Supervisor Matt Haney has been saying for over a year that there ought to be a homeless Navigation Center in each of San Francisco's 11 supervisorial districts. But legislation Haney has drafted that would make this a mandate appears to have been stalled in committee — and several supervisors have expressed concerns about the legislation as written.

The Navigation Center concept was first tested five years ago in SF's Mission District, and it has proven an effective "low-barrier" alternative to a tradition shelter — allowing homeless individuals to check in for an indeterminate amount of time with their belongings, significant others, and pets, and then be guided to services and possibly transitional housing. Currently, San Francisco has seven Navigation Centers being overseen by the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (DHSH), including the vociferously contested one that opened on Port of San Francisco property on the Embarcadero in December. There are now three Navigation Centers in Haney's District 6, with a fourth on the way at 33 Gough Street, and the other four are in Districts 8 and 10.

As the Examiner reports, Haney continues to push for opening eight more Navigation Centers across the eight remaining districts, all within 30 months. But this week, the DHSH's strategy director Abigail Stewart-Kahn pushed back on Haney's plan, telling Board of Supervisors' Government Audit and Oversight Committee that building eight more Navigation Centers isn't really aligned with the department's current priorities, and the money could be better spent on creating more permanent "housing exits" for the homeless.

"The proposed ordinance focuses time, political capital and financial and personnel resources on expanding one component — there are six components — of our homelessness response system, and it does this at the cost of housing exits," Stewart Kahn said, per the Examiner. She went on to say that Haney's ordinance "pulls significant resources to one aspect of our homeless response system which solves for sleep and does not solve homelessness."

It costs around $6.2 million to build one of these temporary Navigation Center structures, and another $4.2 million to operate it for a year.

Supervisors are suggesting that maybe some other solutions would be better fits for some neighborhoods — especially the westside districts that include the Richmond and Sunset, which don't see as many homeless people and aren't as geographically close to existing agencies and nonprofits that serve them.

"Geography is important and fair share is important but supervisorial lines don’t cut it for me," said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, speaking to the Examiner. Supervisor Gordon Mar, who represents the Sunset, is a co-sponsor of Haney's ordinance but he's also pushing for there to be flexibility for the western neighborhoods to fulfill shelter obligations in other ways.

In terms of housing exits, Navigation Centers have only been partly successful in placing people in stable housing. According to city figures, a little less than a third of the 2,094 "successful exits" achieved in the Nav Center program between 2015 and 2019 (652) landed in permanent housing. Well over half (1,268) were simply given bus or plane tickets out of town to stay with willing family or friends.

Haney's legislation was held over this week, and will again go before the committee on February 20.

Related: Embarcadero Homeless Navigation Center Opens Despite Neighbors' $250K War Chest to Fight It

Photo: Ray Kelly/Loro Blog