Cheers and jeers at tense SF Navigation Center meeting along Embarcadero
SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - Despite the community meeting’s ground rules, it was cheers and jeers at a packed Embarcadero SAFE Navigation Center community meeting that drew more than 400 people Wednesday night in San Francisco.
Mayor London Breed was heckeld in some tense and heated moments to discuss a proposed homeless navigation center along the waterfront.
"Homelessness is the number one problem that we face in our city. You cannot be upset about homelessness and then when I propose a real solution, then you’re upset about it," Breed said trying to persuade critics to go along with plans to build a 175-225 bed facility at Embarcadero and Bryant.
Currently the site, owned by the Port of San Francisco, is a parking lot surrounded by high-rise luxury condos. We previously reported on the dueling GoFundMe sites, raising tens of thousands of dollars each on opposite sides of the issue.
The group Safe Embarcadero, citing safety reasons as their main concern for not wanting the temporary residential facility in their neighborhood, is just shy of their $100,000 campaign goal. The 'SAFER Embarcadero for ALL' group, which supports the Coalition on Homelessness is closing in on their campaign goal of $175,000 and has had some notable donors, including Twitter's Jack Dorsey and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.
By Wednesday night that opposition manifested at the racous meeting.
Opponents who live in the area believe a 24-hour homeless facility will endanger them and their quality of life. Many are concerned that occupants of the shelter, who can come and go as they please, will flood the neighborhood to drink and use drugs, behaviors not allowed in the confines of the facility.
"I'm a mom, how will my son be safe playing next to the navigation center?" read a facilitator aloud, from a stack of questions submitted by attendees?"
Participants were not allowed to make their own comments, which prompted some people to shout comments from their chairs, in frustration.
"Today was a sales pitch. It was not a community meeting, as evidenced by them focusing on the lighting, and the colors and the look and feel of the facility, and not what's happening to the people on the inside," said Chris Curtis who was wearing his Safe Embarcadero sticker. He opposes the navigation center and said he lives a block away.
Many who share his perspective walked out of the meeting in frustration.
"Are you going to allow us to ask questions or not?" Curtis said during the meeting. After the meeting he approached the mayor, but Mayor Breed told him, "I don't want to hear what you have to say."
"Mayor, we voted for you." He retorted.
But the proposed facility will offer onsite support services and would operate for four years. It is slated to open by late summer 2019.
"The homeless need a place to stay, housing is the answer, but a navigation shelter is halfway between a shelter and hosuing," said supporter Shelley Carroll, who also said she lives a block away. Many navigation center supporters carried pink signs that read, "Hate Has No Home Here."
Breed did win applause from supporters who believe in homeless services not only help people but get them off sidewalks. "It's always gonna be a 'bad plan' when it's in your neighborhood," she continued, "and I have a shelter in my neighborhood."
"We counted 179 people sleeping outside on the street in the area one night and if we open this facility, all of those people could be indoors," said Jeff Kositsky, director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. He's charged with meeting the mayor's goal of 1,000 new shelter beds by 2020.
Police point out extra patrols tamp down problems at the city's other navigation centers, which also have onsite security and a neighborhood hotline to call.
The mayor did indicate she's open to downsizing, perhaps to fewer than 200 beds to start and that sites are being looked at all over the city. Breed insisted no neighborhood should be exempt from doing its part on homelessness.