The notorious former McDonald's property at 730 Stanyan hasn't exactly been less of nuisance to the neighborhood since the McDonald's was torn down last year, in the opinion of some. While the city continues to be delayed in constructing a planned affordable housing complex on the site, it has gone from being a city-sanction tent encampment during the pandemic, to now becoming a drop-in service center for the homeless.
The McDonald's at Haight and Stanyan, across the street from Golden Gate Park, had for many years been a magnet for drifters, drugs, and general sketchiness. City Attorney Dennis Herrera went so far as to send a letter to the McDonald's corporation in 2015 to let them know how poorly their franchisee reflected on the brand.
"This McDonald’s may be part of Dante’s circle of Hell designed to torture the gluttonous," joked one Yelper in the last decade, back before the city purchased the property as a development site for affordable housing.
Finalizing purchase was one of Mayor London Breed's first acts as acting mayor in the days after Ed Lee's sudden death in late 2017, as Curbed reported. And she noted that it had long been a "blighted nuisance property" and was a rare find as a developable parcel in that part of town. The McDonald's only took up about one-tenth of the site, which has been envisioned as 120 to 150 units.
The restaurant closed a few months later, in April 2018, and it was finally demolished in February 2020, about six weeks before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the city, and ultimately shut the city's homeless shelters.
The site soon became one of several sanctioned tent encampments set up by the city— dubbed "Safe Sleeping Villages" — providing three meals per day, security, and hygiene for those staying there. The encampment opened in late May 2020, and it was disbanded between May and June of this year, with all those living there being offered more permanent housing. It had been managed by Larkin Street Youth Services and Homeless Youth Alliance.
The encampment was a flashpoint for some housed residents in the neighborhood who were already bothered by the growing number of tents on the sidewalks in the area during the pandemic. And a group of neighbors started a group called Safe Healthy Haight to push back on City Hall and question its policies when it comes to sanctioned and unsanctioned encampments.
Now, as the Chronicle reports, the site is transitioning again, as construction on 730 Stanyan isn't set to begin for another two years. The city has secured funding for more units — it's set to have 160 units now — but approvals likely won't come until next year, with groundbreaking likely in 2023. It's intended to have a mix of affordable units, including 25% of them reserved for transitional-aged homeless youth, between 18 and 24 years old.
In the meantime, the site will become a temporary drop-in center offering services to the homeless — which Supervisor Dean Preston envisions as a stopgap until the affordable complex can be built. It will include toilets, sinks, and showers, as well as counselors who can offer referrals to long-term services. A non-profit hasn't yet been selected to operate the site.
Preston tells the Chronicle that most residents he spoke to who had been critical of the safe-sleeping site had "come around" in the end, and they were happy with how it was run.
One neighbor, Flip Sarrow, tells the paper there is a "silent majority of people [who] are very wary" of the drop-in center plan, and he fears an "explosion of problems" that could come from it.
"There’s always a need, but is it a need just for the Haight, or are we inviting people from everywhere to get services, creating a mecca for people who have various problems?" Sarrow said.
Adam Burman, another neighbor, is quoted as saying the news about the drop-in center is a "complete surprise" and he had some concerns about how it will be run.
"The drop-in center is a needed and important and critical safety net — [but] it is not the sole solution of what we need to do as a city to address the needs of young people experiencing homelessness or our unhoused neighbors in the Haight,” said Sherilyn Adams, executive director of Larkin Street Youth Services in a statement to the Chronicle.
Photo: Camden Avery/Hoodline