This past June, the city released its biennial homeless count report — which, while revealing an overall reduction of the citywide homeless population, also showed an increase of homeless residents in neighborhoods where they have traditionally not been as visible. As the city experiences a historic construction boom, there are fewer and fewer spaces for homeless residents to hide, and many have spread out from the center of the city into the northeastern neighborhoods. At the same time, rising rents and evictions have forced longtime San Franciscans out into the literal cold: 71 percent of homeless San Franciscans were previously housed in the city and their average age is 58 years. The sector that has grown the most since 2015 are those experiencing chronic homelessness — basically our most vulnerable residents who have struggled with homelessness continuously for years. As many of you have observed, homeless numbers have grown more since 2015 in District 3’s North Beach, Golden Gateway/Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhoods than in any other neighborhoods
Back in 2015, I was actively looking for a Navigation Center site in District 3, and I haven’t stopped. A Navigation Center is a temporary shelter and service hub to “navigate” our long-term homeless residents into supportive housing, job training, and health services. I still remember touring Our Lady of Guadalupe chapel with my former colleague, Bevan Dufty, who has been a passionate leader to move San Franciscans off our streets and into housing. We were close to securing the site for the city to operate a temporary Navigation Center, but the property owner eventually backed out of the deal and sold the property.
Since then, I have continued to analyze potential sites for a temporary Navigation Center in District 3. The one set up in District 9 was intended to have a brief six-month operating life, but it has already shown marked success since opening in June. The goal is to serve the unique needs of the homeless population in our geographic area. We have grandparents, veterans, and citizens with a range of physical and mental ailments literally struggling to survive night to night. We’ve seen people taking up residence in Portsmouth Square in Chinatown, down along the Embarcadero by the Ferry Building, and along the Polk Street corridor and adjacent alleyways. These are our neighbors and the city has a responsibility to address their plight with pragmatism, timeliness, and compassion.
I have prioritized policies that preserve existing rent-controlled housing and residential hotels, as well as protect tenants. I believe these policies have helped to stem even higher numbers of people experiencing homelessness. But we can’t keep everyone in their homes. My staff has been working with a couple recently who have been pushed from one residential hotel to another. They are proud North Beach residents, with roots in the neighborhood and a rash of bad luck. You no doubt know someone just like them.
I have a commitment from the mayor to use his most recent $6 million budget allocation for a Navigation Center in District 3. Now I need a commitment for a site, and I will need your support to make it happen. I have several sites in mind, but I need the community to stand on the side of political courage. Are we going to let our neighbors brave the coming winter on District 3’s streets? Or are we going to push the city to stop making excuses and finally move on the property that is available and temporarily vacant? Surely if the Mission can absorb a Navigation Center for six months, we can make use of property that will be otherwise unused and available for a year.
District 3 is ready for a Navigation Center, and it already has a strong moral compass. Our residents are savvy, engaged, and empathetic. They have heart, but they want to see action. Our office coordinates with neighborhood associations and working groups throughout the district to implement a rapid response when encampments spring up. But the reality is, we need somewhere to process and work with homeless people to assess what’s next for them. Last year’s Proposition Q has proven a dismal failure, as predicted by city staff and advocates. Moving tents from one street to another does not address homelessness. Housing, services, and collaborating on a long-term plan for individual success are the keys to getting people on an upward trajectory and off of city streets — and keeping them there. The time is now to respond swiftly and aggressively to our homeless crisis. Can I count on you to support our work?