Are Navigation Centers a Solution for the Homeless Crisis?

by Rev. Norman Fong

July 15, 2019

norman fong

People want the homeless off the streets and out of sight – right? San Francisco Mayor Breed wants to create more “Navigation Centers” as part of her initiative to decrease the number of homeless. However, she faced great opposition from neighborhoods. Some people say that navigation centers will increase crime, drug use, and even lower property values. These are rumors used to scare people into opposing these navigation centers. Research has shown that crime and drug use DO NOT in fact increase due to the construction of a navigation center. Even the SFPD has released data showing crime did not increase. Residents of former navigation centers have spoken highly of the centers impact and have rallied for more to be created. The Nav centers do not allow lines to form and you must be recommended by case workers to be eligible to live at one. Most of the opponents protesting Navigation Centers probably have never been to one! I decided to go visit a couple of these navigation centers and took pictures, so you can all see for yourself.

I first visited Bryant Navigation Center in April and it was all enclosed by a fence. I did not see any homeless “hanging out” in front. I loved the care shown to the homeless living there and the safety the center provided. The dining area was colorful and looked great. There is a laundry room, showers, and an open kitchen where they can get food and unlike shelters, they are free to go out and move around whenever they want. The medical services are available along with mental health social workers. Each individual that comes to live there are assigned case workers who are there step by step to assist in any way. The homeless I saw living there appeared to be getting good help after a very long time living on the streets. But more importantly, they will hopefully get permanent housing after their medical needs are addressed.

The second center I visited was the Division Circle center. I was able to see the living quarters and it was very neat and clean like the Bryant center. They also have a large storage area for the homeless to keep their belongings. They could stay up to six months to a year and are assisted in trying to find permanent housing during that time. Some choose to utilize the Homeward Bound program, if they are eligible, and are provided a bus ticket “home” to either family or friends who are able to take them in. I wish there were more navigation centers to help the homeless but of course, it’s only a temporary solution until we build enough AFFORDABLE HOUSING. I have a message to you opponents out there: Please show more COMPASSION and don’t believe all the rumors!

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You never know when you or someone you know may be in need of help! Two of my friends who were born and raised in San Francisco became homeless! I was in shock when I saw them. One was one of the smartest kids in my elementary school and when I met him again, he looked terrible. I found out that he got addicted to drugs and I felt sad since I could still picture him being so smart and funny as a kid. He disappeared or maybe he got help off the streets. My other friend, I saw because he actually came to my office and said, “I need housing, Norman.” At first, I tried to get him help from GLIDE church, but it was too late at night. You have to sign up for the shelter earlier in the day. Eventually, we got him a place to stay. He became homeless because while working in construction after many years, he suddenly got bad arthritis and he was not able to work anymore.

When you know REAL PEOPLE who are homeless because of a big change in their life situations - an accident, health problems… it changes how you feel about all homeless people. Everyone thinks it’s not their problem, but when you meet REAL people and former friends who have become homeless, it opens your heart up to the crisis. Last year, in front of Cameron House, a Chinese homeless man was killed for no reason other than hate. He didn’t bother people and lived in different alleyways including Joice Alley where he was brutally killed. That really affected me and if we had another navigation center - he might still be around. I hope you all can show compassion for the homeless. This year, at our Chinatown CDC 42nd Anniversary Gala, we will be honoring Swords to Plowshares who we partner with to build affordable housing for Homeless Veterans. In the long run, we need to build more affordable housing for the homeless, our seniors, our families living in SROs… but in the meantime, these temporary navigation centers can help so much.

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on July 14, 2019

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