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San Francisco Residents Raise Money To Block Homeless Shelter In Wealthy Neighborhood

An opposing GoFundMe page supports the shelter plan and seeks funds for a local homeless services group.

San Francisco residents have launched warring GoFundMe campaigns over plans for a new homeless shelter in a wealthy neighborhood. One wants to raise money for lawyers to fight the proposal. The other supports the idea of the shelter and is seeking funds for a local homeless services group.

Early this month, Mayor London Breed (D) announced a proposal to build a 200-bed “SAFE Navigation Center,” which would provide shelter and services to people without homes. It would be located on what is now a parking lot in the Embarcadero, an affluent waterfront neighborhood that tourists often frequent.

Last week, an unnamed resident of the nearby neighborhood of South Beach launched a GoFundMe page to collect money to pay a legal team to oppose the shelter plan. The fundraiser had garnered more than $65,000 by midday Friday.

Earlier this week, William Fitzgerald, a San Francisco resident who doesn’t live close to the site, started a GoFundMe page to counter that effort and raise funds for the local Coalition on Homelessness. It had raised more than $70,000 as of midday Friday.

“It matters to support homeless folks in every neighborhood,” Fitzgerald, 33, told HuffPost. “In a lot of neighborhoods in San Francisco, folks like to complain about homelessness and just want them out of their neighborhood ― but that doesn’t fix the problem.”

He said that there should be so-called navigation centers in every neighborhood of the city and that “housing is a human right.”

GoFundMe itself donated $5,000 to Fitzgerald’s fundraiser, tweeting, “Our team loves this cause.”

Meanwhile, Breed said in a statement on Friday that she’s “committed to doing the hard work” of helping homeless people into housing.

“It’s incredibly frustrating and disappointing that as soon as we put forward a solution to build a new shelter, people begin to threaten legal action,” the mayor said, noting that she “get[s] that people have questions.”

“But we all need to be willing to be part of the solution,” Breed said.

Amid the nation’s affordable housing crisis, California has one of the worst rates of homelessness. On a single day in January 2018, more than 500,000 people were homeless nationwide, according to a recent report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development ― and almost a quarter of those people lived in California.

In Northern California specifically, the tech sector boom has sent house and rental prices soaring in recent years, making housing that much less affordable for lower-income residents. San Francisco had about 7,500 homeless people, including more than 4,300 who were unsheltered or living outdoors, per its latest count in 2017. The city has only enough shelter beds for about 2,500 people, per a release from the mayor’s office.

The proposed navigation center would go beyond the traditional homeless shelter in terms of the range of support it provides, aiming to house the “most difficult-to-serve homeless population,” the mayor’s office said. It would allow guests to bring in their partners and pets, have 24/7 access to the space, and be able to talk to case managers who could connect them with public benefits and permanent housing. The city already has at least two such centers in other neighborhoods.

“We all want to help the homeless,” said Judy Lin, who lives near the proposed location of the new center. Still, she contributed to the GoFundMe effort against the shelter, she told HuffPost by email.

The mayor’s proposal was “deeply flawed,” Lin said, arguing that it would put the center in a “densely residential” neighborhood with “families, children and retirees.” She expressed concern that the center would be serving (and hypothetically attracting) homeless residents with substance abuse issues and said that the mayor had not engaged enough with the people in the neighborhood.

“All neighborhoods have families and children. Both rich and poor people alike have substance abuse issues,” Fitzgerald noted. “The answer is not to turn them away ― it’s to try and help them.” 

There is a community meeting planned for next week, among others in recent and future weeks. After these meetings, the Port Commission will make a decision, likely in April, according to the early March release from the mayor’s office. (The Port of San Francisco owns the site on which the shelter would be built.) If approved, the release said, the facility would open by the end of the summer.

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