A first for the City of SF: The Dept. of Homelessness negotiated with Box City residents and SFHC to store up to 10 shelter structures for 90 days at Pier 50 to remove barriers for a 30-day stay at the Navigation Center.
What happened at Box City . . . and what happens next?
We are disappointed that City government and broader community missed an opportunity to build on the Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge's organizing efforts and service provision to pilot a coordinated humane, outcomes-driven, and cost-effective transitional village at Box City. We have been asking the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (DHSH) for the past 3 months to coordinate with us on a pilot project at Box City that is aimed to support on-site sanitation, trash removal, hygiene, and mental health services through coordination with DPW and DPH, address all neighborhood complaints through the creation and enforcement of Good Neighbor agreements within the camp, support transition goals with on-site services, and create and enforce geographical boundaries to prevent an expansion of the number of residents. This is the only model that will significantly cut down on the safety and livability issues in our City's 75 DPW-identified encampments through an increase of accountability to and from encampment residents.
The residents of Box City were the perfect group to pilot this new humane, outcomes-driven, and cost-effective approach, in part because of the community and level of cooperation and organizing ability, and in part because they support the use of the City's scarce and expensive shelter options for those in most need and those who are on the current waiting lists. During the course of our pilot project we identified 35 total residents at Box City, 31 of whom were living at Box City at the time of the forced eviction (aka "Encampment Resolution"). So far, SFHC has confirmed that 20 of those 31 residents are at the Navigation Center for a 30-day stay, and there were at least 2 more residents that were trying to get intake that we have not confirmed yet. As for the remaining residents, about 6-8 residents relocated to another location a few blocks away, and a few more are leaving town for an opportunity in Northern California. The Navigation Center costs $69/night for resident, which is a total of $41,400 for the month for 20 residents. For less than $10/night per resident we could have accomplished similar or better outcomes by working with the City without the expense and stress involved of moving dozens of people across town and breaking up the community of the encampment.
Since the City was determined to break up the encampment (despite other encampments posing more issues in other parts of the Mission), the Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge worked together with Box City residents and DHSH to support the utilization of the Navigation Center. If Box City residents had wanted to organize to "stand their ground", SFHC was set to do that. If we had received broader community support to force the City's hand that would have been wonderful. But no clear path forward emerged other than going to the Navigation Center. Now we will find out how much can be accomplished in 30 days at the Nav Center. So far Box City residents have been reporting positive things about sleeping indoors and access to services.
We negotiated with the "Encampment Resolution" team to allow Box City residents to share one dorm (that promise has not been fulfilled), store Box City shelter structures (that promise was fulfilled through storage at Pier 50), and we are still working on allowing Box City residents to have privacy in the dorm rooms with the provision of pop-up privacy tents for mattresses. The fact that such a high percentage of Box City residents willingly went to the Navigation is a direct result of SFHC organizing work, although we never pushed residents towards this outcome, rather we assessed the options, listened to resident needs, had dialogue with DHSH, and made suggestions based on all of this information. Everyone at Box City had the option of having their shelter stored and had ample notice to prepare for the move on Monday, but only 5 residents decided to move their shelter to storage. DPW wasn't allowed to help us move the structures, so I rented a 16-ft Penske truck with a hydraulic lift and personally moved them along with resident help and amazing volunteer support from Marcus and Jon. Note: Any shelters that were destroyed by DPW were destroyed because the resident opted to not have it moved. These are facts, nothing else.
The City does not have a current model in place to adequately address encampment issues or shelter/house all of those in need - our pilot project has helped to develop that model and we hope to work together with the City to further develop and scale the approach City-wide
What will happen next for former Box City residents? SFCH will continue working with former Box City residents during their 30 days at the Navigation Center. We hope to work with the Department of Homelessness and a broad network of community organizations, City service workers, and SF residents (both unhoused and housed) to secure a location to pilot a 3-month transitional village on underutilized land. Suggested locations include the fenced-off site of a former bakery at Mission and 16th, and the site of a current long-term encampment on a dead-end one-way street at King and Berry. We will need help to accomplish this goal, and hope that the City will be swayed by the humane, common-sense, and cost-effective approach we have outlined (see overview below).
What will happen on Carolina Street? On Friday January 6th, Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge opted to move the portapotty from Box City to the nearby encampment on Carolina Street that we have been working with over the last 2 months to replace tents with secure sleep and storage shelters. The portapotty is serviced twice a week (on Monday and Thursday) and I have purposefully not checked in on it since dropping it off because I want to see if it is able to be self-managed by the residents for this first week without outside guidance. I had direct conversations about the potential challenges of maintaining the portapotty as a group with 7 of the residents and it seems highly likely that all will be well when I go back on Friday to check in again.
Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge
1. Tracked by SFHC during Pilot Project (9/16-1/17); 2. Preliminary data as of 1/11/2017 tracked by SFHC (waiting for updates); 3. SF Office of Controller Report: 12/2015; 4. DPW data from 11/2016 Public Records Request; 5. Budget & Legislative Analyst Report 6/2016; 6. $5,000 per month per 75 identified encampments to support sanitation, safety, trash-pick up, harm reduction, health, and transition goals.