The experiment that is SF's Homeless Navigation Center (1950 Mission Street) has taught city workers at least one thing so far, and that is that helping the homeless navigate their way to a better life takes longer than they expected. As Matier & Ross are reporting, via new "homeless czar" Sam Dodge who took over after Bevan Dufty's abrupt departure, the average stay at the center has been 85 days so far, which is four times what staffers initially imagined. One person has been there 223 days, which must mean that he or she has not left since the Navigation Center opened in April.
The pioneering shelter aims to get homeless people into permanent housing by first moving them in along with their friends, pets, and campmates, feeding them, and getting them into any necessary treatment programs. The idea behind it is that traditional shelters often require homeless people to separate from their friends and significant others, and to leave their belongings and pets behind as well, which often leads to them choosing to stay on the street instead.
But, of course, getting people properly serviced and sheltered is easier said than done, and perhaps no one should have assumed that the average stay at the Navigation Center was going to be two to three weeks. Says Dodge, "Some of these cases are very complicated. We have undocumented people. People with drug and mental health issues, some with outstanding out-of-state warrants. Things that prevent them from accessing benefits so that they can move into housing.”
The Center has a capacity for 75 people, and it has already had some success in getting people off the streets. In its first seven months of operation, only 26 people have opted to return to the street, while 84 people have been placed in supportive housing and 41 have opted to return to their families or hometowns.
Still it seems clear that with a homeless population of over 6,000 that hasn't dwindled at all in the past decade, more centers like this will be necessary. And this Navigation Center will only be there through next year, before it has to move elsewhere and make way for a 165-unit affordable housing complex on the property.
In related news, an elementary school tried using a high-pitched noise machine as homeless repellant, to deter people from camping in front of the school, and it failed miserably.