A transitional age youth navigation center at 888 Post St. in Lower Nob Hill may open by the end of the year. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF approves facility for homeless youth in Lower Nob Hill

Approval of navigation center latest expansion in city portfolio of shelter beds

San Francisco approved its latest navigation center Tuesday in the Lower Nob Hill neighborhood and the first to serve transitional age youth as The City continues to expand places where homeless residents can go to sleep indoors and connect with services.

The unanimous approval by the Board of Supervisors adds to The City’s growing portfolio of temporary and permanent shelters addressing one of the most pressing issues facing San Francisco and the entire state.

The approved navigation center at 888 Post St., in the former House of Fans building, is expected to open by the end of the year and remain in operation for longer than the few years usually granted to its counterpart facilities.

“I have no doubt that it will transform lives,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who helped build community support for opening the center in District 3, which he represents.

The City opened its first navigation center, a homeless shelter with fewer rules than traditional shelters, in March 2015 in the Mission. As of January 2020, seven navigation centers are in operation, with a total 804 beds located in three of the 11 supervisorial districts, Districts 6, 9 and 10.

Peskin said that he will remain engaged as the project goes through the design and construction but also “over the next many years.”

“I have brought detractors to existing navigation centers and mostly won their heart and minds,” Peskin said. “We held community meetings across the district.”

He continued, “I was always impressed and pleased that the good people of the northeast corner of San Francisco have open minds and want to be a part of the solution as it regards to the most pressing social challenge of our time.”

The vote approved a $49 million, 20-year lease of the 33,970-square foot three-story building and a cost of $3.8 million annually to operate the planned 75-bed homeless shelter for those aged 18 to 24.

The agreement gives The City the option to buy the site for $29 million any time before Aug. 1, 2022. The City is also expected to sublease the ground floor of the building to Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties. Goodwill would end up paying for a third of the total rent, offsetting a portion of The City’s costs.

Another navigation center is planned at a building at 33 Gough St., which is owned by City College of San Francisco. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Next Shelter

Meanwhile, the board’s Budget and Finance Committee will vote Wednesday on a lease for another new navigation center at 33 Gough St., a 49,000-square foot building with two adjacent parking lots. Mayor London Breed announced the Gough Street shelter in January as part of her broader plan to expand shelter beds for the homeless.

The proposal is for a lease of three years at a base rent of $25.70 per square foot, or $1.26 million annually, for a total of $4.3 million. In addition to rent, the operating expenses are expected to cost $7.5 million a year, which includes $4 million in salaries.

The temporary 200-bed Upper Market SAFE Navigation Center in District 6 would serve homeless adults by providing “enhanced shelter health services to meet the needs of acute residents staying at the shelter, as well as triage and stabilization services,” the budget analyst report said.

The City plans to install bathrooms and shower facilities on the parking lots as well as shipping containers for clients to store their belongings.

Unlike the 888 Post St. proposal, this shelter is expected to operate for just two years, after an expected opening in fall 2020. The site, which is owned by City College of San Francisco, is slated for redevelopment as an “affordable and workforce housing residential development with a likely mix of market rate and affordable units,” the budget analyst report said. The housing construction is expected to begin as early as 2023.

Last month, Breed celebrated the plan to open both of these centers.

“I’m proud we are on track to deliver on our promise to open 1,000 new shelter beds by the end of this year—the largest expansion in the last 30 years—but we know we need to do more,” Breed said in a statement. “There are still thousands of people living on our sidewalks and our open spaces and we can no longer allow our streets to be the floor of our homeless response system.”

Vehicle Parking for Homeless

Meanwhile, San Francisco’s first site for people living in their vehicles was largely praised during a Monday hearing at the board’s Land Use and Transportation Committee since opening Dec. 19, 2019.

The site, which The City calls a pilot vehicle triage center, is located at 2340 San Jose Ave. in District 11 near the Balboa BART station.

The temporary site was opened to address the growing number of people counted as homeless and living in their vehicles. The site cost about $500,000 for capital improvements and will cost $1 million to operate for one year.

As of Feb 12, there were 35 people living on the site in 26 vehicles, which included 14 recreational vehicles, 10 vehicles and two school buses. There were also 17 pets, 14 dogs and three cats.

People came to the site from all over The City, including from supervisorial districts 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10 and 11.

Dylan Rose Schneider, Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing’s manager of policy, said 90 percent of the people using the site are identified “as being housing referral status, meaning that they are eligible and waiting for housing to come online.”

“Housing referral status clients are the most vulnerable in our system with the highest chronicity of homelessness, vulnerability and barriers to housing,” Schneider said. “So this is a great opportunity for them to come online, have access to services and get ready for that next transition into housing.”

Schenider said that “each person’s circumstances are unique” and each receives case managers to address their needs, which include “getting document-ready while waiting for housing to come online, working to resolve medical issues or navigating benefits, or reconnecting with support systems.”

Kelly Cutler, a member of the Coalition on Homelessness, said that “it’s been going really pretty smoothly.”

However, Cutler said, “We need more. We need a lot more. We need more programs in different districts.”

Cutler has advocated for The City to allow people to live in their vehicles and not adopt parking bans or cite and tow their vehicles. There are an estimated 814 people homeless and living in their vehicles.

“I would like to encourage you all, when it comes to the enforcement criminalization piece of it, we really need to be going in this direction of actual solutions rather than sweeps,” Cutler said.

The City has identified 14 other possible sites for vehicle parking across six supervisorial districts, but has yet to commit to opening similar operations on those sites.

District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai said that with the site “we can see some positive results from very quickly so we are not criminalizing and forcing people to move and have their vehicles towed.”

Andrico Penick, The City’s director of real estate, said he has reviewed more than 1,000 sites for homeless shelter expansion efforts and has identified 14 sites where other vehicle parking sites could operate.

The sites include one in District 3, three in District 6, four in District 7, one in District 8, one in District 9 and four in District 10.

“These sites are still under evaluation,” Penick said.

Homeless department officials did not commit to opening another vehicle parking site at Monday’s hearing.

“Today we are talking about a small pilot which is a very small portion of our entire homelessness response system,” said Abigail Stewart-Kahn, a homeless department official. “We do not have enough housing in San Francisco to exit everybody from homelessness into permanent supportive housing. We need to expand everything that we are doing.”

Safai, however, said The City should determine how many parking sites are needed to address the challenge.

“We need to have targets,” said Safai, who plans to hold a follow-up hearing.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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