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Navigation Center, Homeless Outreach Team Focus On SoMa Encampments

SoMa's plentiful homeless encampments were the main topic of discussion at last night's Western SoMa Coalition Meeting. In attendance were members of several police stations, as well as a representative from the newly-formed Navigation Center for the homeless, to discuss the work they're doing to relocate these illegal camps. 

The Navigation Center's temporary location debuted in the Mission on March 16th, and has been working closely with the San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team (SFHOT) to bring entire encampments into the center. Dogs, tents, families and stuff are all allowed—though drug use on the property is not.

Much of the work that SFHOT is doing to address the issues of these encampments is in SoMa. According to a June 1st report, 460 documented homeless outreach attempts were made in District 6 so far in 2015. Of those 460, 370 (or 80.4 percent) were willing to engage with outreach workers and learn about services that could help them, such as mental health treatment, housing, or medical care. 

But homeless encampments pose a different challenge—that of communities wanting to stay together. As SFHOT director Rann Parker mentioned at the meeting last night, many encampments are formed by individuals who don't want to go through the shelter system, and prefer to live on the street. Many have dogs, family members, or friends from whom they don't want to be separated—not to mention a lot of belongings.

In District 6, the SFHOT team has identified 16 active encampments, though they're quick to admit that there are more than that. These 16 encampments contain 141 residents, who would have to be re-homed with their belongings in order for the encampments to be broken up. 

Although the Navigation Center is only four months old, it's already built a strong track record for working with encampment communities to offer alternative housing solutions. According to details presented at last night's meeting, 69 clients are currently residing at the Navigation Center and receiving services.

Thus far, the Center has found supportive housing for 36 former clients who've entered its doors, and 15 more are eligible to be sent home via the Homeward Bound program. 11 clients left the Center voluntarily, seven were asked to leave, and four were referred to local shelters. 

But despite the efforts being made by SFHOT and the Navigation Center, the area at 13th and Division, where many homeless encampments exist, is undergoing a change that could lead to potential new challenges. The citywide SFPD redistricting that took place last Sunday has left some areas unclear; 13th Street, which runs under the highway, is one of them. The area is located where four different districts—Northern, Southern, Tenderloin, and Mission—converge. At last night's meeting, police from all of those districts were in attendance to speak on their station's policies on homeless encampments. 

According to Officer Pedroza of Southern Station, it hasn't yet been determined if 13th Street belongs to Southern or Mission station, or if it's split between the two. Even dispatch doesn't have this information, meaning that if a 911 call is made from that area, it's unclear which police station is supposed to send cops. In other words, callers may get cops from several stations, or none at all. Officer Pedroza says he'll keep answering calls for 13th Street until he hears otherwise. 

Either way, the issue of SoMa's homeless encampments is being addressed. Whether the number of camps will steadily decline over time remains to be seen, but the initiative appears to be a good start. 

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