One Way to Get People Off the Streets: Buy Hotels


With offices booming in San Francisco and plenty of overtime opportunities, Mr. Sanchez said that at its peak it could hit a maximum of $ 22 an hour, or just over $ 60, adjusted for inflation. He wasn’t worried about the rent either. He stayed in his family’s public housing unit until his mid-twenties and had a cheap after-hours life that consisted of floating around the neighborhood and hanging out with friends near the BART stop on 24th Street. “I was always on the street,” he said.

When he moved out of his family’s home, an event sparked by his brother’s murder in a drug deal, what he described as a series of falling wages, broken relationships, and unstable housing conditions began to rock him back and forth in the Bay Area and ended up pitching a tent in front of a church a block away.

“I started partying and stuff,” he said. “Starting cocaine and smoking weed.”

Mr Sanchez says he’s only got two formal leases for a few months each, and has seen enough wives and girlfriends in the process that he can’t say exactly how many of their names he tattooed and covered up.

“Bad call,” he said. “I have a heart for people.”

Mr. Sanchez jumped from rooms to floors and couches, saying he was functionally homeless even when he wasn’t on the street. At some point he moved to Sacramento, which is cheaper to rent, but had moved into landscaping and painting after his back injury, and that was only $ 10 an hour.

In early 2020, he slept on the floor of a friend’s hotel room and made about $ 1,000 a month in social security benefits and a little extra doing yard and gutter cleaning jobs every hour. One day he met a woman he knew and she offered to let him sleep in her tent next to an episcopal church one block from his children’s apartment. He said yes and soon got his own tent.

“I said, ‘Oh, is it like that? It’s not that bad, ”he said.

Homelessness, as experienced by Gregory Sanchez, is a relatively new phenomenon. In the early 1980s, scientists began documenting people sleeping in parks and bus stops. Then as now, researchers attributed this to a mix of falling wages, rising housing costs, and a frayed safety net associated with addiction and untreated mental illness.

Another factor that has largely been lost in history has been the loss of single occupancy hotels, which served as a crucial source of last resort housing. This has led the tenants to oppose Somerton’s conversion. When Mr Lembi asked the city for permission to renovate Somerton from residential to tourist hotel in 1984, it was challenged by Randy Shaw, a longtime housing attorney who founded the Tenderloin Housing Clinic in 1980 and still operates it today . He eventually negotiated an agreement that allowed the two dozen long-term residents to stay at the Hotel Diva.



Robert Dunfee