New Homeless Navigation Center on Embarcadero sparks debate

  Alabama and his dog sit on a curb along Market St. PHOTO CREDIT: Mytrisha Sarmiento

By Mytrisha Sarmiento

Staff Editor 

A veteran named Alabama has currently been living on the streets of San Francisco for nine years. He was born in Detroit, but grew up in Tennessee. He found his way to San Francisco due to medical reasons. 

When asked if there should be more Homeless Navigation Centers around the city, he responded, “That’s a hard question, because, if you put in more, more people come to the city for that. In Tennessee we don’t have Navigation Centers, therefore there are no homeless.” 

Alabama is just one of many living on the streets of San Francisco. The city holds up to 24% of the national homeless population, which has increased by 17% since 2017 according to the San Francisco Chronicle. This comes to a total of an estimated 6,858 people who are homeless in the city today.

Alabama shared a possible solution in helping to alleviate the problem: “Quicker housing instead of being on a two-year or three-year waiting list. The first time I got housed on the city it took almost four years, and I know there are so many homeless people that the list is that long.” 

As part of the city’s efforts to tackle homelessness, Mayor Breed proposed the SAFE Homeless Navigation project in March 2019. The SAFE Homeless Navigation will hold 175 to 225 beds, which currently is the biggest Navigation Center in the Bay Area. This new establishment is located on a part of Seawall Lot 330 about two blocks from Piers 30-32. There have been a multitude of meetings, conferences and hearings held regarding the establishment. The opposition consists mainly of angry residents who are fixed to halt construction and discontinue the project as a whole.

The two sides of the argument created GoFundMe pages with the hope of gaining funding to support their arguments. The opposition raised $44,610 with an anonymous donor who contributed $10,000 alone. These funds will go to lawyers who will be fighting the Homeless Navigation Center in court. The people in support of the project raised a total of $176,015 on the GoFundMe page. That is almost triple the amount of the opposition.

When informed of the efforts to discontinue the project and the $44,610 raised to pay for lawyers to battle it in court, Alabama said, “Why would anyone do that? It just doesn’t make sense — Wow.” 

He said, “I think it will benefit 80% because not everybody who is homeless wants to be inside; there’s about 20 or 30 percent out there, so the ones that want to be off the streets will benefit a lot.” 

Employees of the Watermark said, “We remain neutral” when asked if they had an opinion on the Homeless Navigation Center being built to the right of the entrance to the building. 

A resident of the building who would not disclose their name said aggressively in a loud tone of voice, “This is a political statement!” There has been a lawsuit filed by residents in an attempt to stop the project. 

A resident of Bayside Village, Facundo Lucero, said, “It’s time San Francisco did something about the situation, but, to be honest, I don’t think I would be comfortable about a building near the area.” He appeared in a hurry to get back to his sandwich. This introduces a concept that has a dominant presence on the side of the opposition: NIMBYism. The Encyclopedia Britannica explains, “Not in My Backyard Phenomenon (NIMBY), also called Nimby, a colloquialism signifying one’s opposition to the locating of something considered undesirable in one’s neighborhood.” 

Aaron Cisneros a manager of a local business Bayside Market, said, “Yes, it will benefit the homeless people; I think we need something like this, but I don’t think this is the right area ’cause right here on Embarcadero it is very busy, and there are all these people that live here, families. In the news you can see everything that’s going on, and it’s scary, real scary.” 

When asked what other efforts could be put in place by the city in order to lessen the amount of homeless people on the streets, he said, “Well, we definitely need to come up with a way to help; I think it is pretty sad that there are so many homeless people in San Francisco. People need to address it. It’s gonna be hard to find a place — where are we gonna do this at? Everywhere they go they are going to unfortunately have a negative response; we need to do something — I don’t know what; I don’t know where to begin.”

The Homeless Navigation Center appears to have already had an effect on the local community. Mr. Cisneros said, “Yes, it already has people in the neighborhood talking about moving away. People who bought housing here because of the beautiful views are now ready to leave because of everything that’s going on. It may seem like a small percentage of people who leave but it makes me worry.”

He added, “I come to work at 5:45 in the morning, and I have to walk by every day, and it’s affecting my own safety, and I’m a guy. I’m a big guy, but you know what — I am no challenge against a gun or a knife. What are you gonna do? It’s scary.” 

Safety concerns are apparent considering that, as of 2016, the amount of homeless people in San Francisco who have a substance abuse disorder has risen, as depicted by San Francisco County SCS Snapshot 2016

Eric Montanna, a superintendent of construction at the Homeless Navigation Center, said, “I like the project I’m building; I think we should be helping as much as possible.”

Mr. Montanna believes that this Homeless Navigation Center will help decrease the amount of homeless people on the streets, and this is important because “there is a lot of homeless on the street, sleeping on sidewalks.”

Furthermore, he said, “I think we need to create more jobs and find affordable housing or lower down housing prices.” Housing prices in the Bay Area are consistently increasing year by year, causing more people to move away or become homeless. This is another aspect of the overall homeless epidemic in the city. 

The final petition regarding the Homeless Navigation Center claimed that, as a result of the “rushed” construction, key steps of the process were overlooked. The building process also included public outreach and a comprehensive environmental review.

The residents are mainly concerned about the effects of the Homeless Navigation Center which the SFIST stated as “drug use, crime, and a general blight to their waterfront environs.” The lawsuit was dismissed by Superior Court Judge Ethan Shulman, who made a final ruling against Safe Embarcadero (who formally go by “Safe Embarcadero for All”), which is a non-profit organization mainly supported by businesses, local residents and other non-profit organizations. The restraining order made by the residents was overruled by the judge on the count that the opposition had failed to reason the potential harm they would endure if the project were to continue.

In response, Mayor Breed shared her opinions of the backlash and lawsuits on the city and county of San Francisco website. Mayor London Breed said, “Our City is in the midst of a homelessness crisis, and we can’t keep delaying projects like this one that will help fix the problem.When we have people suffering on our streets, we need to be able to provide them with the care and services they need.”

There is simply no one solution to the massive amount of homeless people in San Francisco. The solution will need to be a collective effort. The collection of problems in San Francisco have grown out of proportion, including skyrocketing housing prices, NIMBYism, the lengthy amount of time for homeless people to actually get into housing, and a lack of outreach to prevent homelessness, such as providing aid to families at risk of becoming homelessness and people living in their automobiles.

Meanwhile, the two-year lease for the Embarcadero will determine the effectiveness of the Homeless Navigation Center. If successful, the two-year lease on Seawall Lot 330 could be extended.

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