Today Mayor London N. Breed announced next phase priorities for the City’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) as San Francisco moves from acute crisis response to the COVID-19 pandemic to recovery.
In 2020, Abigail Stewart-Kahn stepped into the role of Interim Director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing with the intent to fill the role during a national search for a permanent director. Due to the ongoing pandemic, that search was paused while the Department and the City focused on the emergency COVID-19 response. Now that the City is shifting from an emergency response to recovery, the City is continuing its search and Interim Director Stewart Kahn will move to a new role leading efforts to support youth impacted by COVID-19.
“Since the day we issued the first Shelter-in-Place order, San Francisco’s nationally-recognized COVID response has required everyone in our City to step up to do their part,” said Mayor Breed. “Moving quickly and decisively to protect our most vulnerable citizens was a top priority, and I appreciate Abigail’s work leading the Department through this challenging time. She provided the stability and leadership needed at HSH to provide the care and life-saving response to people experiencing homelessness during the acute phase of the pandemic crisis. Now, she will be taking on another crucial priority for this City—helping support our young people who are suffering from a year of school closures and the resulting mental health challenges related to this pandemic.”
Under Director Stewart-Kahn’s leadership, HSH worked closely with other City departments and non-profit partners to create the largest non-congregate shelter approach nationally, which helped keep the rate of COVID-19 infections in the homeless population lower or at the same level as the general population, which tragically, has not been the case in other communities. As the vaccine deployment continues, including to the homeless population, HSH can refocus its work on its original mission: moving people permanently out of homelessness through strategies that stabilize people’s lives through the City’s housing and support services, and building a system that ends a person’s homelessness before it becomes chronic.
This includes implementing the Mayor’s Homelessness Recovery Plan, which will deliver on the City’s commitment to dramatically expand housing options—short, medium and long term, for those experiencing homelessness as well as safely expand the shelter system. The City is also bringing additional resources into the COVID Command Center to collaborate with HSH to help speed the pace of housing people staying in the Shelter-in-Place hotels and is preparing additional teams to acquire even more Permanent Supportive Housing than we have already accomplished during the pandemic when resources are available.
“When I joined the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing in 2017, my focus was to create a single, unifying strategy for homeless reduction in what was a brand-new City department and lead the culture change needed to support that new strategy,” said Abigail Stewart-Kahn. “I’m incredibly proud of the work we did to overhaul every aspect of its system of care — outreach, assessment, housing, shelter to drive health guidance. When the pandemic hit, our priorities narrowed and we focused on protecting our most vulnerable from this virus, and I’ve been inspired how everyone at HSH and our nonprofit partners stepped up to fulfill this mission. I’m excited to take on this next challenge of leading efforts to help our young people recover from this pandemic, and continue the work to help move this City forward.”
“When COVID-19 hit San Francisco, it immediately doubled our unhoused population and cut our existing shelters by two thirds,” said Del Seymour, Local Homelessness Coordinating Board Co-Chair and Executive Director of Code Tenderloin. “Housing the homeless became a Herculean effort rather than the typical struggle, and there was no road map or precedent for how to handle this immense challenge. Interim Director Stewart-Kahn put her creativity and skills and her amazing staff into overdrive for a collaborative effort that has resulted in tangible improvements for our community. HSH stats have never been better. Director Stewart-Kahn will be leaving HSH a better Department with a professional Staff, a better Community partnership and an amazing plan for the future. Thank you, Abigail for your love of this community.”
Stewart-Kahn’s new position will be Special Advisor for Children and Family Recovery at the Department of Children, Youth, and their Families (DCYF). As Special Advisor, she will lead a multi-sector strategy in support of San Francisco’s children and families in the recovery from the damaging and multifaceted impacts of the pandemic. In partnership with DCYF, Abigail will closely collaborate with stakeholders engaged in this effort to create and execute a citywide approach. Abigail will focus on related strategic projects and partnerships with other city agencies, the school district, elected officials and philanthropy. Stewart-Kahn’s background and expertise is exceptionally suited to this work, as a social worker and former child therapist and experience creating new, multi-sector collaboratives to improve the lives of children and families in both New York City and San Francisco.
“Abigail Stewart-Kahn has dedicated her life and her career to providing pathways of safety, stability, and emotional wellbeing to children, families and members of our community exposed to trauma, violence and abuse,” said Katie Albright, Executive Director of Safe and Sound. “She is a dedicated social worker, public servant and innovative leader who relies on data and collaborative strategies to drive larger social impact. As we work together to rebuild San Francisco post COVID-19, families and children in San Francisco, who were already struggling before the pandemic, are going to need specialized support and help. Abigail has a demonstrated track record of meeting unprecedented challenges. She will continue to be of great service to our city as she brings her expertise and experience to the Department of Youth and Families to provide resiliency and support to San Francisco’s families and children for post COVID-19 recovery and beyond.”
Stewart-Kahn will begin her new position in May. Sam Dodge, who was involved in the process of creating the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing in 2016 and served as Deputy Director during its first year will move over from his current position at Public Works to lead the Department until a permanent replacement is found.