The City of San Francisco is looking to open a 150-person Navigation Center for the homeless at 246 South Van Ness Avenue at 13th Street, according to Planning Department records.
An application for a permit to open the center was accepted by the Planning Department on Dec. 7. It specifies that the city is hoping to install the facility with 150 beds and five storage containers in what is now a CalTrans parking lot.
The beds, offices, laundry and a dining hall would be housed in sprung tents — a type of large tent often used for events — and trailers would house bathrooms and showers.
The Planning Department has received the application but, no further action has been taken.
It’s too early to tell whether the center will go forward as proposed and, if so, when it would open.
“I’m monitoring the situation extremely closely waiting to know if this is possible and then immediately have a meeting and a process with the community to talk it through,” said District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen.
If approved, it would be the third Navigation Center in the Mission District. The other two, at 1950 Mission St. near 16th and 1515 South Van Ness Ave. near 26th Street, will be demolished when construction begins on permanent housing. The site at 1950 Mission is not expected to break ground until mid- or late 2018, and it’s unclear when construction will begin at 1515 South Van Ness.
The proposed center is one of three new Navigation Centers the city plans to open citywide. The other two are on Bayshore Boulevard in Visitacion Valley and at Fifth and Bryant streets in SoMa.
The site is particularly appealing because of its location — away from residential housing and near existing encampment areas.
“What I’ve been looking for are sites that are in places where homeless people congregate anyway, that are more industrial and less residential and less small-business-related if possible, and this site has always been one of them,” Ronen said.
Finding those locations has always been the difficult part of opening navigation centers, which so far have been very well-received by clients but often face opposition from leery potential neighbors.
“That’s the challenging thing … every time they try to open a Navigation Center, in every neighborhood, there’s always pushback,” said Kelley Cutler, an organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness. Generally, she said, the Coalition supports new centers and the sorely needed resources they provide.
The Mayor, she said, has initiated the process of working with CalTrans to make sure the navigation center can in fact be placed on what is now in use as a parking lot. The city already leases the land.
If the center were to open before the temporary ones close, it would bring the number of Navigation Centers in the city to five, with 508 total beds.
The centers are viewed as transitional, a place where homeless residents go to get services and gain entry to a system that that may end with permanent housing for some, return to former housing for others, a bus ticket out of town to relatives, or return to the streets.
They differ from the city’s traditional shelters, with 1,000 or so beds, because the barrier to admission is lower — pets, partners and possessions can come in with the client.
In terms of permanent housing, the city now has about 6,000 permanent units of housing for the homeless, though only about 400 of those become vacant every year.
The last point-in-time count showed that 7,449 people are homeless in San Francisco, but advocates and city officials put the number between 15,000 and 18,000.