San Francisco officials unanimously approved a new homeless shelter on Tuesday night amid warring campaigns by homeless rights advocates and the project’s affluent neighbors.
The San Francisco Port Commission’s vote followed about five hours of public comment on the proposed “SAFE Navigation Center,” a newer take on traditional shelters that supports a hand-selected population through beds, individual case management, medical services and more relaxed policies on pets and meal schedules.
The Embarcadero, home to some of the city’s wealthiest residents, is the proposed site of the seventh navigation center in the city but the first to capture such national attention.
Last month, San Francisco residents launched competing GoFundMe campaigns over the proposed shelter. The first, by the project’s opponents, claimed the proposal was put together too hastily and prompted “legitimate concerns about public safety, drug use, and other problems that a large shelter may bring to the community.”
An attorney representing the organized opponents, who go by the name Safe Embarcadero for All, spoke ahead of Tuesday night’s vote.
“From being announced around March 1 to possibly be voted on today, there’s no possible way a project of this impact can be properly considered and the public be properly consulted,” said the attorney, Andrew Zacks. He also raised concerns about the length of the lease the commission granted later that night, which was for two years with a possible two-year extension.
“What is the plan for people who are going to be living on this site in two years or four years or when you exercise your termination right?” Zacks asked the commission. “Without such a plan, the reality is the center is not going to close; this is not going to be a two-year lease or four-year lease because in San Francisco, we are not going to take 200 people and put them back on the street after you’ve housed them.”
Supporters of the shelter have outpaced opponents. The GoFundMe campaign they launched days after the original raised $176,000, nearly $75,000 more than its counterpart.
“This proposal checks every single one of those boxes,” Corey Smith, the deputy director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, said at Tuesday night’s meeting in support of the shelter. “And when I think about the values that San Francisco has, the values that I know all the neighbors in this room have in caring for one another and loving one another, I think that that’s enough to say, hey, we have to do this for the betterment of everybody.”
San Francisco has one of the nation’s most visible homeless populations, and the crisis has only gotten worse as the tech sector boom sends house and rental prices soaring. The city is home to about 7,500 homeless people, including more than 4,300 who were unsheltered or living outdoors, according to the latest count in 2017. However, the city only has enough shelter beds for about 2,500 people.
With 200 additional beds, the Embarcadero navigation center won’t immediately put a huge dent in the city’s homelessness crisis, but it’s a significant step, homeless advocates say.
These people are not noncontributing citizens. They’re not criminals. They’re San Franciscans, just like anybody here.
Armando Garcia, San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness human rights organizer
“A safe center with 200 beds may not be much compared to the thousands on the streets, but it’s something,” said Armando Garcia, a human rights organizer with the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, at Tuesday’s meeting. He shared stories of homeless people with jobs and families who have managed to get back on their feet through city services.
“These people are not noncontributing citizens. They’re not criminals,” Garcia continued. “They’re San Franciscans, just like anybody here. Many of them have lived here a long time, and … they deserve to share in the success of this city.”
Though construction on the project is slated to start in June, the commission expects the shelter’s opponents will bring forward a legal battle before then.
“This won’t be settled here,” Commissioner Willie Adams said at the meeting. “It’ll be settled in the courts.”