Proposed Bayview homeless shelter would provide service where it is needed

Each night, roughly 45 men and women curl up in chairs or on the floor of a drop-in center in the Bayview neighborhood in hopes of getting some sleep.

They turn to these rigid and uncomfortable seats, which can be unhealthy when used as beds, because they have no other place to go. Most beds for homeless people in The City are full, and there is no permanent shelter alternative in the neighborhood.

But one organization is trying to change that. Members of the United Council of Human Services — which runs Mother Brown’s Dining Room and the drop-in center — is hoping to open a 100-bed homeless shelter in an empty building next to its current location on Jennings Street.

“There’s a huge need,” said Gwendolyn Westbrook, CEO of the United Council. “These people just need a place to lie down.”

As many as 1,000 people need beds in the Bayview, according to Bevan Dufty, director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement. This plan would help just a fraction of that number, but he said it’s a start.

“We do feel in order to be humane and effective, expansion is necessary,” Dufty said. “From a health standpoint, sleeping in chairs, it’s not good. You don’t really rest.”

Providence Baptist Church on McKinnon Avenue tries to do its part too. The church has 125 beds reserved for men as well as another 40 beds for women and children at another location across town, but patrons have to be out by 7 a.m. because the church offers feeding programs, free legal counseling for nearby residents and after-school programs for youth. With the demand for beds outstripping supply at the alternate location, church officials have been shuttling another 20 women and children back to the church to let them rest overnight in a social hall instead of forcing them to remain outdoors.

“We started noticing the need about six or seven months ago,” said G.L. Hodge, administrator for the church. “We’re the only part of San Francisco that does not have a permanent shelter for people in our community and that’s sad. They got it everywhere else, but in one of the hardest-hit areas of need, we don’t have it. That puts a sour taste in my mouth.”

Westbrook said when other shelters in The City are full they open their doors for people to sleep at the drop-in clinic, where is when most people find a chair, but it’s not an ideal situation.

“Their legs are swollen, it’s not good for their blood pressure,” she said. “Sitting in chairs isn’t healthy for them or the neighborhood.”

Despite the need for the services, some worry the location is too close to businesses hoping to revive the Third Street corridor.

“We know the need is there,” said LaShon Walker, president of the Bayview Merchants Association. “But our role is to think about business development. We’re not anti-anything; we’re just saying how can we coexist?”

Though site development plans have not been created, city officials and those from the United Council have been meeting with the community to explain the idea and begin the process. Westbrook said she hopes to have a shelter up and running within the next two years.

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