Local service providers hoping to offer homeless youth services on the site of the former Haight Street McDonald’s while plans for affordable housing there take shape are facing pushback from neighbors and merchants who would rather see it turned into a “community hub” for art and cultural events.
At a public meeting Thursday, more than 100 community members presented conflicting visions for the 40,000 square foot property at 730 Stanyan St., which The City purchased earlier this year after years of complaints about drug dealing and crime at the McDonald’s restaurant sited at the entrance to Golden Gate Park and the Haight-Ashbury. There are plans to build more than 100 affordable units on the site, but they will take between three and five years to come to fruition.
In the meantime, city officials are seeking proposals for interim uses.
Several Haight Street merchants and service providers pointed to a critical need for services for Transitional Age Youth who are aging out of foster care at a public hearing held by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) on Thursday.
“Every minute, every second, there is somebody in crisis and they don’t have a place to go,” said Shira Noel, policy and advocacy coordinator with the Homeless Youth Alliance, one of four service providers proposing to set up shop at 730 Stanyan St.
In 2013, the Haight-based nonprofit was evicted from its facility and has since been serving its clients without a dedicated space. Noel said that in the two-and-a-half years following the eviction, more than 36 youth served by local organizations have died.
“Even if we have this space for three to five years, it will make a big difference,” said Noel.
But not everyone agrees.
“If we put something on Haight Street that will attract more transient (youth) it will become more challenging to respond to the needs of the neighborhood,” said Park Station Police Capt. Una Bailey, adding that 30 percent of the station’s officers are currently dedicated to “homeless outreach and the Haight Street foot beat.”
“Providing services creates issues in the neighborhood,” she said.
So far, three major community-led proposals have emerged.
They include converting half of the lot into a soccer field operated and maintained by a national soccer nonprofit that serves at-risk youth; creating a flexible space for commercial vendors, food, art and cultural events as part of a proposal called “A Community for Everyone”; and proposal by “A Coalition for a Complete Community (CCC)” for a mixed-use space that includes a paid parking lot, a stage and movie screen for community-based programming and dedicated space for homeless youth service providers.
The “Community for Everyone” proposal is backed by the Haight Ashbury, Buena Vista and Cole Valley merchant associations.
“We are seeking to provide a space that is flexible, that can use shipping containers for mixed-use. Some can be commercial. There can be rotating art exhibits and a theater,” said one of the proposal’s authors, who gave his name as Steven. “This can be complementary to the merchants, not necessarily competitive.”
The proposal to serve the area’s at-risk, transient youth, who congregate in Golden Gate Park and along Haight Street, was the most controversial, with dozens of people speaking either for or against it.
“We have a once in a generation opportunity for one of the largest parcels in the Haight to turn around the neighborhood that serves us, the people who live there, and not the transient population that seems to get catered to,” said a speaker who called herself a 40-year resident of the Haight. “Let’s clean it up and make it for us.”
Several residents said they were afraid of creating a hub for crime, loitering and quality of life issues at the site, which drew complaints for years because of the “street kids” who congregated there.
Those currently experiencing homelessness, however, described targeted services as a crucial life-line that has led to stability — and housing.
“I used to live and sleep in Buena Vista Park. Now, I’m being housed by the Taking it to the Streets program,” said a young man who gave his name as Justin. “If you don’t want to see all the kids out on the street, then give them the route off the street.”
Supervisor London Breed, a mayoral candidate who represents the district, spearheaded the $15.5 million purchase of the McDonald’s’s site for affordable housing but did not attend Thursday’s hearing. Instead she sent an aide to represent her, who said she has not yet taken a position on the site’s interim use.
In all, some 26 ideas have been pitched to MOHCD, including turning the site into a full-scale parking lot or a Navigation Center for the homeless.
However the latter uses are off the table, said MOHCD Director Kate Hartley, given the “opposition to devoting the entire site to parking” and the financial constraints of running a temporary homeless shelter there.
The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing is currently at “full capacity,” opening up three new Navigation Centers in the City, at the cost of some $3 million per site, said Hartley.
The site’s development was financed by a so-called federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), and those funds must be used to serve “low and moderate income households” for both the site’s interim and permanent uses, according to Hartley.
“Because we cannot spend housing dollars on non-housing uses, we need an interim use that can support itself and not require capital outlay from the Mayor’ Office of Housing,” she said.
A date for the issuance of the RFP has not been announced, but Hartley said that all proposals submitted to the City for the space will be weighed against the CDBG criteria.