Mayor Ed Lee adds $3M to expand homeless navigation sites

During a press conference highlighting the successes of the San Francisco Navigation Center, Victor Frazier tells his story about the Center's positive impact on his life. (Kevin Kelleher/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

In the five months since it opened, the Navigation Center in the Mission has helped 60 formerly homeless persons find housing.

Since opening March 30, the new San Francisco program has served some 200 homeless persons. The outcomes are promising and the model should be replicated in other San Francisco neighborhoods, Mayor Ed Lee and other city officials said Thursday.

Of the 200 served, 60 secured housing, 71 are on site and 34 returned to places they once lived outside of San Francisco. The average time it took those five dozen people to find housing was 44 days from the time they first contacted the center.

Lee said Thursday that he has added $3 million of city funding to expand the program to other yet-to-be determined sites. Areas being looked at include SoMa, the waterfront and the northeast like North Beach. Lee said he wants the private sector, such as technology companies, to match the investment.

The mayor’s commitment comes just weeks after he made controversial remarks about ridding the streets of homeless persons in time for Super Bowl 50 festivities this February. The mayor said he wants up to three sites, including a replacement site for the current center — which will close in about eight months to make way for an affordable family housing development — operational within about six months.

“I never promised that there would be zero homeless people in San Francisco by the time the Super Bowl happens,” Lee said in response to a reporter’s question. “We will be charged with, and do our best with, making sure that we take care of homelessness in those areas that we are using, and also on an ongoing basis. This is the opportunity for us to do all the right things.”

Supervisor David Campos, who represents the Mission neighborhood on the Board of Supervisors, praised the Navigation Center.

“Other parts of The City also need to step up to the plate. We have been carrying this responsibility,” Campos said. “You probably need five or six navigation centers in San Francisco to really be able to address the level of need.”

The mayor’s homeless czar, Bevan Dufty, said he expects to reduce wait times for housing. The mayor has a goal of securing 500 single room occupancy hotel units expressly for Navigation Center clients, beginning with 150 this month. These units have been sitting mostly vacant and are undergoing repairs, such as about 90 units at the Civic Center Hotel and another 90 units on Sixth Street at the Henry Hotel.

The Navigation Center is designed to reach a segment of the homeless population which tends to avoid conventional shelters and generally set up encampments on San Francisco’s streets such as around underpasses or areas with less foot traffic.

The center, which has a capacity of 75 persons, has no curfew, allows people to bring in their belongings and pets and can remain together if in a relationship. Laundry, showers, food and key city services are provided.

“We are serving people who never would have gone to shelter,” Dufty said. 

He noted that the program recently served 10 homeless persons who were living in the Powell, Montgomery and Embarcadero BART stations.

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