Navigation Center for homeless services to launch in the Mission

For at least eight months, San Francisco will take a novel approach to helping homeless persons who live on the streets but refuse shelters and other city services.

Mayor Ed Lee and his homeless czar, Bevan Dufty, stood at 1950 Mission St. on Thursday to announce that The City's Navigation Center, modeled after efforts in Philadelphia, will begin March 16.

The former Phoenix Continuation High School site has sat abandoned for years and will soon be transformed into a 125-unit, below-market-rate housing development. But for the next eight to 18 months, it will become a one-stop-shop for a segment of the homeless population. The City has had a difficult time in connecting with those living in homeless encampments, as some tend to dislike shelters, don't want to put their belongings in storage or would rather not leave the small community they've forged.

“When it comes to homelessness, what a challenge,” Lee said. “We have to come up with more alternatives.”

The plan is to serve up to 200 individuals a month, no more than 75 at any one time. The site will have city services like counselors, laundry services, television, meals and bungalows.

The pilot program is funded through a $3 million donation from the San Francisco Interfaith Council, of which $1 million will go toward creating 500 single-room-occupancy units for participants to stay.

Supervisor David Campos, who represents the Mission, said the effort should be lauded.

“We have seen the Board of Supervisors pass laws that tell homeless don't sleep in the parks, don't sit on the sidewalks,” Campos said. “Instead of continuing to go down the path of criminalizing homeless people we are actually giving them a place to go.”

Dufty said that the model could be replicated in other areas, such as on Caltrans property.

“Caltrans is forever going to have an issue with people camping in their property,” Dufty said. “These are bungalows that are portable. They are very interested in working with us.”

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