Amid an already politically fueled election year, San Francisco’s debate around homelessness has become highly charged, from Mayor Ed Lee’s call for citywide sweeps of tents to Supervisor John Avalos’ proposed rules for those sweeps.
Another effort to address the homeless, introduced by Supervisor David Campos, would require San Francisco to open up six more Navigation Centers within the next year and study having one act as a safe injection drug site. That proposal is set to go before a Board of Supervisors committee Thursday.
The City’s first Navigation Center, which has less rules for occupants than the traditional shelters, opened March 2015 in the Mission and is considered largely successful.
But a new report shows opening another handful of such sites within the year would come at a high cost to The City.
The report by budget analyst Harvey Rose, released last week, says to open and operate five new Navigation Centers would cost The City between $20.4 million and $32.6 million annually. The estimate includes one-time costs ranging between $5 million and $15 million.
The cost analysis focused on five new Navigation Centers because the report counts Mayor Ed Lee’s proposed second Navigation Center at the Civic Center Hotel, located at Market and 12th streets, toward the mandate. That location is expected to open June 1.
For the Navigation Center model to succeed, every bed must have at least two permanent housing units to accommodate the clients, according to the report, which cites Emily Cohen, Mayor Ed Lee’s deputy director on homeless issues.
That means that because each center must have between 50 and 75 beds under the legislation, there would be a need for 600 to 900 homes for all six Navigation Centers “to have sufficient stable housing units for Navigation Center residents when they leave the center,” the report said.
Campos said The City needs to figure out how to achieve this housing goal without letting it deter the effort.
“We need to make a commitment to make that happen,” Campos said. “We’re going to have to approach this with that level of seriousness.”
Campos suggested it was his proposal that has pushed the mayor to open additional Navigation Centers, adding that the model “is the one thing that can make a big difference” in reducing homeless encampments.
The legislation will go before the board’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee, on which sits board President London Breed and supervisors Aaron Peskin and Norman Yee.
Breed said Monday that she remains undecided over whether she’ll support the legislation, citing concerns over the public process for locating the facilities. “The process isn’t exactly filled out,” Breed said.
Campos said he was open to amending the proposal to allow for more public input on the locations.
Breed also said she was undecided whether the proposal was the right approach to tackle the homeless crisis. “Is this the best way? I don’t know,” Breed said.
Peskin said Navigation Centers should be part of the discussions to address homelessness, but he also wanted to examine what it would take to have existing homeless shelters open during the day, not just at night as is the current practice, as well as adding nurses on site.
The Mission Street Navigation Center, which has 75 beds, costs $2.7 million annually, and $36,682 per bed. The new Civic Center Hotel site, with 93 beds, is expected to cost $3.1 million annually, and $33,894 per bed.
As of March 23, 399 homeless persons were served at the Mission site with 268 or 67.2 percent ending up in housing: 128 moved into supportive housing, 126 were given bus tickets to travel outside The City to live with family or acquaintances, 11 moved into single room occupancy units and three were placed into residential treatment.
The legislation mandates that The City open at least six additional navigation centers within 12 months, including three within four months of the legislation’s passage. One must serve those between the ages of 18 and 29 and another must allow residents to consume alcohol onsite coupled with alcoholic treatment services.
Mayor Ed Lee is required to submit a proposed city budget June 1 to the board for review and adoption. There is expected to be additional funding and details of his plans for Navigation Centers.
The report said the mayor is also considering a third Navigation Center site in the Dogpatch neighborhood, which may be included in the budget proposal.