lee.debate.jpgAbout 50 homeless people and their advocates gathered at San Francisco City Hall Tuesday to call on Mayor Ed Lee to find housing for families on a wait list for shelter in the city.

The rally, organized by the Coalition on Homelessness, started on the steps of City Hall and continued outside the doors of the mayor’s office, where protesters demanded a meeting with Lee.

“Homeless families have been largely ignored,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the coalition.

Organizers said there are about 250 homeless families currently on wait lists for shelter in the city, and that there are about 800 empty units at public housing complexes around the city that are in disrepair but could be cheaply renovated to house the families.

Speakers at the rally said that even those with shelter are often forced to cram into single-occupancy units at residential hotels around the city.

Joyce Lum from the group SRO Families United said there are more than 1,600 families living in the single-occupancy rooms, many of whom reside in Chinatown, where several people, from toddlers to grandparents, have to share a single kitchen and bathroom.

“That’s not right,” Lum said.

Lisa Dyas from Compass Family Services, which provides help to at-risk families, said there has been a surge in requests for help in the past few years.

“It’s at an all-time high,” Dyas said, adding that families sometimes wait several months to gain access to a shelter.

“Imagine the most stressful day you’ve had as a parent, then multiply that by six or seven months,” she said.

Friedenbach said members of the coalition have been asking to meet with Lee since last month to discuss the problem of homeless families and where to house him, but the mayor’s office has not responded.

The protesters went into City Hall following the rally and demanded to meet with Lee.

Joaquin Torres, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, said the mayor was not there but offered to meet with the group.

Friedenbach said the group would only meet with Torres if he guaranteed the mayor would meet with them at a later date, but he did not commit to a meeting.

The coalition eventually left the mayor’s office but Friedenbach said they planned on returning at a later date.

“We’re going to keep coming back and coming back until we get a response,” she said.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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