More Beds for Those Who Need Them - January 31, 2018 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

More Beds for Those Who Need Them

40-year-old homeless man “Polar Bear” takes down his tent as he prepares to move to a homeless shelter. (Image: Examiner)

Navigation centers are evidence of what can happen when politicians and advocates think outside the box. Designed as an alternative to the traditional shelter system, the radical facilities can incorporate large group encampments, people with many belongings, and even pets. Since the first one opened on Mission Street in 2015, more than 1,000 people have been taken off the streets. In a city with more than 7,500 people experiencing homelessness, that’s a massive achievement — but one that needs to be fought for, over and over again.

Each center is built on land slated for development, which is often donated or rented really cheaply to the city while projects wend their way through the Planning Department. Next spring, two navigation centers in the Mission District — the first one ever opened, at 1950 Mission St., and the most recent one, at 1515 South Van Ness Ave. — will be destroyed as permanent housing is constructed in their place. Another at the Civic Center Hotel on Market Street will be eliminated in 2019. All told, 288 beds will be taken away.

But City Hall is already brainstorming spots for new centers to replace those that are being phased out. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a lease for a large warehouse at 125 Bayshore Blvd., which is conveniently located near a mess of I-280 and U.S. 101 freeway ramps, pedestrian bridges, and bicycle paths called the Hairball. It’s also a place many homeless people call home.

But soon, 125 beds will be available for those people who can’t find anywhere else to go. And more are on the way: The Examiner reports that a small plot owned by Caltrans at Fifth and Bryant streets could be built up with trailers to accommodate 80 beds. Another at 224-242 South Van Ness Ave. is being considered for “an initial large tensile structure,” housing another 125 people. If both are approved, they could open by the summer.

Luckily, opening these centers is something the Board appears to support — as long as they’re located in Districts 6, 9, and 10. Aside from the Civic Center Hotel, all of the existing and proposed navigation centers are in SoMa, Bayview, and Dogpatch. In order to fully address the citywide homelessness crisis, at some point supervisors beyond Jane Kim, Malia Cohen and Hillary Ronen are going to have to welcome navigation centers in their neighborhoods, too.