Two new Navigation Centers set to open in Bayview, Lower Polk

San Francisco Examiner, Jan. 11, 2021

By Joshua Sabatini

Facilities for homeless will operate at reduced capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions

San Francisco is expected to open two planned Navigation Centers for the homeless within weeks at a time when the need for more shelter beds has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has forced The City to modify its plans for Navigation Centers, a newer type of homeless shelter with fewer rules and more services.

But the 203-bed Bayview SAFE Navigation Center at 1925 Evans Ave. is slated to open “toward the end of this month,” the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing told the San Francisco Examiner. An official announcement could come as early as this week.

Due to COVID-19, the shelter will operate initially at a limited capacity of 115 beds to ensure proper social distancing, according to the department.

Shamann Walton, president of the Board of Supervisors, told the Examiner Monday that the shelter’s opening comes at an important time to address a rise in the homeless population in District 10, which includes the Bayview.

“During this pandemic and prior to the COVID-19 health crisis, we were seeing a rise of people living in the streets in D10,” Walton said. “This will allow us to provide additional shelter to the community, while we focus on providing permanent housing for the long-term.”

“I wish we could provide a maximum number of beds to address the need, but with the pandemic we have to make sure that safety comes first in all of our shelters,” he added.

The project was initially announced in 2019 as part of Mayor London Breed’s commitment to create 1,000 new shelter beds by the end of 2020 and later included in the Breed’s July 2020 “Homeless Recovery Plan,” which outlines measures The City will take to address homelessness as it recovers from the pandemic.

The other Navigation Center expected to open up is the planned 75-bed Lower Polk TAY Navigation Center, for transitional age youth, at 888 Post St., where it was slated to open in the fall of 2020 but “will be opened at the beginning of next month,” the department said.

The shelter, which was also included in the recovery plan, will open with a limited capacity of 43 young people experiencing homelessness.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin was a backer of the project, which is in his district, and held several community meetings leading up to its approval.

“Better a little bit late than later!” Supervisor Aaron Peskin said via text. “I’m delighted that the City stuck with it through the pandemic and appreciate Mayor Breed’s commitment.”

The 1925 Evans Ave. shelter has a price tag of $19.2 million in one-time capital costs and an annual operating cost of $6.1 million, while the 888 Post St. shelter has one-time capital costs of $6.2 million and an annual operating cost of $3.4 million, according to the department.

But not all planned Navigation Centers survived the pandemic. Last year, the department canceled the planned Navigation Center at 33 Gough St. and instead in December launched a 44-person safe sleeping site there, which allows homeless residents to sleep outside in tents and sleeping bags. The site is overseen by the nonprofit Urban Alchemy.

“Due to the impacts of COVID-19 this project was paused and after careful consideration, the City has decided to not move forward with a SAFE Navigation Center at this site due to the short term availability of the site and the high fiscal cost for a temporary site,” a department spokesperson said. “Instead, it is now a Safe Sleep Site, and provides a safe place and services to approximately 44 individuals.”

Supervisor Matt Haney, who supported the Navigation Center project in his district, said he was understanding of the department’s decision.

“It’s positive that the site was still able to be used to bring people off the streets during this pandemic,” Haney said.

The department did not respond by press time to a question about how many existing Navigation Centers are operational and the number of occupants.

The City is operating its more traditional shelters at limited capacity as well. The Next Door Shelter, for example, re-opened on Dec. 29 at a limited 149 bed capacity. The facility was listed as having 334 beds before the pandemic.

Another impact of the pandemic is that The City will not be setting up emergency pop-up shelters in the event of extreme cold or heavy rains as in past years, per guidance of the Department of Public Health.

Abigail Stewart-Kahn, interim director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, said earlier this month that The City sets up the pop-up shelters in areas connected to existing shelters, but those are now being used due to the need for social distancing.

“The Covid Command Center, with guidance from the Department of Public Health, has determined that there is not resource to do pop-up shelters this year due to Covid, which is of course incredibly concerning for people living unhoused,” she said. “So we are pleased that we are able to continue to invite people into the shelter-in-place hotels.”

The continued use of shelter-in-place hotels has been the subject of debate between Breed and the Board of Supervisors. Recent legislation approved by the board requires The City to continue to shelter homeless people in hotel rooms for at least the next 60 days. Those placed in hotel rooms after November 2020, however, will not be guaranteed housing if The City shuts down the hotels, which is expected to happen when COVID-19 federal emergency funding for room reimbursement discontinues.

As of Dec. 30, there were 1,912 shelter-in-place hotel guests, according to a recent letter sent to the Board Supervisors as required by the legislation.

Stewart-Kahn added that “we do have continued space in our congregate shelters to invite people indoors,” but intake is paused at any shelter in the event someone tests positive for COVID-19 at the site.

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