By Chris Block and Steven J. Moss
More than 50 people gathered at Peet’s Coffee & Tea’s Minnesota Street offices to discuss a proposed 24th Street Navigation Center, just west of Warm Water Cove. A significant majority of the crowd raised their hands in response to Dogpatch Neighborhood Association president Bruce Kin Huie’s question asking who in the room was a Dogpatch resident.
Participants expressed deep concerns about the proposed center; the meeting atmosphere was respectful if at times tense. Rand Hoffman, owner of Advance Automotive, a car repair shop close by the cove, said he’s worried that siting of the facility would significantly harm his business. A Dogpatch resident, he’s been operating at that site for 14 years.
“If a facility like the Navigation Center is going to be moved to this community, 24th Street is a terrible choice,” Hoffman said. “There are much better options. If those in charge of choosing the location and making the center happen would have engaged the community in a forthright manner a more mutually beneficial location could be established.”
One meeting attendee asserted that alternative sites to Dogpatch should be considered, noting that there were homeless programs located South-of-Market and in the Haight, but none in the City’s far west or northern neighborhoods. Sam Dodge, director of the Mayor’s Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement office, who led the meeting, explained that he was looking for under-utilized sites owned by public entities, such as the California Department of Transportation. He didn’t identify any other locations, other than noting that the Presidio was “too expensive.”
Huie also believes that the City should actively explore other locations. “The current proposed site at 24th Street adjacent to Warm Water Cove is inadequate for the homeless population the City wishes to serve,” he said. “A list of seven sites within the neighborhood and outside have been suggested to date. Neighbors and local businesses look forward to a genuine effort by all involved to consider all possible alternatives to the current proposal.”
In response to participant questions about potentially dangerous behavior by Navigation Center clients, Dodge promised that a risk management plan would be shared with the public, as would the request for proposal issued to select a nonprofit to run the site. He explained that robust staffing and the ability for residents to remain at the facility during the day would mitigate disruptive behavior.
The meeting was prompted, in part, by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ unanimous passage of a declaration of a shelter emergency in late-March. The declaration designated the City’s need for homeless shelters as akin to a shelter crisis during a natural disaster, allowing the municipality to seek federal assistance and move more quickly to allocate public land for navigation centers.
According to a December 2015 report from the Controller’s Office, San Francisco’s first navigation center opened in March 2015 at 1950 Mission Street. In its first six months it served 212 clients, most of who were referred by the San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team (SFHOT) or Mission Neighborhood Resource Center. By October 2015, 132 clients exited the center; most found stable housing or were sent home. Almost one-fifth of clients served by the Navigation Center – somewhat more than a quarter of all exits – left either voluntarily or by center request without being connected to housing. The Navigation Center generally asks clients to leave if they’re violent with staff or other clients, if substance use or personal behaviors pose a threat to community health, or if they cannot follow through with their housing plan.
Based on more recent information, according to Julie Leadbetter, 1950 Street Navigation Center’s director, 26 people had been “evicted,” out of 470 people served, for breaking rules or because they weren’t suitable for housing, implying a significantly lower ejection percentage as the facility ramped-up.
As of September 2015, the Navigation Center had cost $1.7 million, excluding the significant expenses of City staff support and start-up costs of $700,000 to build the temporary facility. The average per bed per day cost of typical City-funded shelter services is approximately $36, but ranges between $15 and $63. In comparison, the Navigation Center’s average per bed per day cost is $69. While each shelter has its own approach, the Navigation Center model includes robust case management, which contributes to the higher cost.
“When we house the chronic homeless they are certainly healthier and their life prospects are better and it is also cheaper,” said Dodge, at the meeting. “It costs $17,000 to house someone in permanent supportive housing, but $80,000 when that same person stays on the streets…due to costs like emergency room visits” and other expenses. According to Dodge, traditional shelters provide a bridge for people who are “transitionally” or “episodically” homeless. But the approach doesn’t work as well with the chronically homeless.
The 1950 Mission Street Navigation Center will close this year, and an affordable housing development constructed on the site. In the meantime, the City wants to build two other centers, one adjacent to Warm Water Cove; the other at the Civic Center Hotel, located at 12th and Market, which is slated for development within the next four years. No other sites are under active consideration.
The City wants to open the 24th Street Navigation Center on October 1, 2016, and operate it there for three years. The property would be leased from the Port Authority. Under Port rules, the site can only be used for non-maritime use activities temporarily. Dodge told meeting attendees that he’d be willing to put a ‘hard stop” into the lease with the Port to ensure that the Warm Water Cove facility is temporary.
According to a San Francisco Public Health staff person, the 24th Street Navigation Center would be a tranquil place, with no lines of people waiting, since clients are accepted by SFHOT referral. He noted that there was already an encampment at the site. Last month on a Sunday the area outside the 1950 Mission Street Navigation Center was clean and the sidewalks clear.
Department of Public Work’s Paul de Freitas explained that there’d continue to be pubic access through 24th Street and a “gateway” to the park with lighting. Security would be onsite, and the center would be built on a raised deck with as light a touch as possible. In addition, a public restroom would be installed, and trail improvements might be made to give better access to 25th Street.
“The 24th Street Navigation Center will be temporary,” said Dodge. “I want to build permanent housing, not permanent shelters.”