Navigation Centers are one area where Mayor Ed Lee is not all talk. In the summer of 2016, Lee and the Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance that committed the city to opening up six centers in two years. On Wednesday morning, a third such center opened: the Central Waterfront Navigation Center in the Dogpatch neighborhood.
Navigation Centers, for the unaware, are a unique shelter system for those experiencing homelessness. Traditional shelters are hard to get into — as of Wednesday morning, the city’s shelter waitlist had 1,105 names on it. Most don’t allow pets, creating a tough decision for those who have animal companions, and they have limited room for people’s stuff, meaning shopping carts are a no-go. In addition, many people living on the streets do so with partners, family members or self-made communities, and there’s no guarantee that if one spouse gets a spot, the other would too. For all those reasons, and more, many avoid the traditional shelter system as it does not cater to their needs.
Navigation Centers accept all the above, and more. Pets? No problem. Lots of stuff? There’s locked storage facilities. Accommodations are made for families or large camps. It’s one of those “meet people where they’re at” methods, and the current two locations — one on Mission near 16th Street BART, and the other on Market in the old Civic Center Hotel — are thriving. Through the centers residents are able to access mental and physical care, addiction counseling, housing services, and even connect with estranged family members.
“We are responding to the situations on our streets by taking bold steps to move our residents into settings where they can reclaim their lives,” says Mayor Lee. “We need our streets to be clean, safe and livable, and we need to treat our residents dealing with homelessness in a manner that is compassionate and responsive.”
The new Dogpatch Navigation Center is located on the corner of Michigan and 25th streets and has 64 beds. City officials gathered on Wednesday morning to celebrate its launch, and to pledge that more help is coming.
San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, whose organization designed and built the Dogpatch Navigation Center — but whose workers also often “clean up” homeless encampments and dispose of peoples’ belongings — spoke highly of the project. “We turned a stretch of the public right of way into a safe and welcoming village where people who have been living on the streets in often dangerous situations can sleep, eat, shower, avail themselves to services and get back on more solid ground,” he says. “This Navigation Center sets a great example of how we can use creative solutions to address the challenge of homelessness in our city.”
While the opening of the latest Navigation Center inarguably a win, Lee also announced that he plans to increase funds for more beds in the future. On June 19, another Navigation Center with 120 beds will open at 1515 South Van Ness Ave., despite some neighborhood opposition. Looking ahead to early next year, an additional 125 beds may become available at a fourth Navigation Center in SoMa.
With these impending additions, the number of shelter and Navigation Center beds in the city will soon increase to 2,105 — a 15 percent gain. And next year funding for Navigation Centers will increase 44 percent, from the current $25.9 million to $37.3 million. While this is absolutely a step in the right direction, the next requirement for residents of Navigation Centers is the establishment of permanent, not temporary housing — and that’s a struggle that the city has yet to address. The housing crisis still looms, and while getting people off the streets is important, there has to be somewhere for them to go long term.