“London, my sober, working female friend is living in the park. Please help her,” read the sign Albertino Garcia, 58, taped to his chest. He stood on the sidewalk outside the fence Friday of San Francisco’s newest Navigation Center while inside the perimeter Mayor London Breed presided over its grand opening.
Shawn Landrum-Teppish, 44, that “female friend,” stood by him, having just gotten off working a part-time job at a Hayes Valley coffee shop with the hope that the mayor could help her find housing. She said she has been homeless ever since moving to San Francisco from Kansas nearly three years ago — “just for a better life to start over” — and lives in Golden Gate Park.
The two never did cross paths with Breed, but it wasn’t as outlandish an idea as it might seem. Garcia heard about Breed’s event on the news and recalled how he himself had crossed paths with then Mayor Gavin Newsom, who told him if he participated in his “Care not Cash” program he’d find the help he needed. He did just that, albeit begrudgingly, at first not wanting to hand over his benefit money.
“I ran into Gavin in person at one of these types of events, and he told me personally if I joined his program I would be OK,” said Garcia, who had been living in the park at the time. “I believed him. Sure enough. They saved my life.” He has lived in supportive housing for the past 11 years.
Landrum-Teppish thought something similar could happen for her, after Garcia told her of the idea, and cited Breed’s campaign message of hope. “My depression is my story because it is what has kept me unstable,” she said. “I always just try and stay positive. There’s lots of beautiful things about this city. I just wouldn’t mind a little support along the way — that’s all.”
Landrum-Teppish and Garcia said she has been on a housing wait list for nearly two years.
While the two waited in hope, city officials were inside the fenced area celebrating the grand opening of 126 beds at the new Division Circle Navigation Center, at 224-242 South Van Ness Ave, on a former Caltrans parking lot. The City leases the site from Caltrans for $1 per month and the center cost $5 million. It could remain there for years to come.
“I’m committed to addressing this humanitarian crisis that we see in San Francisco and all over our state,” Breed told those gathered. “It’s going to take a consistent, sustained effort to open Navigation Centers like this one all over our city. Together we know we can bring noticeable changes. I have met some of the people personally who have been in our Navigation Centers who are now permanently housed. But I’ve also have met people who have been in our Navigation Centers and who have come back time and time again.”
She added that “we won’t give up on the people that we know need support and services the most.”
There is a mix of outcomes from those who are served by San Francisco’s Navigation Centers, the first of which opened in March 2015 in the Mission District. They have fewer rules than traditional shelters, allowing homeless persons to come and go when they want and keep their belongings, pets and partners with them. More robust services are also provided on site.
As of June, Navigation Centers have moved 485 homeless residents into permanent housing, temporarily housed 91 and placed 1,065 individuals on the bus to reconnect them with families or friends outside of San Francisco, according to city officials.
In June, three Navigation Centers — Mission, Central Waterfront, 1515 South Van Ness — reported 103 exits of residents who were staying at the centers, according to data provided by the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.
Just 13 of the 103 ended up in permanent supportive housing. Thirty-two were reunited with friends or family outside of San Francisco with paid bus tickets through the Homeward Bound program. Twenty-nine exited “by choice” to an “unknown destination.” Nineteen were denied service, such as for being violent, and nine had to leave because the time limit on their stays expired. One was temporarily housed.
At Division Circle, beds there are for an initial 30-day stay, which can be extended under some circumstances, such as if clients are actively looking for employment. Those served by the center are found living in tent encampments as well as those living on the streets and encountered by the Homeless Outreach Team.
Leora Weinglass, 67, is among those staying at the center. She said she became homeless when she lost her Fresno home during the 2009 housing bubble burst. “Ever since then it’s been a matter of scrambling, apartment here, hotel there,” she said. Weinglass returned to San Francisco, where she was from, two years ago, after living in Vallejo for seven years.
Weinglass uses a wheelchair and said she is suffering from cancer. She doesn’t have much hope for securing long-term housing. “There’s a time limit. Its 30 days to start. You’re living on the edge,” she said, adding that she’s heard the promise of housing frequently in the past but it never came.
“I’ve just given up on it being a reality,” Weinglass said. But she said the Navigation Center, which she moved into about a week ago, “has been the nicest place” and a far cry from the traditional homeless shelters she has stayed previously.
She said staff and clients at those other facilities “would be so envious if they could see that there is actually a place like this for homeless people because the shelters are not even a step above prison, they are worse — not that I would know.”
She added, “My self-esteem is beginning to come back. It was dashed away two years ago.”