Embarcadero Navigation Center: Neighbors, tenants share mixed feelings about shelter since one month opening

Kate Larsen Image
ByKate Larsen KGO logo
Friday, January 31, 2020
Neighbors share mixed feelings about  Embarcadero Nav Center
The Embarcadero Navigation Center in San Francisco has been open for exactly a month now and neighbors of the shelter shared mix feelings.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- For much of 2019, the proposed Navigation Center along the Embarcadero created a lot of noise, mostly from critics who opposed the city's plan to shelter homeless people in their neighborhood.

The navigation center opened one month ago from Thursday, and as part of our efforts to build a better Bay Area, we wanted to know how the community was feeling about their new neighbors.

RELATED: San Francisco's homeless navigation centers: 7 questions answered

"We have mostly couples on this side and the other side's empty," said Steve Good as he led a small group through one of the shelter's living quarters.

Good is the CEO of Five Keys, the non-profit that operates the shelter. For the first time since they opened their doors in December, we got a look inside the Embarcadero Navigation Center.

"We literally want to treat the guests here like they're coming into a hotel," Good said. "Because if we don't treat them appropriately, and treat them with dignity and respect, offer them something to eat and drink when they come in, they're not going to want to stay here."

Except unlike a hotel, the guests are searched and wanded upon entry and don't have anywhere to return home.

RELATED: Controversial Embarcadero Navigation Center set to open in San Francisco

There are currently 92 homeless people utilizing the brand new dorm-style beds, bathrooms, laundry, kitchen, and pet-friendly courtyard.

San Francisco's Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing and Five Keys plan to slowly ramp-up to the facility's 200 person capacity by June.

"The first month, all signs are good," said Alice Rogers, the vice chair of the Embarcadero SAFE Navigation Center Advisory Group. The committee was set up by the Port of San Francisco, which owns the parking lot, where the Navigation Center was built.

Rogers lives a few blocks away and says the neighborhood feels safe since the opening.

"One woman at one of our recent advisory group meetings said I've never seen Beale Street look cleaner," Rodger said.

RELATED: Pier 39 business owner to San Francisco leaders: Stop ignoring issues of homelessness, dirty streets

But Wallace Lee, who opposed the Nav Center from the beginning, says the area has changed.

Lee says, "People in the neighborhood have noticed at night a lot more drugged-out looking people."

There have also been numerous needle sightings, like a pile of syringes on Beale Street that Lee took a picture of two weeks ago.

This is an undated image of needles and trash on Beale Street in San Francisco, Calif.
This is an undated image of needles and trash on Beale Street in San Francisco, Calif.
Wallace Lee

But, to the Navigation Center's credit, Lee says they have been responsive to complaints.

"I think 311 says they normally take 12-24 hours, but the people from the center cleaned it up well before that," Lee said.

"We don't anticipate the center drawing more homeless to the area," explained Good. "People don't come to the homeless shelter and wait outside thinking that's how they're going to get in."

But on Wednesday afternoon, Lee pointed out a group of homeless people behind the Navigation Center on Beale Street who arrived to the area Tuesday night.

When ABC7 showed up, the homeless outreach team and SFPD's foot patrol was already helping the group.

ABC7 news reporter, Kate Larsen, spoke to a homeless woman, who did not want to be identified.

Kate Larsen: "Why did you come here?"

Woman: "Because we heard that at the new Navigation they were getting everybody from the Embarcadero into navigation."

The woman has been homeless for three years and says she "migrated" to Beale Street from 6th and Folsom, which is 1.4 miles away from the Nav Center and outside the shelter's safety and outreach zones.

You can't just knock on the door of the Nav Center to gain admittance, you have to be contacted by a HOT teamor referred through the coordinated entry system. The woman knew that and decided to camp somewhere, she knew the HOT team would find her and her friends.

Kate Larsen: "Why do you want to go to the Nav Center?"

Woman: "Because that seems to be one of the quickest ways to get into housing, or they can help you look for jobs, training, stuff like that."

On Thursday evening, San Francisco's Department of Public Works helped the group of homeless people on Beale Street store some of their belongings.

An SFPD officer said they were all admitted to the Navigation Center.

"I love it," exclaimed Joanna Shober, one of the homeless residents at the Nav Center. "I actually have stayed at other shelters and I don't like those places. This is really accomodating."

Shober was living in a tent on Main Street before she arrived at the Nav Center last month. She can't afford rent, despite her three part time jobs doing guest services and bag checks for the Giants, Chase and Moscone Centers.

"I want to see if the low income thing is going to work and if it doesn't, I want to apply to work here, for the Navigation Center," Shober said.

Take a look at all of ABC7's Building a Better Bay Area stories and videos.