the good that you can, in all the ways you can, for all the people you can.' Our community is the better for it."
Our work doesn’t stop here as there are still thousands of vulnerable San Franciscans who need shelter, and so we have put out the call to corporations and other communities of faith to match our gift, and more than that we have put out the call to Mayor London Breed to move every unhoused person and every person in shelters into the empty hotel rooms. As a society and as people of faith we know that we are only as strong as the most vulnerable among us, and our duty as Christians is to lift a prophetic voice to those who are marginalized and overlooked.
In this Holy Week as we remember the words, the work, and the lessons of Jesus Christ,
“1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.” (Psalm 22)
We must head the call of those who are on the streets, and pray for the leaders who have the power to provide respite, protection and comfort. The gift of $100,000 is just the start, but more work remains to be done and we are committed to seeing that all the vulnerable in San Francisco are afforded a chance at safety, protection and dignity.
Read Faith in Action Bay Area press release
For Immediate Release
Contact: Matt Alexander, (415) 902-5447, firstname.lastname@example.org
While Mayor London Breed Hesitates, San Francisco Congregations Raise Funds To House Homeless in Vacant Hotel Rooms
United Methodist Church Leads the Way with $100,000 Donation
On Saturday, April 4, nine United Methodist congregations in San Francisco committed $100,000 to shelter homeless San Franciscans in vacant hotel rooms amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, and at least 17 people moved into hotels over the weekend.
While most San Franciscans have been sheltering in place since March 16, around 8,000 homeless people still live on the streets or in crowded shelters, where social distancing is impossible and mass illness is all but guaranteed. In the meantime, the city currently has 40,000 vacant hotel rooms, a fraction of which could be used to shelter the homeless and provide the necessary physical distancing.
Over the past two weeks, faith leaders across the city have become increasingly frustrated with what they see as a lack of leadership from Mayor London Breed. They have taken action to protect their homeless neighbors, writing an open letter urging the Mayor and Supervisors to shelter all homeless community members, holding prayer vigils, and raising funds.
This past weekend, the nine United Methodist churches of San Francisco (Bethany UMC, Geneva Avenue UMC, Grace UMC, Jones Memorial UMC, Park Presidio UMC, Pine UMC, San Francisco Chinese UMC, San Francisco Korean UMC, and Temple UMC) announced that they are contributing $100,000 to shelter unhoused San Franciscans in hotels during the COVID-19 crisis. St. James Episcopal Church in the Richmond and St. Agnes Catholic Church in the Haight have also announced an additional $7,000 in contributions.
Rev. Staci Current, Bay District Superintendent of the California Nevada Conference of the United Methodist Church, spoke about dedicating the $100,000 to care for the most vulnerable in the week leading up to Easter: “Especially during Holy Week, we offer this gift as a tangible expression of our faithful Christian response to Jesus' invitation to care for the most vulnerable. We encourage other faith communities, corporations, and the City government to join us in this effort to provide true shelter for all San Franciscans during this public health crisis.”
People of faith across San Francisco are posting photos of themselves with prayers for the Mayor on a Facebook group called Shelter for All: Save the Soul of San Francisco. A middle school student asked the mayor to open the hotels, quoting Jesus: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Another quoted the Torah: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”
Yesterday, the Mayor backed off from plans to turn the Moscone Center and the Palace of Fine Arts into mass shelters that seemed likely to exacerbate health risks. But Trent Roher, head of the City’s Human Services Agency, is still maintaining that it is not “fiscally prudent” to shelter all unhoused people in the empty hotel rooms.
Rev. Joanna Lawrence Shenk, associate pastor of First Mennonite Church of San Francisco, hopes that the Mayor will provide the leadership needed in this moment. “In my faith tradition, we have a moral obligation to confront any ideology that values fiscal prudence over human life,” she said. “We know that a system that allows for vulnerable people to be discarded on the streets will be the death of everyone. In this wealthy city, we have the resources not just to keep everyone safe from COVID-19, but also to ensure that everyone has a home.”
Faith in Action Bay Area is planning a virtual prayer vigil this Friday, March 10, at 10:00 am, to continue to pray that Mayor Breed acts quickly to protect unhoused San Franciscans.
He supports sheltering those without homes in hotel rooms "to help those especially in need as Christ would do. There is no other choice."
- Fr. Raymond Allender, SJ, Pastor, St. Agnes Catholic Church