1515 South Van Ness. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Nearly two months after a new Navigation Center opened on 26th and South Van Ness streets, residents who were worried about a growing tent encampment nearby are reassured by the currently tentless streets.

The Navigation Center at 26th Street and South Van Ness is one of four centers aimed at long-term help for homeless individuals. This one has 120 beds and allows people to stay for 30 to 60 days. The 26th St. center is temporary; a new 157-unit housing project will begin construction on the site early next year. Once completed, 25 percent of its units will be affordable.

Before the temporary center opened, the area surrounding the abandoned industrial building was crowded with tents, and many neighbors were worried the problem would only get worse.

They made their objections clear at a series of public meetings overseen by District Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who brokered the deal for a temporary Navigation Center and an increase in affordable housing units in the new residential building.

After hearing that the Navigation Center would open near her home, Francesca Pastine wrote to city officials almost daily, voicing her concerns.

“I was worried there’d be a proliferation of tents and that there’d be a revolving door, where they’d be kicking people out after 30 days,” she said. “The Navigation Center is a fabulous plus for helping homelessness, but that didn’t stop my concerns about the neighborhood starting to look like 16th and Mission.”

To her surprise, many of the tents in the area have disappeared. “It was much better than I expected it to be,” she said.

Elizabeth, who works at a restaurant across from the center, said that before it opened, people from the encampment often walked into the restaurant, sometimes disturbing customers and taking “whatever they wanted.”

But since the center opened, she said, fewer homeless people come into the restaurant, and business has picked up.

“I think it’s gonna be okay,” she said. “I’m happy they’re just not on the street.”

Some residents, however, believe the center has only attracted different problems.

Craig Weber, who has been living at 26th and Shotwell for 60 years, said his hypothesis has been proven correct — that the center has attracted more homeless people to the area.

“We thought there would be more transients coming into the neighborhood, going in and out of the the center and into parks and stoops to do drugs and drink alcohol — and that’s exactly what happened,” Weber said.

Darren Borj, who works at an auto shop on 26th Street, said that even though the tents have disappeared, he still sees people living in cars.

“The sidewalks are open, but you still have people walking around, living in cars and using the Navigation Center for what they need,” he said.

Indeed, walking around the immediate neighborhood, a few seemingly homeless people could be seen. But such sightings are a constant in many Mission District neighborhoods, so it’s unclear if they are new here. However, the encampment in the neighborhood is now gone.

Some residents, like Lucy (who did not want to provide her last name out of fear of being harassed), said that she’s relieved to see the encampment gone. But she fears the changes might only be cosmetic.

“It’s clean, but I still see drug dealing, and mentally ill people walking around the streets,” she said.

She’s worried that once the center closes for construction of the housing project, the tents might come back. “It’s only a temporary fix,” she said.

Many agree; however, the Navigation Center has provided better support than neighbors expected.

Connie Ramirez, Craig Weber’s 96-year-old mother and founder of the Inner Mission Neighborhood Association, said that if she has problems, she can call staff at the center for help.

Still, she said, she can’t wait until the center closes.

“I still don’t feel at ease with it out there,” she said. “I just hope they don’t stay there too long.”

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7 Comments

  1. Of course it’s not a problem. All those fears were dredged up by realtors worrying about property values. They were hoping the homeless could be cleared out entirely rather than given shelter in the neighborhood who’s streets they were already living on.

  2. It’s important to note that the navigation centers are residential in nature and not meant to offer services and shelter to all of the people in proximity to them. It’s not a realistic expectation that neighborhoods where the centers are located to be free of homeless residents.

  3. More like SOME neighbors find it better than expected. I suggest changing the title to better reflect the content of the article.

  4. All you have to do is walk about three blocks east on 26’th or Cesar Chavez to see a massive encampment that is growing every day.

    1. Can you give us the cross streets? We walked around the surrounding area today and did not see any encampments within the radius you gave. Thanks!

      1. end of 26th street by the community center near the park. also hairball area under the overpass and the pedestrian bridge above it,

  5. What the residents are asking for is unrealistic and to be honest kind of appalling. To not want tens around is completely realistic but to pick and choose who lives or occupies public areas with just themselves and maybe a backpack is completely ridiculous. If these residents want to see only working class or middle class or wealthy people on their sidewalks and entering their businesses then maybe they should make some more money and live in Pacific Heights. I was just shocked when one of the residents said that he was happy that the dwellings were gone but sees a problem by the fact he still sees them walking about. Does anybody else see how this is wrong. The navigation Center allows people to rehabilitate themselves back in to society and self-sufficiency and the Very fact that they’re making that stride is something to be optimistic about, seeing them walking around the streets is part of living in that area, so is seeing elderly people in the streets walking, and teenagers and children and blacks and whites and Asians and Mexicans. Plenty of poor working-class and middle-class or seen walking around as well. Some of these residents need to grow up and realize that they cannot pick and choose who lives in their area. Like I said above if they have a problem with people in lower socioeconomic classes walking around in their neighborhood then maybe they should bump themselves up the ladder. Who knows maybe the next neighborhood they go to won’t want their poor asses walking around their streets.

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