Marina residents concerned over foster care project

July 21, 2010 7:28:59 PM PDT
When foster kids turn 18 they no longer receive financial assistance from the government, but San Francisco still tries to help by providing transitional housing.

The city's latest project in a well to-do neighborhood is being met with a wall of resistance.

Lakeshia Wright entered the foster care system when she was 5-years-old. Like all foster kids, she "aged out," as it's called, when she turned 18, meaning no more government assistance.

"After you've left your foster parents, it's kind of like, where do you go from here?" she told ABC7.

The City of San Francisco wants to put two dozen kids who are either aging out of foster care or others who are at risk for homelessness at the King Edward II Inn, a bed and breakfast in the Marina.

Plans call for turning it into permanent transitional housing with an onsite manager and social services.

"We have concerns on how this facility is going to interact with our neighborhood," says John Millar.

Millar is president of the Marina Community Association, which questions everything from the $9 million financing to the size of the project.

"A number of our members have said, if we could scale this back and make it a more manageable facility, or break it into two; can we have two smaller facilities?" Millar says.

But, Trent Rohrer says, "We think 24 youth will fit in this location without a problem."

Rohrer is director of the Department of Human Services, in charge of affordable housing. This would be the first of its kind in the Marina, a neighborhood where the median household income is nearly $85,000 a year.

"It's an opportunity for them and it could be a very good one, but also could be an opportunity that will make them feel awkward when they look around and see they are quite different from the rest of the people in the neighborhood," says Kat Anderson with the Marina Community Association.

"They have to live somewhere. Just because they are foster youth or becuase they're coming from the system, doesn't mean they will be a problem for the neighborhood," Wright said.

The head of the city's Human Services Department says critics have the wrong idea about who will live here and how the place will be run.

"I think the neighbors are fearful we'll be placing individuals there who are criminals, who are drug abusers, who are active alcoholics, who are a blight on the neighborhood, and that's simply not the case," says Rohrer.

He says the kids will be in school, job training or working.

"Some of the rhetoric is really disappointing to me," he says.

The Mayor Gavin Newsom is fully supportive of the project.

"You say we want to share the responsibility of integrating a social services safety net in all our diverse neighborhoods. They say that's great. Then, you actually do it and they say that's unconscionable. Who are these people? Well these are people like you and me," he says.

The project's opponents say they feel unfairly portrayed and just want more information.

"This isn't just a 'not in my backyard.' This is, 'If it's coming to this city, this neighborhood, we want to make it the best program, the most avant garde,'" says Patricia Vaughey with Marina-Cow Hollow Neigbors.

Michaela Alioto Pier is the district supervisor and she is opposed, saying the apartment building will not be completely accessible for the disabled and is near trouble spots on Lombard Street.

"The fact that it's close to some real hotspots where we see a lot of prostitution, drug dealing," she says. "We should do it right, we should do it appropriately and we should do it with community support."

The housing is expected to be ready sometime in 2012. In the meantime, the city is hoping to form a citizens advisory task force as the project moves forward.


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