NIMBYs excoriated Mayor Breed’s latest proposal to shelter the City’s beleaguered homeless population.

Residents the Rincon Hill and South Beach neighborhoods erupted in fervent opposition to Mayor Breed’s ambitious proposal for the city’s largest Navigation Center for the homeless on the Embarcadero. Seawall Lot 330 is proposed for redevelopment into a 200-bed Navigation Center, the largest of its kind in the City. Months after San Francisco passed Proposition C, a business tax to generate $300 million per year for homeless services, the largest shelter proposal since then faces a steep path ahead.

Two meetings on Tuesday—one at a hearing of the San Francisco Port Commission, which has jurisdiction over the lot, and another at a Town Hall hosted by Supervisor Matt Haney—saw a litany of complaints typically targeted against homeless residents and supportive services, including crime, drugs, and induced demand for shelter beds. Unlike traditional homeless shelters, Navigation Centers provide comprehensive drop-in social and medical services, and allow for storage of personal belongings, as well as pets.

Pillorying a vocal minority supporting the proposal, including Supervisor Haney and most Port Commissioners, many residents delivered an overwhelmingly similar message: Homeless shelters are needed, but not here.

“This is just the wrong place. Simply the wrong place,” one opponent told the Commission. “There are other more industrial areas of the City where this makes more sense.”

“I want you to know I’m not heartless,” said local attorney Robert Arms. “This will be a disaster…Will you take legal responsibility for the ramifications that will occur from this?”

One speaker characterized her opposition not as NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) but as “NIMFY—not in my front yard,” citing concerns both for childrens’ safety and tourists. The speaker, a longtime gardener, proceeded to compare the Navigation Center to a compost bin, which she explained, does not belong in a front yard where children play. “This does not belong in the Embarcadero, San Francisco’s front yard.”

Local resident Valerie Aurora, who supported Proposition C, argued that the Navigation center would make the neighborhood safer. “That’s the only way to stop all these terrible stories we’re hearing. Nobody wants to defecate on the street, that’s not something they do by choice, Aurora said. “You should try dressing like a homeless person and try using a bathroom in this neighborhood. Good luck with that…I live here, I want this Navigation Center.”

“We’re talking about people who are suffering and dying on our streets,” said Kelley Cutler, Human Rights Organizer with the Coalition On Homelessness. Cutler explained that the shelter waitlist currently stands at 1,405 people, and the Interfaith Council’s latest annual memorial counted 240 deaths of homeless residents. “Every neighborhood says, ‘not our neighborhood,’ but the reality is, as a community as a whole, we need to be creating more resources.”

Cutler added that she had observed Mission residents express satisfaction with their local Navigation Center. “So many of them were actually really happy, because then so many could get help, and when we help each other, it’s better for everyone,” Cutler said.

Supervisor Matt Haney informed Town Hall attendees that his support for the Navigation Center would be contingent on another Navigation Center being opened in another District that has not yet permitted one. “I’m confident they can propose at least one in another district, before this one goes back to the Port for action,” Haney tweeted.

But if the crowd was any indication, this attitude is likely to remain consistent throughout other neighborhoods. Supporters who expressed a desire for such facilities in their own neighborhood were roundly booed by the audience. 

“It makes no sense to ruin this upscale neighborhood,” one opponent said. “No one would consider locating a Navigation Center in the middle of the Sea Cliff or Pacific Heights.”

While many fears of serving a local homeless shelter were rooted in personal anecdotes of violent crime and human waste, opponents angrily rejected any anecdotes offered to the contrary. Oakland resident Milo Trauss, younger brother of Haney’s former opponent and pro-development activist Sonja Trauss, told Town Hall attendees that he grew up near a treatment center, and “turned out fine.”

An irate voice boomed: “FUCK YOU!”

Even neighborhoods with local support face significant hurdles. Danny Sauter, President of North Beach Neighbors group, has been campaigning for a Navigation Center in District 3, represented by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, for several months—but the group recently learned that a site at Bay & Kearney was no longer being considered. That particular site was too small and could only hold 50 shelter beds.

“Supervisor Haney is right to call for other districts to do their part in helping solve homelessness. This is a city-wide issue, and we can't expect just a handful of neighborhoods to be responsible for solving such a difficult challenge,” Sauter said. “That being said, Supervisor Haney needs to show leadership in making sure the Seawall Navigation Center opens at the same time as other neighborhoods move forward too.”

According to the 2017 Point In Time (PIT) count, San Francisco has approximately 7,500 homeless residents every night, with 4,300 of those remaining unsheltered every night. While San Francisco’s homeless population is not significantly higher than other US cities of its size, it remains remarkably high in its unsheltered population.

San Francisco Port Commission President Kimberly Brandon urged those at the meeting to “give it a chance.”

212 new shelter beds have already opened under Mayor Breed’s initiative, and the City plans to open 300 new units of permanent supportive housing within the next six months, according to Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) Director Jeff Kositsky.

Join us for our next BeaconTalk: Affordable housing finance expert Fay Darmawi answers California's multi-billion dollar question: How do you pay for affordable housing? 

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