Are SF's navigation centers a magnet for crime? Here's how data refutes public perception

Lyanne Melendez Image
Tuesday, January 30, 2024
SF's navigation centers are not a magnet for crime, data shows
Residents in some San Francisco neighborhoods with a navigation center argued that it would attract crime and more homeless. Here's what data shows.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco's first navigation center opened in 2015. Since then, the city has built several others in an effort to move some of the homeless into permanent housing. They have always been controversial.

In August 2019, a surveillance camera caught a resident of a building near San Francisco's Embarcadero being attacked by a homeless man with mental health issues.

The timing could not have been worse as the city had announced just several months before that a navigation center for the unhoused would be built just a few paces from where the attack happened.

A battle ensued between residents of the South Beach and Rincon Hill neighborhoods and City Hall, arguing that the navigation center would bring in more homeless, attract crime, and more drug use.

It turns out, it never did any of those things.

Let's compare crime incident reports in that area before the navigation center opened with the most recent incident reports provided by SFPD. Turns out, the neighborhoods with a navigation center, like the rest of San Francisco, have seen a decrease in crime.

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Some of the residents overlooking both the Bay and the courtyard of the navigation center have also argued they've been financially affected.

"The people that own here in this condominium probably lost about 15% of the value of their home," says resident Dirk Etienne.

According to the data, residents have lost 13-15% of their value, but they can't blame the navigation center because every neighborhood in San Francisco has seen a similar or higher decline.

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Drug use at a nearby open space area has always been a problem, but now there's less of it because crews from the navigation center come out every two hours to clean the surrounding area while asking those who are loitering to move on.

"If there is an issue with an unsheltered individual or perhaps some trash or if something is happening around the perimeter of the facility, we can respond to it and see how we can help. If someone is overdosing, we will administer Narcan," said Steve Good, the CEO of Five Keys, the nonprofit running the center with 197 beds.

The center told ABC7 News that in the past four years, Narcan has been administered to 170 people either inside or outside the facility.

Currently, the staff at the center meets with local residents every three months to make sure any complaints and concerns from neighbors are addressed. There's also a hotline where neighbors can call the Navigation Center directly 24/7.

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Glide Memorial Church honored the pioneer on on Sunday with a celebration service and "day of action."

"We're being held accountable just like we want to be held accountable," said Good. "We're accountable to the community and having someone held accountable is not a bad thing."

It's not always the case at other navigation centers where it's nearly impossible to control what happens on the outside. The one located at Division Circle on South Van Ness Avenue under the on-ramp is run by the nonprofit St. Vincent de Paul. The area has long been a site for tent encampments, loitering and garbage.

This is a mixed-use neighborhood comprised of mainly businesses and a few homes.

Oddly enough, some of the businesses ABC7 News spoke to didn't even realize that a huge white tarp with beams was a navigation center. Still, they said they've seen fewer people sleeping in front of their buildings.

"That's gotten better because sometimes we would come into the office, there would be someone sleeping up against the bricks or up against the gate, but now there's almost none of that." said one of the business owners in the area.

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Navigation centers were created as a way to provide services on-site while helping people find permanent housing.

The goal was to make that transition within 90 days.

However, the pandemic drastically delayed those outcomes. For example, in the past four years, the center on the Embarcadero has only been able to place 160 people in permanent housing.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed says the city needs more navigation centers. She said they should be built in every neighborhood, but that hasn't happened.

"I think the answer is it's the opposition in well-organized communities and their ability to put the breaks on projects," explained Good.

Recently, when the navigation center lease was up for renewal, not a single resident challenged them. One can argue the center has been able to appease most neighbors, for now.

"They seem to be helpful with people who are in crisis on the street, so I'm really glad that it's here and that people are having more of a kind heart and have accepted it," said Susan Steingraber, a resident of the area.

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