A new Navigation Center will be installed near 13th Street and Highway 101 this spring, and while Mission District residents shared their concerns at a meeting on Thursday, many had warmed up to the idea after the apparent success of the center at 1515 South Van Ness.
When the 1515 Navigation Center was built, “there was a lot of fear about a crime wave,” said Caleb, a resident of 25th and South Van Ness. “As a resident there, none of that came to pass. I’m actually very sorry that it’s only temporary.”
The meeting was hosted by District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who is spearheading the project that will open sometime in April or May. She was joined by Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing Director Jeff Kositsky, as well as Julia Laue from the Department of Public Works.
The new, 125-bed center will be located on a Caltrans-owned parking lot at 224-242 South Van Ness. It will sit adjacent to 13th Street, which has seen chronic homelessness and tent encampments since before San Francisco hosted the Super Bowl in 2016.
In a bit of irony, the new center will be a very large tent structure with high ceilings and a large outdoor area. It will provide on-site meals, showers, storage and social services such as substance abuse treatment, housing opportunities, public assistance and job training.
As with all Navigation Centers, people who enter are allowed to bring their pets, possessions and partners. People at the shelter can stay up to 60 days — or more if they are disabled and considered high-priority.
Ronen said she is working on allowing every person to stay as long as they need — if they are engaging in services to find jobs and housing. “They can’t in 60 days address the underlying issues that are contributing to homelessness,” she said.
The city officials also assured residents that the center will have a 24/7 desk service to answer residents’ calls if they have concerns. SFPD, they said, will provide security around the perimeter of the building.
But some residents and business owners were nonetheless concerned about the center bringing more crime and nuisance to the area.
“My biggest concern with this is, it’ll draw more attention, more people will come — we’re right there,” said Mitchell Kulder, Director of Operations at Royal Automotive Group, which borders the Navigation Center site.
While he said he appreciated the initiative to help the area’s homeless population, he suspects some homeless residents have been damaging the cars at his business, and he’s worried that Navigation Center staff or the police would not be responsive enough.
Kositsky reassured him that the center will have a 24-hour phone line for residents and businesses.
“On paper, this sounds like it can continue to move the neighborhood in the right direction, but the reality of that, I’m not sure on,” said Ryan Cerami, Vice President of Ceramic Tile Design, which will neighbors the Caltrans site.
Like some others, he asked for a more intimate sit-down with Ronen to see how he could “be part of the solution.”
Ronen said that everyone is always welcome to contact her office. “We will talk to you, we will respond to you, because this is our top issue,” she said.
A woman named Stephanie, who lives near the existing center at 1515 South Van Ness and 26th Streets, said the area “looks a lot better.” But since the center opened, she said she’s noticed an increase in drinking and drug use.
“That issue should be addressed in future plans,” she said. “Because the outdoor space is nice to have, but people want to do drugs and drink … and it’s ending up in the surrounding areas.”
She also asked about the wind-down plan for the 1515 South Van Ness shelter. Once the center leaves, construction for a new housing development will begin.
“This is part of the wind-down plan,” Ronen said, speaking about the new center. “This is the replacement.”
Ronen added that she will be holding a meeting about the South Van Ness center’s exit in a few weeks, although no date has been set. She said the new center does not have an end date, as they are on a $1 per month, year-to-year lease with Caltrans.
A man who identified himself as Taylor said he is a soccer coach at Marshall Elementary, a school two blocks south. “I experience feces and urine in front of my doorstep,” he said. “Can the Navigation Center alleviate some of the public defecation that is happening on streets?”
Ronen said that the onsite 24-hour showers and toilets will help to reduce those issues. “It is not acceptable for a world-class city to have people going to the bathroom and dropping used needles on the street,” she said. “It’s an embarrassment.”
But the coach also asked how he could assist Navigation Center staff in referring individuals to the center. “I’ve interacted with a lot of homeless in area. I just feel connected to them,” he said. “My main question is: how residents can help folks get access to Navigation Center?”
Kositsky encouraged community members to contact his office through email — or him, personally, through Twitter — if they feel compelled to help someone. “When they know you and trust you, we can leverage that to help them get indoors,” he said.