District 3 neighbors mixed on proposed navigation center for homeless youth

District 3 neighbors mixed on proposed navigation center for homeless youth888 Post Street (at Hyde) may become District 3's first Navigation Center. | Photo: Carrie Sisto/Hoodline
Carrie Sisto
Published on January 10, 2020

Residents of Districts 3 and 6 have mixed feelings about a proposal to convert a long-vacant building on the Northeast corner of Post and Hyde into a 75-bed navigation center for transitional youth.

The three-story building at 888 Post Street sits right on the border of District 3, which encompasses the city's northeast, and District 6, which encompasses the Tenderloin and SoMa. It's largely sat empty since previous tenant House of Fans closed in 2015, although some of the space has been used for car storage. 

District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin told attendees at a public meeting last night that he has spent three years trying to find an appropriate site for a navigation center in his district, which includes Lower Nob Hill, Lower Polk, Russian Hill, Chinatown, North Beach and the Embarcadero.

San Francisco currently has seven navigation centers, all of which are concentrated in Districts 6, 9 and 10. Given the scale of the city's homelessness crisis, activists have pushed the Supervisors to open a navigation center in each of San Francisco's 11 districts. But many of them say they've been stymied, facing too much opposition from residents for any sites they've proposed.

District 3 is bordered by districts 2 and 6 | Map: City of San Francisco

That pushback was evident at last night's meeting, where most of the attendees came to voice their concerns about the facility. The most common concern was the center's potential to attract further open-air drug dealing and use in the Tenderloin and Lower Polk, which already struggle with these issues.

Some attendees said they also feared an increase in sidewalk camping, and the public health impact of encampments. 

The proposed site, right on the border of Districts 3 and 6, would be the first navigation center in San Francisco dedicated to transitional-aged youth, ages 18-24. A handful of neighbors who spoke in support of the project said that it is the city’s obligation to offer unhoused young people a path to permanent shelter and employment. 

Peskin and city representatives concurred, noting the navigation center should be viewed as a resource to help young people receive an intervention, get back on their feet and become productive members of the community. 

They emphasized that the facility is being designed to deter loitering, with an off-street outdoor area for residents to take out their pets, smoke cigarettes and otherwise congregate.

The Embarcadero Navigation Center at 555 Beale St. includes an internal courtyard. | Photo: HSH

The proposed navigation center would support Mayor London Breed’s Rising Up campaign, which aims to halve youth homelessness in San Francisco by 2023.

Launched in October 2018, it's housed 55 young people so far and is currently fundraising to provide further options for young people exiting navigation centers, according to Emily Cohen, policy advisor on homelessness for the Mayor’s Office.

Transitional-aged youth are not well served in San Francisco’s existing adult or family shelters, Cohen said. Like other navigation centers, the Post Street facility will allow residents to come and go as they please throughout the day, live with pets and partners, and have a safe space to store their belongings, with the eventual goal of transitioning them into permanent shelter.

To enter the center, young people would have to be referred by city employees, either through the Homeless Outreach Team or the Coordinated Entry Program. No walk-ins would be permitted.

The proposed layout of the center calls for a dormitory, showers, and restrooms on the third floor, and a communal space with a kitchen, meal offerings, laundry, and a yet-to-be-identified partner on the second floor, according to Rachel Alonso, project manager for SF Public Works, which is helping design the facility. 

Pedestrians would enter the facility on Hyde Street north of Post, through a mezzanine that would take them straight to the second floor.

According to city documents, the retrofit of the current facility would cost about $900,000 and take about seven months to complete. The city is still in negotiations with the property owner, Tidewater Capital, to determine the conditions for construction and a potential long-term lease. 

The pedestrian entrance would be north of the bike share dock on Hyde Street. | Photo: Tidewater Capital

The building's ground floor would house a donation center and warehouse for Goodwill Industries, which will offer on-site employment counseling and job training opportunities for residents. 

According to SF Planning documents, Goodwill’s services at the Hyde Street navigation center would also include a partnership with Microsoft and Google to provide digital skills training, in new classrooms and meeting spaces.

Donations to Goodwill would occur through the site’s existing delivery area, Alonso added.

Goodwill already has a strong presence in the neighborhood. It just opened a new facility one block away, at 750 Post St., in a building it purchased and fully retrofitted, according to William Rodgers, Goodwill San Francisco's president and chief executive.

The Goodwill store a few blocks away at 822 Geary (between Hyde and Larkin streets) has several more years left on its lease, and is set to remain open at least until then, Rogers said.

The two neighboring facilities could become a good source of jobs for navigation center residents: after receiving initial training, Goodwill trainees can work at any of its retail stores, warehouses, and other facilities.

For those who missed last night's meeting, Peskin and city agencies will host another public outreach event from 6-7:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 23, at the First Congregational Church at 1300 Polk Street (at Bush).  

The next step for the navigation center would be for the Board of Supervisors to approve a contract between Tidewater Capital and the city. It's unclear if and when that will occur, but we'll continue to keep readers updated.