A fifth Navigation Center for the homeless, with a focus on helping those with mental illness and addiction, is planned for the San Francisco General Hospital campus and may open its doors as early as June.

The proposed 15-bed center, called Hummingbird Place, is intended to serve homeless clients struggling with mental illness and substance abuse issues, said Rachael Kagan, director of communications for the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

In a 2015 Homeless Point-in-Time Count, 55 percent of those who identified as chronically homeless reported a psychiatric or emotional condition, and 62 percent of that population also reported alcohol or drug abuse. At that time, the street and shelter count placed San Francisco’s homeless population at 6,686 people.

Services offered at the new center include clinical care, eligibility and enrollment [for benefits], and peer navigation and support,” said Kagan, adding that Hummingbird Place will be staffed by “nurses, social workers and peer navigators.”

Mayor Ed Lee announced plans for Hummingbird Place during his State of the City address Thursday.

The Department of Public Health will operate the 24-hour facility, located inside of the existing Behavioral Health Center, a building adjacent to the hospital at 1001 Potrero Ave.

Because the building that will house the Navigation Center is already designated as a group living facility for behavioral health clients, its proposed usage as homeless shelter and treatment facility would not “represent a formal change of function,” said Kagan.

The current Behavioral Center has “several levels of care for short and long term mental health patients,” but has not offered “navigation services to homeless clients,” said Kagan, adding that it is expected to begin offering those services in June.

Because of its physical design, the facility lends itself for activation as a Navigation Center, said Sam Dodge, deputy director of the Department on Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

A new staff will run Hummingbird Place, and the intake criteria will center around housing chronically homeless patients who are “on the cusp of needing psyche emergency services or guardianship but not quite there.”

“It’s a physically great location that …is underutilized currently,” said Dodge, adding that part of the process of designating spaces for Navigation Centers is to evaluate what assets the city has that “we can utilize to serve people that are living on the street.”

The city’s first Navigation Center, which opened its doors at 1950 Mission St. in March 2015, was built on a long abandoned site of a former High School and will soon be transformed into mixed use affordable housing community.

While that center currently offers 75 beds, Dodge acknowledged that the proposed center’s capacity is “definitely smaller,” but comes with “potential to grow” as the hospital continues to undergo renovations.

“There is a path forward,” said Dodge. “The start at 15 [beds] will be a good way to see how the program works and what kind of services are working the best.”

Kagan said that there are no plans for supervised injection services or “wet housing” at the site – a shelter model currently prohibited by state law where drug use and alcohol consumption are permitted under supervision and for which Lee has expressed reluctant approval in recent weeks.  

As is protocol at other low-barrier Navigation Centers throughout the city, clients of Hummingbird Place will be permitted to bring their pets, partners and many of their belongings into the shelter.

Referrals will come from “Psychiatric Emergency Services at [the hospital], jails or the street,” said Kagan, and clients will not be turned away for “being mildly psychotic” or under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

An ordinance approved by the mayor and the city’s Board of Supervisors last summer requires a total of six Navigation Centers to open citywide within the next two years.

With two existing centers operating in the Mission and Civic Center neighborhoods, a third and fourth will open in the Dogpatch and in South of Market neighborhoods in the coming months. Those centers will provide beds for 70 and 135 people, respectively.

The Navigation Center at 1950 Mission St. initially promised its clients rigorous case management services and retention until they were connected to supportive housing, but the city’s lack of housing units and high demand for shelter beds prompted the center to switch its model of operation to a 30-day triage in September.

At Hummingbird Place, clients will be permitted to stay at the facility until connected to appropriate treatment facilities or housing, said Kagan. The center will cost $2.9 million annually and will be incorporated into the department’s 2017-19 budget.

The department plans to facilitate a community meeting to gauge neighborhood approval and gather input, although it is unclear when the public outreach will begin.

Particularly because of the Navigation Center’s location on hospital grounds, several neighbors expressed a predominantly welcoming attitude towards seeing a new shelter and service provider open in their neighborhood.

“I think [the hospital] is a great location for it,” said a woman who gave her name as Courtny and lives near 24th and Florida streets.

“The Navigation Center’s focus, I think that’s exactly what a lot of people living in this neighborhood need. It’s not difficult to determine that a lot of them need support with mental illness and drugs,” she said.

Another neighbor who gave his name as Paul said he has lived on 24th Street for 40 years and has seen the area’s homeless population “increase significantly.” The man said that he is in full support of constructing more Navigation Centers, including in his neighborhood.

“We need it,” said Paul. “Until proven otherwise, I’m supportive of city resources being spent on [homelessness].”

But Bryant Street resident Sandra Renteria expressed concern with living just blocks away from a homeless shelter and questioned its effectiveness.

“I’m scared to walk home after 9 p.m . the three blocks to my house because they are out there and doing what they are doing,” said Renteria, who is a nurse. “These people don’t want the resources – I offered them at my work a million times and they refuse them.”

If the proposed Navigation Center were any larger in size and capacity, said Renteria, she would oppose it.
“If it’s 15 beds, great, but if it’s a big shelter for 100 people or more who are in an out and they have to get in line, that would be really disturbing [in this neighborhood],” she said.