Broken Homes

San Francisco spends millions of dollars to shelter its most vulnerable residents in dilapidated hotels. With little oversight or support, the results are disastrous.

For two years, this has been Pauline Levinson’s home:

A run-down, century-old hotel in the Tenderloin, where a rodent infestation became so severe that she pitched a tent inside her room to keep the mice away.

Where residents have threatened each other with knives, crowbars and guns, sometimes drawing police to the building several times a day.

Where, since 2020, at least nine people have died of drug overdoses. One man was discovered only after a foul stench seeped from his room into the hall.

Levinson is one of thousands of poor, sick or highly vulnerable people left to languish and at times die in unstable, underfunded and understaffed residential hotel rooms overseen by a city department that reports directly to Mayor London Breed, a yearlong investigation by The San Francisco Chronicle found.

Pauline Levinson sheds tears while talking about life at the Jefferson Hotel on Eddy Street in the Tenderloin.

At the Jefferson Hotel, Pauline Levinson has coped with rodents, violence and neighbors dying of overdoses. Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

In a complex arrangement, the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, or HSH, pays nonprofit groups to provide rooms and aid to formerly homeless people in about 70 single-room-occupancy hotels, known as SROs, which the nonprofits generally lease from private landlords. The buildings are the cornerstone of a $160 million program called permanent supportive housing, which is supposed to help people rebuild their lives after time on the streets.

But because San Francisco leaders have for years neglected the hotels and failed to meaningfully regulate the nonprofits that operate them, many of the buildings — which house roughly 6,000 people — have descended into a pattern of chaos, crime and death, the investigation found. Critically, the homelessness crisis in San Francisco has worsened.

To understand why more and more people are homeless despite a broad and expensive push to house them, Chronicle reporters obtained tens of thousands of pages of inspection records, incident reports, city contracts, police records and internal city emails through the California Public Records Act. They spent months interviewing more than 150 supportive housing tenants and employees — many of them in buildings operated by the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, the city’s biggest nonprofit SRO operator — and observing conditions in 16 hotels.

Among the findings:

• HSH says its goal is to provide some residents with enough stability to enter more independent housing. But of the 515 tenants tracked by the government after they left permanent supportive housing in 2020, a quarter died while in the program — exiting by passing away, city data shows. An additional  21% returned to homelessness, and 27% left for an “unknown destination.” Only about a quarter found stable homes, mostly by moving in with friends or family or into another taxpayer-subsidized building.

• At least 166 people fatally overdosed in city-funded hotels in 2020 and 2021 — 14% of all confirmed overdose deaths in San Francisco, though the buildings housed less than 1% of the city’s population. The Chronicle compiled its own database of fatal overdoses, cross-referencing records from the medical examiner’s office with supportive housing SRO addresses, because HSH said it did not comprehensively track overdoses in its buildings.

Click here to read the full article at the SF Chronicle


  1. Government slums.

    • stylin19 says

      “…70 single-room-occupancy hotels, known as SROs, which the nonprofits generally lease from private landlords…”

      wonder why the landlords aren’t being held to task. They own and are getting paid.

  2. People NEVER appreciate FREE. Remember the old saying: No good deed goes unpunished…..?

  3. “Homelessness” is a big racket designed to pad the coffers of developers and politicians. You can’t take addicts out of addiction by putting them into housing. Although the SROs require that applicants be drug free to obtain housing, they quickly revert to drug use and drug sales. People accustomed to leaving trash everywhere and defecating in the street do the same things in their rooms in the SRO hotels. A pristine newly remodeled SRO is a slum within a year, despite the best efforts of conscientious and very compassionate people who manage and maintain the hotels (employees are often tenants). In order to keep up these SROs it would be necessary to have maid service daily in every room, clearly not affordable for those who lease the hotels from the City or from private owners. .

  4. Sam Adams says

    Racketeering of the Left has no limits.

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