OP-ED City Can’t be Trusted to Protect Neighborhood Interests Related to NavCenter

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There’s general agreement that homelessness is one of San Francisco’s highest priority concerns, and that homeless individuals should be treated fairly, humanely, and with dignity. Few people choose to be homeless; that’s why the services San Francisco Housing Opportunity, Partnerships, and Engagement (HOPE) offers are so important.

A key component of those amenities is operating temporary Navigation Centers. The first of these facilities opened on Mission Street; a new one was recently launched in Civic Center; another is planned for Dogpatch. The Mission Navigation Center has proven to be successful at placing long-term and high-risk homeless into supportive housing programs.

Although effective, these centers present unique challenges to the surrounding communities. How will the facilities affect crime? Will there be an increase in homeless individuals in the area? Will it be safe to walk our neighborhoods at night? How might a  NavCenter impact home values?

Businesses have their concerns as well.  Will customers feel safe visiting stores near a NavCenter? Could lower foot traffic negatively affect revenues? What protections are there for the enterprise and its assets?

Dogpatch’s spirit of community, inclusiveness, and respect is one of its most distinctive characteristics. It’s not surprising that HOPE found a willingness here to accept a Navigation Center. Through thoughtful conversation and a slow process of compromise, Dogpatch residents negotiated a range of services, from street beautification programs to increased police patrols, in exchange for hosting a NavCenter at the end of 25th Street.

I had concerns about locating a center near my home, but I couldn’t deny something needed to happen. A big part of my acceptance was based on the additional services Dogpatch would receive, and a promise made by HOPE and the Port that the facility would be there for no more than three years.  So you can imagine my incredulity when at last month’s Dogpatch Neighborhood Association (DNA) meeting Sam Dodge, HOPE’s director, presented a slide that indicated that the center would remain in service for as long as 58 months, or nearly five years. 

This wasn’t an oversight. It wasn’t a typo. There was no reason an increase from three years to almost five would be in Dodge’s presentation unless it’d been a topic of conversation, since in his previous appearances he was clear the center would be limited to three years. 

The abrupt change left me distrusting anything HOPE, the City, or the Port offers the neighborhood. There’s no guarantee from the San Francisco Police Department of increased coverage for the area around the NavCenter. There’s no clarity about whether the City will respond to residents’ homeless concerns within 72 or 48 hours, or what “respond” will entail.

SFPD was invited to attend the DNA meeting with Dodge to address neighbors’ concerns, but a representative didn’t show. This spoke volumes: either SFPD can’t offer any assistance, or it can’t be bothered to address the concerns of the citizens it serves.

As the center’s opening date nears, the community discussion about it is quickly coming to a close.  Yet I can’t help feeling like the damage is done. The trust is gone.

Dodge has been less than honest.  HOPE, the City and the Port have yet to come to an agreement on additional services; and SFPD can’t be bothered at all.  I can’t support the Navigation Center. Not that I believe I, or any community organization, has any real say in these decisions.  It had all been decided for us by the City a long time ago.