Homeless sleeping cabins proposed for Tenderloin parking lot

San Francisco Examiner, Feb. 1, 2021

By Joshua Sabatini

180 Jones currently holds a safe sleeping site for tents

A new proposal to erect temporary sleeping cabins for the homeless on a parking lot in the Tenderloin could serve as a model for sites throughout San Francisco.

The idea of providing tiny homes or sleeping cabins for the unhoused is not a new one, but San Francisco has so far resisted it. In response to the pandemic, however, The City has provided safe sleeping sites, sanctioned locations where people are allowed to camp in tents.

One of those safe sleeping sites was established in May 2020 at 180 Jones St. in the Tenderloin, a city-owned property that was previously used as a parking lot.

The nonprofit Downtown Streets Team began in November 2020 to provide services to the site weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Now they are collaborating with RescueSF and DignityMoves on a proposal to turn the site into a pilot for sleeping cabins for the homeless.

The site will eventually become a permanent supportive housing development by the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, but construction isn’t slated to start until 2022.

“It would be an amazing time to pilot this in the meantime,” Romie Nottage, senior director of Downtown Streets Team for San Francisco, told the Local Homeless Coordinating Board Monday when unveiling the proposal to “gain support and feedback.”

“Current 180 Jones residents would be grandfathered into this pilot, allowing them to have the second part of their unhoused safe sleeping journey in a dignified, safe, warm place for them to get the services and support needed,” Nottage said.

The cabins, which would take one or two days to assemble, are small spaces with a bed, desk and chair, window, locking door, electricity and heat.

The proposal is for 22 cabins and two office cabins for onsite services as well as mobile facilities for bathrooms and showers. The site currently has portable toilets on the sidewalk.

Nottage said that the cost of the cabins would be privately funded, but did not disclose the amount. The San Francisco Examiner was unable to reach Nottage for comment before press time. It was not clear if they had yet submitted a formal proposal to The City for approval.

Mark Nagel, a Marina resident and co-founder of RescueSF, which he describes as a new citywide coalition of residents “advocating for compassion and effective solution to homelessness,” told the board that they hope to create “ a thoughtful pilot” that would collect important data that The City could use to decide whether to expand the effort throughout San Francisco.

“We believe that permanent housing is a solution for homelessness, but that waiting line for housing should not be on our streets,” Nagel said. “We think that’s unacceptable. So we are advocating to do a small pilot with these units that we think are a much better alternative to leaving people sleeping on the sidewalk there, on a parking lot.”

Nagel said that “it will take years to address the systemic causes of homelessness and the housing crisis, but we can stop street sleeping now and end it.”

This isn’t the first time a proposal like this was pushed for this site. The Examiner previously reported on efforts dating back to 2019 advanced by community advocate and former mayoral candidate Amy Farrah Weiss to create similar shelter for the homeless.

The City ultimately rejected her proposal and Mayor London Breed instead pitched opening The City’s first meth sobering center there, but those plans were scrapped due to the pandemic.

The pitch before the board Monday drew support from community advocates.

Brian Edwards, an organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness, said he hoped they succeeded with the pilot.

“It’s a shame that it took a global pandemic to get us to finally start experimenting with sanctioned encampments and tiny home villages in San Francisco,” Edwards said. “But I am glad it did.”

Donna Hilliard, executive director of Code Tenderloin, a job training nonprofit, said she has been working with those at the safe sleeping site and that “the biggest key to helping someone get back on their feet is giving them dignity. “

“Putting them into a place where they can actually sleep safely … is a way to set them up to succeed,” Hilliard said. “This model has been done in San Jose, in Oakland. Why are we not doing it here?”

Fernando Pujals, a spokesperson for the Tenderloin Community Benefit District, also backed the effort.

“We needed this like yesterday,” Pujals said. “We hope we can see this project come to fruition at 180 Jones, see it expand throughout the Tenderloin and other parts of San Francisco.”

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