Navigation center expansion legislation meets with resistance

Vote postponed on mandate to open enhanced shelters across SF

Requiring navigation centers to be built in all 11 supervisorial districts is a costly idea that will come at the expense of actually housing the homeless, a city official with the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing said Thursday.

Abigail Stewart-Kahn, director of strategy and external affairs for the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, opposed Supervisor Matt Haney’s legislation to mandate opening a navigation center in all districts during a board committee hearing on the proposal.

With these types of facilities in just three districts, the mandate would mean opening eight more within 30 months.

“The proposed ordinance focuses time, political capital and financial and personnel resources on expanding one component — there are six components — of our homelessness response system, and it does this at the cost of housing exits,” Stewart-Kahn said.

But Haney argued The City should expand both at a greater pace given the fact that thousands of people are living unsheltered in San Francisco on its streets and other public spaces.

“I agree we need to build a lot more housing exits,” Haney said. “I just can’t accept that we don’t have a need for hundreds of additional navigation center beds in the near future to be able to facilitate and transition people off of the street. We need both. We need this and that.”

But whether Haney’s proposal will become law is uncertain.

The Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee postponed a vote on the legislation Thursday.

The legislation has five sponsors to date with the support of Haney, along with Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Shamann Walton, Dean Preston and Gordon Mar.

Mar, however, proposed amendments which he said he needed more time to draft.

Mar said a navigation center may not be the best fit on the Westside and wants amendments to allow districts to have ability to comply in other ways, such as with transitional housing and permanent housing facilities specifically for formerly homeless persons.

That could also mean things like overnight parking spaces for RVs, residential facilities with behavioral health services, housing for people exiting residential treatment facilities, tiny homes and permanent supportive housing.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who sits on the committee, said that he didn’t think requiring something in each supervisorial district made sense.

“Geography is important and fair share is important but supervisorial lines don’t cut it for me,” Peskin said. He also added that existing shelters “could be vastly improved for the clientele, for the surrounding community.”

“We should not forget about the things we have done in the past that need fixing,” Peskin said.

Haney’s legislation would call for eight additional navigation centers since the current facilities are only located in supervisorial districts 6, 8 and 10, which include the Dogpatch, South of Market area and the Mission neighborhoods.

The navigation center model was first piloted in March 2015 to provide a low-barrier alternative to traditional homeless shelters, including service provision, with the goal of transitioning people off the streets and into longer-term housing. There are seven navigation centers currently in operation.

The facilities range in costs to build and operate, depending on various factors like size and site selection.

Based on the opened centers, the average cost to operate them is $4.2 million and the average cost to build is $6.2 million, according to the budget analyst report.

Between March 2015 and February 2019, navigation centers had 2,094 “successful exits,” with 652 of those who stayed in them ending up in permanent housing, 174 in temporary shelter and 1,268 sent on buses to go stay with friends or families outside of San Francisco under the homeward bound program, according to a department report.

The other 54 percent of clients served, some 2,469, were “unstable exists,” with 1,351 leaving by the “clients choice,” 639 having to leave when their time of their stay was up and 479 having a denial of service.

Haney took the postponement in stride.

“I am OK with continuing it. I am open to working on amendments to allow some flexibility for homeless serving facilities that fit neighborhoods,” Haney said in a text message. “To be clear, I still believe every district should have a navigation center.”

Stewart-Kahn said that they are expanding the shelter system and housing for the formerly homeless but argued that Haney’s proposal “pulls significant resources to one aspect of our homeless response system which solves for sleep and does not solve homelessness.”

“For every shelter bed that you build you need to build somewhere between three and six exits,” Stewart-Kahn said. “That’s the proportion we want to be working with.”

He said at the end of the hearing that he is willing to come to a compromise with the department and board members to “make sure that this is fitting the broader overall strategy that we respectively have for our neighborhoods and also for the city.”

“But respectfully I am not aware of any plan from the Department of Homelessness or anyone else that addresses the citywide needs that we have and identifies a way to serve individuals experiencing homelessness all over the city,” Haney said.

The City has announced plans to open two more navigation centers, one at 888 Post St., in Peskin’s District 3, and at 33 Gough St., in Haney’s District 6, where there are three already.

The Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee is expected to hear the legislation again on Feb. 20.

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