SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) – As the COVID pandemic subsides and tourism increases, the demand for hotel rooms in San Francisco is returning – and with it the homeless on the streets.

And while many large hotels have been vacant for over a year, a few smaller ones took advantage of state and city incentives to house around 2,000 homeless people in rooms that used to go to tourists. Now there is tax money to buy hotels and use them to permanently house the homeless – which will cost millions of dollars. Is it a possible way forward in solving our homelessness crisis?

To answer the question, we decided to visit one of the hotels to take a look at the program, the people and the challenges that lie ahead of us.

In a story you’ll only see on ABC7 News, we took an exclusive look inside one of those former tourist hotels that have been converted into homeless shelters.

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In return for access to this hotel, which is just a few blocks from Union Square, we were asked not to provide details of where it was located. It was a real eye opener. Before the pandemic, rooms at this hotel ranged from $ 200 to $ 300 a night. That was then. These days you know from the first moment that this is not your average Union Square hotel.

Security and temperature controls are required of anyone entering.

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It’s one of 25 hotels across the city that closed when the pandemic crippled San Francisco and was later rented by the city with federal COVID emergency funds to shelter thousands of people who fell at the height of the pandemic camped the streets.

79 of the hotel’s 96 rooms are currently occupied.

“It’s a come-and-go situation, people are switching in and out, but we also need rooms on each floor for an office,” said Steve Good, CEO of Five Keys, the nonprofit that runs the hotel.

“It’s all part of a coordinated access system in San Francisco,” says Good.

“When the pandemic really started to take hold well over a year ago, the city had to react quickly to get as many of the 6,000 or so homeless people off the streets, and it was a win-win situation as you had the tourist season completely Thrown off the cliff, we had caterers and food service folks out of business so we had a huge problem with the fear of the COVID threat so the city responded in May and opened a number of hotels and location 35 became one of the Accommodation in the hotel, “says Good.

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What do you get when you come to a hotel like this: “You all get a private room, some hotels are different from others, but each of these rooms has at least one double bed. It has a TV, a sink, and a full bathroom, “says Good.

Site 35, as they call it, provides food, laundry, and medical care to residents. Everything on site.

“All the rooms that you see are marked with different notations, once a day wellness check, from 9:00 p.m., how many guests are in the room, whether there are special needs such as medical needs, physical needs or dietary restrictions or whether there is a pet, “says Good.

Well said “Site 35” is actually one of the quieter homeless hotels.

But there are still problems.

“Guest disputes. Sometimes there are couples who live together in larger places, sometimes there can be noise at night, something like in every household or apartment, it’s not really different. ”Gut says.

There are also psychological problems and drug problems.

“Unfortunately, it’s pretty high. You know drug and alcohol problems aren’t the cause of homelessness per se, but now with Covid and hotels, more than 80 percent suffer from one or the other or a combination of” the two, “says Good.

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What about drug overdoses?

“Unfortunately, that’s a real problem.” Good says.

Drug overdoses are trending to break new records in San Francisco. 700 people died in 2020 and more than 250 people this year. Health officials say it is a by-product of a fentanyl crisis that is gripping the country. The opening up of these hotels to the homeless has likely resulted in them overdosing on the streets.

“We saved 155 lives,” says Good. But they also lost about 20 people to overdosing from 8 locations in San Francisco.

Violence is rare, the staff here are trained in de-escalation techniques. When they need help, they called the police.

“The big thing is trust and respect. They are people, ”says one employee during his meeting.

For the residents here, a roof over their heads is better than being exposed to the street

“It’s beautiful – they really treat us – it’s a blessing to have these people,” said one woman who joined the program after 10 years on the street.

For them and the others there is now a home in every former hotel room. A home that many do not want to leave – even if it means having their own apartment.

Good estimates suggest that only around 30 to 40% of current residents will ever have the opportunity to walk alone.

“And that could be an optimistic guess,” says Good.

Means a hotel room – possibly the best long-term solution to what many consider to be a short-term problem.

The result: the hotel program costs roughly the same as the $ 200 to $ 300 a night a tourist would spend per night.

But “we also provide care, we offer help and support around the clock,” says Good.

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