EXCLUSIVE: First look inside San Francisco hostel-turned-homeless shelter in Lower Nob Hill

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — On Post Streets between Leavenworth and Jones, final touches are being made to convert the former Ansonia Hotel into a homeless shelter. And that’s certainly not typical.

ABC7 News got an exclusive first look inside the building.

RELATED: Lower Nob Hill residents voice concerns over proposal to turn hostel into homeless shelter

We saw the newly renovated rooms which vary in size. Some have four beds, others only one bed. Many have private bathrooms, showers and changing rooms.

“We’re able to provide different options for people,” Dr. Lena Miller, co-founder of Urban Alchemy, the group that runs the shelter, told ABC7 News.

On Tuesday evening, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved the $18 million shelter, which will house up to 250 people at any one time. It should open at the end of next month.

Because it is an old hostel, the space already has resources already built in. There’s a laundry room, common areas with pool and foosball tables, and even a library with books. The city says it also hopes to install WiFi.

“I think it’s a hugely appealing building for people,” said Shireen McSpadden, executive director of the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Human Services.

McSpadden said the shelter is the first of its kind in the city. During the pandemic, as hotels became temporary homeless shelters, they learned that this model could be successful in helping people transition from the streets into more stable housing.

“We learned that, not surprisingly, people like to live in smaller rooms, to have more privacy,” McSpadden explained.

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Dr Miller said the fact that the space also has common living areas makes it ideal.

“Human beings at our deepest fundamental level, we have to have a connection,” she said. “And so what I really love about it is that it takes all of that into account and we can create spaces for people to engage and come together, in a really positive way.”

As ideal as it sounds, some neighbors in the Lower Nob Hill area have expressed concern about the site. They say the building has at least one big flaw: there’s no outdoor space. They fear this will lead to people congregating outside and loitering around their neighborhood.

“We fear it will fail, and it will fail on all of our streets,” Susan Walsh, a member of the Lower Nob Hill Neighborhood Alliance, told ABC7 News.

McSpadden said he heard those concerns. They plan to have 24/7 security in the building and Urban Alchemy workers stationed on and around Post Street.

“We want to make sure we’re good neighbours,” McSpadden said. “We have agreed to meet regularly and check in with them on their experience as neighbors… to make sure that we address their concerns, that we address them, if things start to go wrong in their eyes.”

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Dr Miller said that ultimately a space like this, during a homelessness crisis like this, is just too good to pass up. She said she hopes it becomes a safe place for people to heal.

“What I imagine this place to be the same when people go to these spas in Sedona, or something, and just start to get healthy again,” she said.

“When you get to an emergency shelter, that’s the start of stabilization,” she added. “Once they’re stable, that’s when they can start to heal.”

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Linda G. Ibarra