The residents of lower Embarcadero and eastern SoMa along with much of City Hall are all hoping that everything goes smoothly with the high-profile opening of the new homeless Navigation Center, which Mayor Breed will lead a tour of Tuesday.
The first homeless residents of the 200-person-capacity center will arrive by the end of the month, and neighbors who fought long and hard this year to stop this temporary shelter from getting constructed are going to be quick to pounce on the first incident of bad or dangerous behavior.
"We are all holding our breath and hoping it works out," says Wallace Lee, a neighborhood resident and leader of the opposition group SAFE Embarcadero For All, speaking to the Chronicle.
"“For as many kinds of solutions that have been posed over the years, none of them really seem to make a difference or clean anything up, so I don’t think there’s too much optimism that putting an encampment right next to an apartment is going to make too much of a difference," says SF resident Billy Carlile, speaking to KPIX.
Public opinion has seemed to remain on the side of the mayor this year, as Breed stood her ground in the face of NIMBY protest and a court battle waged with the help of a $250,000 legal war chest raised by angry nearby residents. Breed was shouted down by these residents at a community meeting back in April, but as she said at the time, "It's always going to be a bad plan when it's in your neighborhood. I have a shelter in my neighborhood." The local residents' group lost their final battle in late November, with California Superior Court Judge Ethan P. Schulman ruling that the Port of San Francisco and the city did not need to seek State Lands Commission approvals for the temporary structure on Seawall Lot 330 — it's been a favored tactic of NIMBY opponents of developments of all kinds to lean on state environmental protection laws in recent decades, but that didn't work this time.
As Breed tells the Chronicle this week, "We have to take bold action in order to address the homeless problem, and that includes doing something that might make people uncomfortable."
Still, this has remained a political risk for Breed, even though her reelection was assured this year with no real viable candidate opposing her. The media — and the members of SAFE Embarcadero for All — jumped all over the story of a mentally ill homeless man who attacked a woman outside her condo building near the Embarcadero in August. A subsequent bit of leniency by a judge didn't help matters, and the story for several weeks was that the city, the police, and the local judicial system were careless in the face of such clear and present threats to public safety.
Homeless advocates have been saying all along that the answer to the city's woes is more shelters and Navigation Centers, not less, and this 200-bed center will provide much needed services and shelter in a non-traditional shelter environment. The Navigation Center model focuses on addressing a person's needs in a holistic fashion — providing an extended-stay shelter with bathrooms and showers, where you can keep your pets and belongings with you and not get kicked out in the morning, and where you can receive counseling and get on a path to more permanent housing. In some cases, people clean up and end up getting a free bus or plane ticket back to a home with a family member. In others, they may qualify for transitional or other housing with the city or be able to enter the workforce.
The site plan for the Embarcadero Navigation Center shows over 10,000 square feet of open space, and a fenced-in complex containing two dormitories, ample bathrooms, a dog run, and a large community service space. The SFPD says it will be assigning extra patrol officers to the area to create a two-block perimeter with no tent encampments or open-air drug sales.
In theory, the suspect in that August attack might not have been wandering around unmedicated if he had gone through the Navigation Center system — though even advocates acknowledge there is a problem with those who are "service-resistant" and who prefer to remain on the street or using their drugs in peace.
According to statistics from the latest point-in-time census, 42 percent of those experiencing homelessness self-report alcohol and drug use as a factor in their continuing homelessness, and 39 percent report psychiatric or emotional disorders as a factor.
Photo: Ray Kelly/Loro Blog