Neighbors have threatened legal action over a proposed Navigation Center in this parking lot on the waterfront that could serve up to 225 people, claiming the process has been rushed.

Waterfront Navigation Center may shrink after neighborhood pushback

Mayor London Breed is considering scaling down a proposal for an up to 225-bed Navigation Center at San Francisco’s waterfront that has met with intense resistance from neighborhood residents.

The proposed Shelter and Access for Everyone Navigation Center on Seawall Lot 330 would be the largest of six low-barrier homeless shelters, known as navigation centers, currently operating throughout The City. The existing centers mostly serve between 100 and 150 people, with some serving even fewer.

Breed championed the waterfront center as a means to reaching her goal of opening 1,000 shelter beds for homeless residents by 2020, with a more immediate target of 500 beds by July. But on Monday, Breed indicated that she may be flexible about the Navigation Center’s size, citing significant pushback from neighbors.

Several tech CEOs, including Salesforce’s Marc Benioff and Twitter and Square’s Jack Dorsey, have donated in support of the center, while neighbors organizing against what they described as a “rushed process” to open the center in the coming months have threatened legal action.

Jeff Cretan, Breed’s spokesperson, confirmed on Tuesday that “some have expressed a desire for the site to have fewer beds,” including the district’s supervisor, Matt Haney, and that conversations are “happening around this issue and others through our ongoing community process.”

Haney told the San Francisco Examiner that while he supports building the homeless shelter in his district, he is actively discussing tweaks to the proposal that include the center’s size, services provided, safety plan, shortening its proposed four-year lease and concurrently opening Navigation Centers in other districts.

Haney said that he did not know, as of Tuesday, if and when actual revisions to the plan would be presented.

“I agree that we should start at a size similar to other navigation centers to demonstrate success for both the neighborhood and the residents of the center, and address the neighborhood homelessness crisis,” said Haney. “I’ve also heard concerns about the size from homeless advocates and service providers, who believe that doubling the size will negatively impact the quality of services, experiences and outcomes for the residents of the center.”

Jennifer Friedenbach, director of The City’s Coalition on Homelessness, said that her group is partaking in discussions on offering “less beds” at the center — at least initially — but has not taken an official position on shrinking down the center.

“We have seen larger shelters done well, but there are so many variables,” said Friedenbach, including staffing levels, the clients’ level of need, and an effort by shelter operators to provide clients with a degree of privacy and dignity.

Large, congregate shelter settings often do not work for people with special needs, she said.

In response to some neighbors threatening legal action over the current proposal, Friedenbach said that “negotiations” are part of opening a Navigation Center in residential neighborhoods.

“It may end up making sense to get going with a smaller [center], getting the neighbors used to it and seeing it’s not a problem — and once the concerns have melted away you scale it out,” said Friedenbach.

“We do have over 1,000 people on The City’s waitlist for shelter. There is a tremendous need and The City has not had a lot of luck finding sites.”

“That is the trade off — do we want more people in there or more people out on the streets?” Friedenbach said.

Residents who argue the center will bring more crime and drug use to the neighborhood have launched a “GoFundMe” page to fund a legal battle against the proposed center, while supporters of the shelter plans have launched an online fundraising effort of their own.

Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing Director Jeff Kositsky has previously rejected the notion that homeless shelters bring more crime or drug abuse to neighborhoods in which they operate.

Kositsky said that he is not aware of revisions to the current proposal, but said that the department has held a series of community meetings, with more scheduled in the coming weeks, and is “certainly open to making modifications to the plan to best meet the needs of the neighborhood.”

“You have to balance it out — we know that big 500-bed shelters don’t work for people. They are hard to manage and a lot of people don’t want to go into facilities like that,” he said. “We want to design something that will work for the homeless people as well as neighbors that live around the site.”

The department is holding another public hearing about the proposal at the Delancey Street Foundation at 600 Embarcadero Av. at 6 p.m. on Wednesday. Kositsky said that the department will likely discuss the centers’ basic design and safety concepts, but does not expect to present revised plans for its size or length of operation at that time.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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