The removal of a homeless stronghold underneath the 101 Freeway that divides the northeastern Mission and Potrero Hill ended Tuesday with nearly all of its 53 residents accepting shelter.

Aside from a few, some 43 campers accepted placement in the Mission’s Navigation Center at 1950 Mission St., said Sam Dodge, deputy director of the Department on Homelessness and Supportive Housing, which oversees encampment resolutions throughout the city.

At a minimum they will get a 30-day reprieve from the streets and access to services. At best they will find a place in the city’s supportive housing system.

The large-scale encampment stretched underneath the freeway along San Bruno Avenue and Vermont Street between Alameda and 17th streets in recent months.

Until a few months ago, the encampment was home to about 100 people, estimated an outreach worker involved in the resolution process. Part of it was targeted in an earlier resolution along San Bruno Avenue between 15th and 17th streets in April, decreasing its population, and barricades set up along the street’s sidewalk have prevented many campers from returning.

The some four dozen homeless individuals that remained camped along 15th and Alameda streets throughout May were removed methodically over the last month, with the last five people accepting placement on Tuesday. Those who refused placement, an estimated 10 people, dispersed into the surrounding area.

A stretch of San Bruno Avenue and Vermont Street, from 17th to Alameda streets, was home dozens of campers. Photo by Laura Waxmann

In comparison to April’s resolution, Tuesday’s effort was a relative success, according to some of the San Bruno Avenue campers impacted by it.

“They were not pushy, not too aggressive, they were on it but to the extent of not making people feel overwhelmed,” said a woman named Shy about city cleaning crews and police who accompanied the effort. “Like the last time on San Bruno when they did it they were more aggressive, they wanted us out, they wanted us moved. This time around I can say that SFPD and [Public Works] worked with us and not pushed us as hard.”

Shy accepted placement in the Navigation Center two weeks ago. Still, she returned to her old campsite on the final resolution day to support those still going through the process.  Shy said the city’s approach of offering shelter and services in return for the encampment removal, coupled with a general desire to be housed on part of most of the campers, resulted in a smooth transition for many.

“Seriously, I’m tired of being out here,” said Shy.  Over the last month, the woman lost a close friend in a stabbing incident that took place in another Mission encampment, and said she recently fell victim to violence herself.

Shy has cycled through the Navigation Center once before and said that this time, she is optimistic about the prospect of ending her homelessness.

“They are working with us and they are helping us. I got to give that to them,” she said.

Still, with resources and housing for the homeless remaining scarce, it is unclear what will happen when Shy’s 30-day stay at the Navigation Center is up.

While Shy has come to terms with the possibility that she could very likely return to the streets in a month,  the caseworkers trying to place Shy and others in more humane living quarters, said that their hands are often tied by the lack of resources.

Shy, who camped at 15th Street and San Bruno Avenue, was placed in the Mission’s Navigation Center two weeks ago. Photo by Laura Waxmann

The current stock of Navigation Center beds –  75 in the Mission, 93 at the Civic Center Hotel and 68 at the recently opened Navigation Center in the Dogpatch – fall short of what is needed.

Before Tuesday’s resolution, the Mission alone had about 300 people living without shelter, with some 150 of them in encampments, according to an estimate by Jeff Kositsky, director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive housing.

Additional Navigation Centers are in the pipeline, but even after those are built out, the campers are left with few options of where to go while the city continues to consistently clear them out of its neighborhoods in response to quality of life complaints and health concerns.

“The city’s outreach workers were working hard to help folks and to ease the trauma of the situation. They have a tough job and I encounter a lot of really good outreach workers,” said Kelly Cutler, a human rights advocate for the Coalition on Homelessness, who on Tuesday observed the resolution.

“With my experience as an outreach worker, I understand how frustrating this situation is for them. They are being tasked to do an impossible job because the resources just don’t exist. “

Some 7,000 people are homeless in San Francisco and on Tuesday, the waitlist for entry into the single-adult shelter system (not the Navigation Centers) stood  at 1,115 people. Just over 3 percent of the city’s budget – about $240 million of $9.7 billion – is allocated to homelessness and supportive housing.

A social worker involved with the encampment resolution process said that while outreach workers await turnover at the navigation centers and the city’s other shelters, much of their work consists of convincing the homeless that any time off the streets – be it 30 days or even a single night – is worth leaving behind their support systems and belongings.

A majority of the campers remaining along San Bruno Avenue were accepted placement in the city’s Navigation Center. Photo by Laura Waxmann

Many of those who find themselves repeatedly cycling through the system do not agree.

Shy said she is keeping her belongings with a friend who remains on the street – just in case the city again falls short of housing her afterward.
Realistically, one outreach worker said, it often takes more than one attempt and many more resources than are currently available to break cycles of poverty, addiction or to address mental illness.