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.”