Gabrielle Canon, Guardian, March 29, 2019
Residents from one of San Francisco’s most desirable neighborhoods are taking a controversial approach to blocking a new homeless shelter: launching a crowdfunding appeal.
Their campaign on GoFundMe – best known as a site that hosts fundraisers for medical expenses or victims of natural disasters – has prompted an angry response from the city’s mayor.
It has drawn more than $46,000, nearly half of its stated $100,000 goal. The money is to go to a local attorney working on behalf of the residents, and its 91 donors include an anonymous contributor who gave $10,000, along with hedge fund managers, executives and authors.
A rival GoFundMe in support of the proposed shelter was launched on Thursday, and quickly received a $5,000 donation from GoFundMe itself.
A thriving tech economy has squeezed the San Francisco housing market, and like many cities on the west coast it is grappling with an overwhelming homelessness crisis. The number of homeless people has remained constant despite massive investments, and the new shelter in the Embarcadero was to be part of the city’s promise to increase the number of shelter beds by 1,000. There are roughly 7,500 homeless residents in the city and more than 1,400 are waiting for temporary spots to open.
“People want us to address the challenges on our streets and help our unsheltered residents into housing, and I am committed to doing the hard work to make that happen,” the San Francisco mayor, London Breed, said in a statement given to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“But 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,” she added.
The money raised will be paid to a local real estate attorney named Andrew Zacks, who advocates on behalf of the rights of property owners and last made the news in 2017, when he defended a San Francisco property owner who tripled the rent on his tenants, from $1,900 to $6,700.
The 2.3-acre vacant lot just beneath the Bay Bridge, on San Francisco’s eastern shore, seemed the perfect spot for a new temporary shelter, which would add 200 beds.
But, situated close to tourist attractions, seaside bike lanes, and – most notably – neighborhoods filled with million-dollar homes and condos, the site was primed for local pushback.
Wallace Lee, the father of a two-year-old who lives two blocks from the proposed site, said he is helping to organize against the project out of concerns for his family’s safety. “It is increasingly a place where people are starting families,” he said. “There are a lot of strollers in the neighborhood that weren’t here when I moved in 2013.”
While little research has been done on the impact shelters have on communities, the campaign cites one study done in Vancouver that found a sharp increase in thefts.
However, a separate analysis, done by the Guardian last year, found that 11 sanctioned encampments in Portland and Seattle did not have this effect.
In 2008, an NYU researcher concluded that supportive housing in New York City did not negatively affect property values and that they actually increased in the five years after the facilities were established in the area.
Kelley Cutler, a human rights organizer for the Coalition on Homelessness, argues that the fears are rooted in stigma, and that they are not unique to San Francisco. “No matter where the location is, folks say this is not the right space. Not in our community. So they are going through that right now in the Embarcadero,” she said.
The new facility, known as a Navigation Center, would allow guests to bring in partners and pets, and would work to connect them to city resources and services with the end goal of permanent housing. Prioritizing people living on the streets nearby, the site would also “employ robust good neighbor policies and 24-hour security”.
“We really are talking about a life and death issue,” said Cutler, adding that 240 people homeless people died in the city last year. “The issue is impacting the community as a whole,” she said. “We all need to step up – that way it can be safer for everyone.”