San Francisco Supervisor David Campos called for the Board of Supervisors to declare a state of emergency on homelessness Tuesday to help speed up the opening of additional Navigation Centers, shelters designed to help the homeless access permanent housing and other services.
Speaking in front of the city's highly touted Navigation Center in the Mission District, Campos said he planned to ask the board to follow the lead of cities such as Seattle and Los Angeles in declaring a shelter emergency. The move would allow the city to bypass some red tape in opening additional Navigation Centers on city-owned property, he said.
Campos said he was acting in response to hundreds of phone calls and emails from constituents affected by homeless encampments, which appear to have increased in size and visibility in the past year, and to conversations with those living on the street. He called out both Mayor Ed Lee and the board for what he called a "failure to act."
"For years, people without homes have been pushed into neighborhoods like the Mission and (South of Market) with no real plan to provide services or shelter," he said. "This failure to act has caused a public health emergency in San Francisco that has reached intolerable levels."
In addition to the declaration of a shelter emergency, Campos said he also plans to introduce legislation in the coming weeks that will call for the city to build six additional Navigation Centers in the coming year, three of them within the next six months.
The legislation will also call for the activation of emergency reserve funds and spending cuts in other parts of the budget to support the opening of the new facilities.
Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, noted Tuesday that every day is an emergency for those living on the street.
"When we think about emergencies, we often think about natural emergencies, but what we have here in San Francisco is a man-made emergency," Friedenbach said.
She said many city policies and barriers make it difficult for the homeless to access the services and support they need to get off the streets.
Sam Dodge, director of the mayor's office of Housing, Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement, said the city is currently working to open two additional Navigation Centers, although he did not give a timeline. In a hearing last week, Dodge indicated that he hoped to have a new center open within six months.
Dodge said he would welcome additional resources and support from the Board of Supervisors for opening new Navigation Centers, but did not think the emergency declaration would accomplish much besides allowing the city to bypass some fire and safety codes.
"We're really happy that the supervisor is supportive of the Navigation Center, it has been a real success," Dodge said.
He noted that the mayor acted to create a new department dedicated to homelessness in December, and that the city is now working to eliminate internal departmental barriers to effective programs. In addition, the mayor is working with other West Coast mayors to secure additional federal funding for housing.
The call for more Navigation Centers comes after a city cleanup effort last week that pushed out hundreds of homeless people who had clustered in encampments along Division Street and around Showplace Square in the SoMa neighborhood. The city acted after its Department of Public Health declared the camps a public nuisance and health hazard.
Campos said that while the cost of opening more centers remains uncertain, it is likely to cost less than dealing with people on the streets does, in terms of police, health and public works services.
"We are better off financially acting now than waiting," Campos said. "It's not only a good move financially, it's the right thing morally."
Supervisor Jane Kim also said she planned to introduce a resolution at Tuesday's board meeting calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in California to help cities and counties deal with the homelessness crisis. Kim said California alone is home to 21 percent of the nation's homeless population.
"We need the state to step up and help, because this is a statewide challenge that no single person, no single city, even one as generous and open-hearted as San Francisco, can solve," Kim said.