Neighbors in the Rincon Hill / East Cut environs are going toe-to-toe with the Mayor and Coalition on Homelessness over a proposed new Homeless Navigation Center near the intersection of Embarcadero and Bryant, underneath the Bay Bridge.
"It’s incredibly frustrating and disappointing that as soon as we put forward a solution to build a new shelter, people begin to threaten legal action," says Mayor London Breed, speaking to the Chronicle last week. Breed proposed the Navigation Center in early March, and the Port Commission is set to vote on leasing the property to the city on April 23, though that vote may be postponed to allow for more public comment.
Opponents of the proposed 225-bed Navigation Center — a sort of hybrid homeless shelter and hub for support and rehabilitation services where individuals can stay for extended periods and bring in their pets and all their belongings — have launched a GoFundMe campaign to fund their anticipated legal battle. Calling their campaign Safe Embarcadero For All, the crowdfunding effort has a $100,000 fundraising goal, of which it's raised $82,000 from 256 local residents thus far.
A dueling GoFundMe campaign dubbed SAFER Embarcadero For ALL, was launched by the Coalition on Homelessness, and it has raised $145,000 in small donations from nearly 1,500 people — with a goal of raising $175,000. "For those who don't have the back story," the Coalition writes, "we're fighting an effort by residents of one of the richest neighborhoods in San Francisco to block a homeless shelter on a parking lot."
The proposed Navigation Center would be temporary, like most Navigation Centers have been so far, and it would be built on leased Port of San Francisco property on Seawall Lot 330 — a triangular parking lot in the shadow of the Bay Bridge, across from Piers 30-32.
The concerned-neighbor coalition says that Mayor London Breed's plan to locate the Navigation Center there was "hastily proposed." "We all want to help the homeless and fully support efforts to eliminate the causes of homelessness," they write, "but the Mayor has put expediency over safety in choosing this location." Because the shelter will not allow drug use inside, neighbors are worried that an estimated "75 drug users" (based on city figures that 1/3 of homeless people are drug addicts) "will be forced into the surrounding family neighborhood to use drugs." They also say they are "concerned about the environmental effects of building on a site that is known to have toxic materials beneath."
They have retained the services of law firm Zacks, Freedman & Patterson for what may be a legal battle based on CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) rules, which attorney Andrew Zacks tells the Chronicle would at the very least set back the opening date of the Navigation Center.
Breed has proposed that the Center live at the site for four years, but said she was open to negotiating that and other points.
As Curbed noted after Breed announced her proposal, Navigation Centers have proven to be an effective means of getting homeless people permanently housed. According to a 2018 report by the city's Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, 57 percent of individuals who come through the Navigation Center system — more than 1,700 people — have been placed in housing since the first Center was launched in 2015. Though the SF Public Press reported in 2017 that there is still a significant portion of people who return to the streets, and about half — 48 percent — end up leaving the city using the Homeward Bound program, which purchases them bus or plane tickets out of town. There are no figures about how many of those individuals end up back in San Francisco.