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Ex-tech CEO pushes ‘transitional villages’ after homeless town hall meeting

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mike koozmin/s.f. examiner file photo
Former tech CEO Greg Gopman

Jean Bogiages, a Potrero Hill resident for 40 years, showed up at a town hall meeting on homelessness in San Francisco Wednesday looking for answers.

Bogiages, who holds regular meetings at her home on Utah Street to discuss solutions with 12 neighbors who are concerned about homeless encampments nearby, wanted to see what else could be done.

“We started doing a park project and we feel like we are putting people out of their homes,” said Bogiages, a retired software engineer. “We want to understand what we can do.”

Bogiages is not alone. More than 630 people turned out for the town hall meeting put on by former technology CEO Greg Gopman, in partnership with Project Homeless Connect. Gopman held the event two years after posting nasty comments on his Facebook page about homeless persons on Market Street, noting he has since changed his views on homeless persons and wants to help.

Plenty of help is seemingly needed, despite The City spending about $165 million annually on homeless services. San Francisco's homeless population has remained mostly flat in recent years at more than 6,000.

During a panel discussion, Supervisor Mark Farrell dismissed Gopman's idea of establishing transitional villages, which are temporary camp areas. In an email Thursday, Gopman said he is not dropping his idea and planned to meet with Farrell later that day to discuss it further.

As The City faces ongoing complaints about homeless encampments, Gopman believes these transitional villages, modeled after ones in Seattle and Austin, have a place in each supervisorial district.

Gopman called transitional villages “a new homeless housing solution that allows safe and supportive transitional housing to anyone who needs it in return for villagers protecting the neighborhoods that temporarily accept them.” He added, “This is the temporary solution we've been searching for, while we await The City to figure out the housing crisis.”

Gopman said he wants to meet with landowners interested in having a transitional village on their property. Arondo Washington Cox, who supervisors Camp Unity in Seattle, is willing to help establish the sites, Gopman said.

Other ideas, which may be more politically viable, include Farrell's suggestion that The City begin buying more properties.

Supervisor Jane Kim, also a panel member, supported the idea. “I would love philanthropy to give a $100 million to a nonprofit” for below-market-rate housing, she said, also suggesting a possible luxury condo sales tax with revenue going toward below-market-rate housing.

Jeff Kositsky, executive director of the Hamilton Family Center, a nonprofit helping homeless families, recommended a technology solution. Better data and coordination, he argued, could ensure those in need of help do not “run through this maze that exists right now” by going from one case manager to the next. “San Francisco has world-class programs around homelessness,” Kositsky said. “What we are not doing a good job of is managing the resources we have. We have very weak data systems. We don't have coordination.”

The town hall meeting may become an annual affair under Gopman's leadership and he may hold others around other causes. “In startups you learn that anything that increases communication or collaboration typically helps things act more efficient and you get better outcomes,” Gopman said during a recent interview.

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