People arrived at the Buena Vista Horace Mann School gym on 23rd Street recognizing old neighbors and meeting new ones Monday night. They warmly greeted one another, introduced themselves by name and address, then took their seats in crescent rows of black plastic chairs underneath basketball hoops and fluorescent lighting. By November, the space will be transformed into a nocturnal shelter to house 20 of the school’s homeless K-8 students and their families — a maximum of 60 people at a time.
The $700,000 program, which expects to secure funding with the Board of Supervisors’ final vote on the budget this afternoon, is believed to be first of its kind in the country.
After months of seeking funding from the mayor’s budget proposal and fielding questions and concerns from the school’s parents, the school and district Supervisor Hillary Ronen invited the school’s neighbors to meet on Monday and discuss the project.
Clauda DeLarios Morán, Horace Mann’s principal, opened the evening by explaining that the administration was moved to create the shelter because of an increasing number of students who asked staff to spend the night at the school, where they felt safe.
“It’s like we have a huge mansion in the middle of the Mission District. It’s empty, dry, safe.” There are purportedly about 60 students at the K-8 Mission District school who are homeless. Citywide, there are an estimated 2,100 homeless students.
A lot of the details of how the shelter will operate can be determined only after a non-profit is chosen to administer the site. But what is known is that the shelter will operate from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. during the week, and until 10 a.m. on the weekends. Families will be given breakfast and dinner, as well as individual support from staff, in the hope of connecting them with long-term housing solutions. By freeing up the time parents normally have to spend lining up to reserve a spot at a shelter or figuring out where their family can sleep that night, the school hopes the program helps these families get back on their feet.
The neighbors’ questions proceeded with neighborly decorum, like a friendly game of tennis that gradually heats up and then ends with a handshake. Many neighbors arrived Monday night eager to offer help. The owner of La Mejor Bakery, located around the corner from the school, supplied two boxes of Mexican pastries for the meeting and wanted to know how else she could help; another woman said she’d like to offer her living room for regular “mother nights,” and a City College dean suggested helping the parents take adult education classes.
But others, albeit a minority, did not feel as excited about a shelter coming into their neighborhood.
Jeff Cluett, who has owned his home across the street for 21 years, said “it got my dander up” when he got a letter announcing the shelter without engaging any of the neighborhood. Calling it a scandal that more hasn’t been done to help homeless residents of San Francisco, Cluett said, “I admit I wasn’t thrilled, and was disappointed I couldn’t talk about this before it was presented as a fait accompli.”
Others voiced more specific concerns about safety and traffic. One neighbor asked how the facility would be staffed and locked at night, and another was concerned about “loitering” and more people doing drugs.
“Traffic is a massive problem here,” she said. “I know this sounds petty.”
Ronen said the point was taken that organizers did not reach out to neighbors earlier in the process.
Liz, who said she’s lived next door to Buena Vista Horace Mann for 26 years and can touch the school from her bathroom window, has four children who have made their way through San Francisco public schools, including one child currently enrolled at Buena Vista. She said she couldn’t be more excited about the shelter.
“What you’re gonna get is a woman who doesn’t have to sleep with someone she doesn’t want to. This is real.”
Liz implored everyone in the room to “put your money where your mouth is” and support kids in your neighborhood as you might be supporting “kids at the border being put in cages.”
“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. I’m proud to be living next door to something that hasn’t happened in the country yet.”
By the end of the meeting, Cluett said he was “cautiously optimistic” for the shelter. Cluett, who had come to the meeting with more than a dozen printed questions, said the meeting had helped clear up a lot of his concerns.
“No child should have to go through this,” he said.