Navigation Center in San Francisco provides housing, hope for homeless

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Like you, we here at ABC7 are frustrated, confused, and dismayed at seeing the problem of homelessness in San Francisco. We want change. This week, ABC7 News joins more than 70 other local news agencies to highlight the problem and encourage our leaders to do something about it.

RELATED: ABC7 proud to participate in SF Homeless Project

Here's a closer look at one of the many programs looking to solve the homeless crisis by doing the seemingly impossible -- providing housing.

They're the ones among us who have fallen, or maybe crawled into the cracks. They have little hope of getting back out. Especially after a long, long time.

"Probably about eight years, eight or nine years," said Jose Maya, who's just another resident of the tent city squeezed into and around Cesar Chavez Street in San Francisco. Maybe you've driven past and kept going. But not everyone.

On this day, Scott Prentice and his homeless outreach team moved in, aiming to save a few lives.

"Everyone's got a different story, everyone finds a different way of getting by out here, but nobody should have to live like this," he said.

They'll be taking eight people today; packing up tents, bringing along dogs, cats, loved ones and moving them to a grand San Francisco experiment funded with $3 million from an anonymous donor, called Navigation Center.

"The model is to lower all the barriers to the shelter to make it as easy as possible to walk through the door," said Navigation Center Director Julie Leadbetter.

People like Maya, who arrived bearing a stack of hard luck stories, issues, and problems.

"I am disabled, not working, had three comas," he said.

Navigation Center is a one-stop-shop for homeless services ranging from shelter, to identification, financial benefits, even health care.

Try getting all of those in order when waking up in a tent every day. Can you imagine how bureaucracy might take a backseat to just surviving?

PHOTOS: Plight of the homeless in San Francisco

For the first time in memory, Timothy Jones now has MediCal.

"One of the hardest things is to get around to all the different locations," he said. "So now if they are all in one place, bam."

Typical clients stay at Navigation Center for a little less than three months. They remain free to come or go while living in communal dorms, it's a relative lap of luxury.

Ashanti Jones had been living on Division Street in a tent with his wife. He didn't say much that day we met him. Why bother when you've lived without hope since age 13.

"Sometimes you get tired," he said. "And when you get really tired, that is the best time, the best opportunity for change."

The carrot is permanent housing when they leave. It may be just one room in a residential hotel. But after grime, rain, noise, illness, vermin, and uncertainty? Let's ask Marin Santi who's off the streets finally after 22 years.

"It gave me hope," he said. "It's brought me hope back. And it's put a sparkle in my heart."

And when a person comes from a tent city, having hope is no small miracle.

Click here to learn more about the SF Homeless Project.
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