New San Francisco Program Aims to Connect Homeless with Substance Abuse Treatment and Counseling

By Victoria Kim 04/02/15

San Francisco is dealing with its homeless population by providing a shelter experience that more closely resembles a real home.


San Francisco is preparing to experiment with a novel approach to dealing with its homeless population. 

“For every reason people don’t want to come to a shelter, we are going to try to accommodate them,” said Trent Rhorer, the executive director of the city’s Human Services Agency.

The pilot program’s goal is to help people who refuse shelters and other city services, for whatever reason. “There isn’t always a lot of storage, people can’t keep their pets with them, a male and female couple can’t stay together,” said Bevan Dufty, director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing Opportunity Partnership and Engagement.

“In creating the Navigation Center, we listened to what people said they wanted and needed to move off the streets — a place where they could bring their dogs and possessions, where they could stay with there partner, with their friends,” said Dufty. 

The program will operate out of The Navigation Center, former site of the Phoenix Continuation High School in the city’s Mission District. The center is a “one-stop-shop” for beds, showers, meals, health care, substance abuse and mental health treatment. 

Counselors will be onsite 24/7 to address substance abuse and psychological issues at the center, and can refer individuals into treatment programs. 

San Francisco has long struggled with dealing with its large homeless population. The city spends $165.7 million on homelessness annually, according to a report in December by the city budget analyst. 

The California Department of Transportation cleared 217 homeless camps in San Francisco between July and February at a cost of about $186,000 according to Bob Haus, a Caltrans spokesman.

The city’s Department of Public Works spends about $3 million a year on cleaning homeless camps. Every month, about 35 tons of debris is cleared, including 14,000 syringes last year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle

The pilot program will launch this month and is expected to last 18 months. The program will start small, but plans to serve up to 200 individuals a month.

“We have seen the Board of Supervisors pass laws that tell homeless don’t sleep in the parks, don’t sit on the sidewalks,” said David Campos, member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who represents the Mission District. “Instead of continuing to go down the path of criminalizing homeless people, we are actually giving them a place to go.” 

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