San Francisco opened its first Navigation Center, seen above, in the Mission in March 2015. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco opened its first Navigation Center, seen above, in the Mission in March 2015. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Effort to open more Navigation Centers advances toward approval

San Francisco is poised to create six new Navigation Centers that help connect homeless residents with services after a proposal was scaled back Thursday to allow for more time to open the shelters.

City leaders Thursday also eliminated one of the most controversial elements of the plan by removing the possibility of supervised drug injection sites, which provide drug users with a safe place indoors to inject heroin or methamphetamine under the watch of health professionals.

At least one shelter will, however, allow residents to consume alcohol.

The legislation is the response of the Board of Supervisors to calls from city residents to better address the homeless issue following controversial sweeps of hundreds of homeless tents along Division Street earlier this year.

The encampment and subsequent response thrust the issue back into the political spotlight and has made Mayor Ed Lee subject to criticism for seemingly failing to improve the issue.

Supervisor David Campos, who introduced the legislation, made a number of changes during Thursday’s hearing to shore up board votes, including to extend the timeline from opening six Navigation Centers in one year to two years. Part of the reason, he said, was to spread out the costs.

But Lee’s director for homeless policy, Sam Dodge, still opposed the proposal.

“Some of this would take us off course,” Dodge said, adding that he worried about codifying homeless approaches. Navigation Centers would be temporary for at least eight months and no longer than two years at each site.

Yet there appears there may be enough support on the board for the legislation to pass. There are at least six votes in favor of the proposal, and it would take eight to override a mayoral veto. The board’s Government Audit and Neighborhood Services Committee voted unanimously to send the legislation out of committee with a recommendation for approval.

Board President London Breed, who sits on the committee with supervisors Aaron Peskin and Norman Yee, spoke strongly in favor of the legislation.

“To not do anything is not a solution,” Breed said. “We’re not asking you to deviate from your process,” she added, referring to Dodge. “We’re just asking you to move full speed ahead and do it and do it right.”

Breed had expressed concerns about the public input process for locating the facilities, but those were addressed with amendments to add more requirements for community outreach after a possible Navigation Center site is identified.

Peskin said he wanted to see changes to the proposal to allow an existing homeless shelter to turn into the Navigation Center model. That change is expected when the full board votes on the proposal in two weeks.

Other amendments that were added include to require studying the equity of those served and housed by Navigation Centers.

The City opened its first Navigation Center in the Mission district in March 2015. The shelter has few rules in place — it allows pets, for instance — making it more inviting for certain homeless residents who avoid conventional shelters. That has led, in part, to its success, supporters say.

Amid mounting pressure to address the homeless crisis, the mayor announced in late March he would open a 93-bed Navigation Center at the Civic Center Hotel on Market and 12th streets. The mayor is also working on opening another Navigation Center in the Dogpatch neighborhood at Warm Water Cove, a former industrial site on public land at the end of 24th Street.

To open five more would cost between $20.4 million and $32.6 million annually, and would require up to 900 homes, according to a budget analyst report. That estimate includes one-time costs ranging between $5 million and $15 million.

One of the most controversial components of the legislation would have studied having an onsite injection facility. While Yee succeeded with his amendment to remove it from the proposal, Campos vowed to continue the discussion of safe injection sites through a separate effort.

Campos added that he was traveling to Vancouver after the hearing with a delegation of other city officials, including former city homeless director Bevan Dufty and Supervisor Malia Cohen’s legislative aide, to
visit the supervised injection facility there.

Aaron Peskinaffordable housingBoard of SupervisorsCity HallhomelessNavigation CenterNorman YeePlanningSan Francisco

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