The former site of the Phoenix Continuation High School at 1950 Mission Street has been abandoned for years. Soon, it will see 125 below-market-rate housing units, but for now, it is to serve as a one-stop service center for homeless people, one with a new approach heretofore untested in SF. The Navigation Center, reports the Chronicle, could be a game-changer.
A pilot project funded by a $2 million anonymous donation that came through the San Francisco Interfaith Council, The Navigation Center aims to lift entire homeless encampments from streets, sidewalks, and underpasses — with pets, couples, and tents in tow — moving them to the site for 10 days at a time while permanent housing is sought. Moving entire encampments, experts speculate, could help build trust and convince some to relocate who have historically been reluctant to use city services. There's capacity for 75 people, and the program will last eight to 18 months depending on its reception and efficacy.
As Mayor Lee and homeless czar Bevan Dufty announced yesterday, The Navigation Center will open its doors on March 16th. "When it comes to homelessness, what a challenge," Lee said in his speech. "We have to come up with more alternatives." One-stop centers exist in San Francisco, such as Project Homeless Connect, but again, the novelty of this approach is that full encampment idea, something modeled on efforts in Philadelphia according to the Examiner. The center will be open 24 hours a day, but aims to be more than just a roof. The city Public Works Department has just completed the buildings dormitories, a laundry, counseling rooms, and even pet and storage areas.
“The status quo is not working, and as a city we can’t be afraid to break the mold and try new and innovative approaches,” Supervisor Mark Farrell told the Chronicle. “This is one of those approaches.” Supervisor David Campos agreed, telling the Examiner that, "We have seen the Board of Supervisors pass laws that tell homeless don't sleep in the parks, don't sit on the sidewalks... Instead of continuing to go down the path of criminalizing homeless people we are actually giving them a place to go."
If it's successful, the Navigation Center could inspire many more of its kind. It's a gamble, creators reportedly admit, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.