A small group of homeless residents and their advocates went to City Hall on Tuesday to propose a  “transitional village” in San Francisco where the homeless would be allowed to camp legally.

From the so-called village, they would be connected to case management and health services while awaiting placement in city shelters, other Navigation Centers  or in supportive housing.

The proposal, made during the public comment period at the Board of Supervisors comes in the wake of a decision this fall to end long term stays at the Navigation Center at 1950 Mission St. and instead turn it into a 30-day triage center.  

Earlier, residents had been promised a ticket home or more permanent housing. But, given that adequate housing does not exist, they are now being promised a stay in 90-day shelters. Even that promise, however, is difficult to fulfill.

Without the ability to remain at the Navigation Center and with too few shelter beds, the transitional village camp, advocates argued, offers a solution on how to house homeless residents in a humane and ordered way. The idea is not new – Seattle has opened three sanctioned encampments.

Mission Supervisor Hillary Ronen said that while she has not rejected the idea, she is also not convinced that it is a viable solution for filling gaps in city services.

Sam Dodge, deputy director of the city’s Department on Homelessness and Supportive Housing, said that the transitional village approach is being explored by the city but comes with a set of challenges, including “state laws and city codes.”

What’s clear is that the existing facilities for the homeless are inadequate.

“Thirty days of being in the Navigation center is not enough to get out of  the streets,” said a former Box City resident who gave his name as Elias and has been living at the Mission Navigation Center since January 10. “We are just going to go back on the street  if we don’t get that 90-day shelter [placement]. I hope that my name is still on that list.”

Dismantled by the city on January 6, Box City was an example of what some activists, including Amy Farah Weiss, a 2015 mayoral candidate and founder of the nonprofit Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge, envision as the transitional village model.

That community, located at Seventh and Hubbell streets, consisted of some 20 people living in makeshift box shelters. There, they had access to porta potties, lived by a set of agreed-upon rules and received support from volunteers.

Farah Weiss explained how a transitional village would be “a piece of land set aside for campers wanting to go to the Navigation Center or exiting [from it] and in the interim coming into an agreement based situation where people are living and participating in the transitional village while other shelter and housing is still unavailable.”

Weiss said that she has been working with about 15 people displaced from Box City who “will most likely be released back onto the street” starting February 6, once their stay at the Navigation Center is up.

“My goal is to get them the 90 day shelter if they want it,” said Farah Weiss. “But then a lot of people won’t want it, so what I’m trying to do is work with city to have an exit that is a step up from being on the street in a completely unstructured and unsanctioned encampment.”

Weiss did not know exactly where this piece of land would be located. Some shelter and Navigation Center clients, appear to prefer living on the streets and an organized transitional village would offer some health and safety standards.  The transitional village would also facilitate tracking and connecting clients to services in a “system that is connected to the city network,” she said.

“Shelters suck, honestly. I’ve been in a sanctuary shelter before and there was no ventilation. You don’t know who is sick who is not. Everytime you go inside you have a curfew,” said Roland, who has been at the Navigation Center since February 6.

Roland said that the Navigation Center has given him much-needed stability, but that he turned down placement at a 90-day shelter during his initial intake.

“I told them I don’t want to go to 90 day shelter. Straight up, I’d rather stay on the street. A shelter is really not for me,” said Roland, whose stay at the Navigation Center will end on February 6.

When asked if she would consider moving to a 90-day shelter once her stay in the Navigation Center is up, Marisela, another displaced Box City resident, said “I think I should.”

Weiss said that while the sanctioned encampment would not be as “service rich” as the Navigation Center, it would fall somewhere in between providing campers with a safe and legal place to be while addressing “safety concerns of the surrounding community.”
The transitional village would open in a city sanctioned location with access to a trash organizing system, toilets, “secure sleep” and would come with a code of conduct for campers, said Farah Weiss.