Homeless Youth Alliance Hosts Lower Haight Open House To Address 'Misinformation'

As we reported earlier this year, the Haight’s Homeless Youth Alliance had recently located a space a space for its administrative office in the former Vapor Room in the Lower Haight. But not everyone in the neighborhood is happy about the move. 

Though HYA has essentially been homeless itself since 2013, conducting its programs out of the dining room of a neighborhood resident for the last two years, the at-risk youth services non-profit continues to be met with skepticism from neighbors who believe that the organization will attract homeless youth to the neighborhood and will do more than administrative work out of the 607A Haight St. space.

At least one person has taken his or her concerns to the streets with a flyer recently posted around the Haight:

According to Mary Howe, the Homeless Youth Alliance’s executive director, whoever posted the flyers is misinformed and is circulating false information to neighbors.

“It is very clear in the lease that we cannot see any participants out of the building,” said Howe. “All of our services are located in the Upper Haight.” Howe and her team serve as the only harm-reduction coalition oriented towards homeless youth in the Upper Haight, interacting with upwards of 200 at-risk youth on a daily basis. The organization provides accessible outreach, one-on-one counseling, medical and mental health care, educational workshops, needle exchange, and referrals for its clients. 

In order to be transparent, Howe and her team will be hosting an open house at 607A Haight St. from 6-7:30pm tonight to dispel the rumors. “The open house was in response to all the misinformation that was being spread among the residents of the neighborhood in hopes that we can continue a really clear and honest dialogue and to show that it is actually just an office.”

According to Howe, even though the organization has yet to receive final approval from the Planning Department, it has started to move furniture into the space. “We’re paying rent. It is just a standard office: desks, couches, filing cabinets, shelves. It’s as office-like as it can be without being able to operate yet.”

The Homeless Youth Alliance’s new office space at 607A Haight St. is currently within the 30-day neighborhood notification phase of a zoning permit designation change. The previous occupant, the Vapor Room, was permitted as a medical cannabis dispensary (MCD).

“The property is located in a Small-Scale Neighborhood Commercial District (NC-2),” noted Gina Simi, the Planning Department’s communications manager. “NC-2 allows ‘Other Institutions, Large,’ such as social services, as of right on the ground floor with neighborhood notification per Section 312,” Simi said.

HYA's new administrative office at 607A Haight St.

“The Homeless Youth Alliance has indicated that the proposed use of 607 Haight St. is solely for the administrative offices of their social service use, which is a street-based program that services the surrounding community,” Simi said. “They have not indicated that any services would be provided onsite; however, such services would be allowed under the zoning.”

“The Planning Department was actually the one who chose the code that we applied under,” Howe said. “Unfortunately there is just not a code that is non-profit, administrative only space.”

Even though the change in zoning designation would permit the Homeless Youth Alliance to provide youth services out of the 607A office space if approved, doing so would break the lease with the property manager. “It’s in the lease saying we cannot [offer services],” Howe said. "It's just an office."

As it stands, 607A Haight St.’s zoning change wouldn’t go to the Planning Commission unless someone files a Discretionary Review, which has not been done. “To date,” Simi said, “staff has received less than a dozen e-mails on this issue, with an equal amount of support and opposition.”

The Homeless Youth Alliance has to wait for the 30-day neighborhood notification phase to be completed before it’ll know about the status of its office. “We’re hoping to try to alleviate complaints before that decision is made,” Howe said, “because I feel like people who are against us are doing so because of the misinformation that’s being passed around.”

The front door of HYA's administrative office, complete with informational flyers and a copy of the Planning Department permit application.

Regarding tonight’s open house, Howe said “I have a feeling some people are really gonna come out and learn about what we’re trying to do here and what we’re not.” Howe and her team are expecting representatives from the Department of Public Health, the Mayor’s Office, Supervisor London Breed’s Office, and the Human Services Agency, as well as former youth clients whose lives were positively affected by the organization.

“All of these people are very clear on the struggle HYA has had to get indoors and know that this is strictly an administrative space and really want to help dissuade the misinformation that is going around,” Howe said. "They’re very aware and they are in support of us having an office space.”

HYA's former drop-in center at 1696 Haight St.

“I’m disappointed in the handful of people who are speaking to mis-characterize what is a strictly administrative office that would not be bringing homeless to the Lower Haight,” said Bevan Dufty, the city’s former homeless czar and a Lower Haight resident. “Homeless people are a part of this community and a part of this neighborhood, and I understand that people don’t want to add several hundred individuals but that’s not gonna happen."

“HYA is one of the most well-organized, well-run, disciplined, responsible, and effective agencies,” said Dufty, who is an advocate for the organization's capital campaign. “It’s really heartbreaking that their administrative offices have been operating out of a physician’s home in the Haight.”

HYA's new administrative office at 607A Haight St.

Neighbors who want to share their opinions about the pending move are invited to email Planning's Sharon Young at sharon.m.young{at}sfgov{dot}org. To learn more or ask questions in person, HYA's informational open house takes place tonight at 607A Haight St. from 6-7:30pm. Light snacks and refreshments will be provided.

“If we get it approved,” said Howe, “we’ll have a real open house ... That depends on what happens with the neighborhood.”

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