Preston finds support for District 5 navigation center at community meeting

Supervisor hopes to narrow down list of possible locations within months

District 5 residents at a community meeting on Sunday signaled interest in moving fast to open a neighborhood navigation center.

Supervisor Dean Preston, who represents the area that includes the Western Addition and Haight Ashbury, held the afternoon meeting at Gateway High School to kickstart the process for opening a homeless shelter as promised during his campaign.

While no location has been announced, Preston’s office indicated that they hoped to narrow down a list of dozens of potential sites to five in the next month or two before bringing plans back to community stakeholders.

“I want to assure folks that no decision has been made to where a navigation center is going, when that’s going to happen, and what details look like,” Preston said to the crowd. “We wanted to [hear input] before any decisions were made.”

The City has opened eight navigation centers since 2015, six of which remain in operation. Another three are planned for 33 Gough St. in South of Market, 888 Post St. in the Tenderloin and 1925 Evans Ave. in Bayview.

At the meeting Sunday, Mayor London Breed’s homelessness advisor Emily Cohen said The City is on track to fulfill its goal to open 1,000 new shelter beds by the end of 2020.

Input from the crowd of a few dozen people was largely in favor of opening navigation center in the area. Preston said he hoped to open the shelter within weeks or months rather than years.

“I’m just frustrated by how slow things move,” said Tracy Freedman, a District 5 resident of about five years. “I hold myself responsible as well. I’m happy to pay more taxes — just tell me what to do, please.”

Navigation centers offer services to homeless people who are referred to the shelters. They are known to be more welcoming than other shelters by allowing partners, belongings and pets.

Justin Vasquez, who spent five months at the Bayshore Navigation Center, said it was an experience unlike any others when it came to being sheltered. He found his way there after incarceration and wanted to try something different.

“It was safe,” Vasquez said, speaking on a panel at the meeting. “So many people who lived there wanted to be there, wanted to get out of their situation.”

While people at the community meeting expressed initial support for navigation centers, some questions emerged.

One person asked why navigation centers cost so much — $4.2 million to operate and $6.2 million to build, according to a recent budget and legislative analyst report — while another asked about the centers offering services for people dealing with addiction. At least a couple speakers were concerned about families facing homelessness and in the area.

Mary Watkins, a District 5 resident of more than five decades, said she supports opening navigation centers not just in neighborhoods with people of color but in wealthier areas.

“We need navigation centers, no doubt about it,” Watkins said. “I want it to be fair.”

In December, Supervisor Matt Haney proposed legislation that would mandate a navigation center in every district, rather than concentrating them in the current three districts.

That idea faced resistance from the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, which argued that doing so in a short timeframe would divert resources from finding permanent housing solutions for the people who needed it.

The Government Audit and Oversight Committee postponed a vote to send the legislation to the full Board of Supervisors in early February.

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