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SAFE Navigation Center Fight Highlights San Francisco’s Humanity, and Lack Of

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On March 4, Mayor London Breed announced plans to build the SAFE Navigation Center at Seawall Lot 330. The concept originally allotted for 200 beds (with up to 225 if the space could be worked out) that would provide warm, sheltered spots for at least some of the city’s homeless population, inching Breed closer to the goal she set of establishing 1,000 additional beds by 2020. After much bitching back and forth between groups that oppose a shelter development in that location and those who support it, Breed and Supervisor Matt Haney attempted to compromise with a revised proposal announced Tuesday, busting the number of beds down to 130, initially, and increasing security in the surrounding neighborhood.

In a city as dense as San Francisco, where high-rise monstrosities are erected in the space equivalent of a bathtub, an opportunity to develop on a whopping 2.25 acres is practically fantasy material. As the San Francisco Port Authority outlines, the prime Waterfront space has been on the radar since Seawall Lot 330 and adjacent Piers 30-32 became Development Opportunity Sites in 1997. Back in 2000, prior to realizing the extent of structural degradation, there was an attempt to create an international cruise terminal at the piers with hotel and retail development at the lot. Long before the Chase Center broke ground, the Warriors tried to transform the piers and lot property into a premiere sports complex, again with hotel, retail and housing planned in. The late Mayor Ed Lee pushed a proposal in 2014 that would have made the space home to a $700 million Lucas Cultural Arts Museum.

For myriad of reasons, none of these ideas made it to the development stage. The piers continue to degrade and Seawall Lot 330 is still just a parking lot. Also still untouched are homeless people, in rising numbers. The precious South Beach area has always had its share of people seeking shelter in concrete coves along the path tourists walk to get to down to Pier 39. In recent years, as affordable housing has become a unicorn and employment opportunities in the city have been catered to tech savvy out-of-towners, the homeless population has grown significantly. The Port property and the fight over Breed’s most recent plan to build a navigation center there highlight the ubiquitous inequities that now shape San Francisco more than the fading culture of what it once was.

View of Seawall Lot 330 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo courtesy of CBS San Francisco

You would think residents in the area would appreciate less people sleeping on sidewalks near their homes. But as it turns out, many South Beach folks aren’t into the idea of a navigation center in their neighborhood, like, at all. A bunch of residents got together and formed a group they call Safe Embarcadero For All and through the group’s efforts, 363 people have managed to raise $101,205 since March 20, to help them “explore legal options” in their NIMBY fight. Their GoFundMe page lists a host of reasons they deem the area unsafe for a navigation center and they have been very, very vocal in pushing their views at community meetings and on social media. They want the world to know that they totally “support the homeless” they largely define as violent drug users with sexual assault tendencies. They really support them, somewhere else.

However, another group formed to counter the super concerned residents, cleverly naming themselves SAFER Embarcadero For All. The alternate group also established a GoFundMe page on March 28 to raise money for the Coalition On Homelessness in support of the navigation center — in the 19 days since, the SAFER group has racked up $176,015 in donations from 1,899 people.

What this battle says about the people of San Francisco is worth noting and illustrates the struggle between the haves and the have nots. A small group of people are shelling out enormous amounts of money to keep their property values and comfort levels in check, whereas a much larger group of people are throwing in the little bits they have in order to support people that literally have nothing, and at the moment, in a shocking underdog turn of events, the compassionate side appears to be taking down the 1 percent Goliaths.

But the fight continues.

As the Port Commission vote to approve or reject the proposal nears on April 23, we can expect to hear arguments grow in vociferous fashion. There will either be a SAFE Navigation Center built on Seawall Lot 330, or there won’t, but come soon, we will find out where the city and the people stand on what constitutes safety and who is entitled to it.

A homeless man sits by the waterfront with the San Francisco Bay Bridge in the background. Photo courtesy of Getty Images/CNBC



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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.