Battle Continues Over Bayview Homeless Shelter

A coalition of residents and businesses in San Francisco’s Bayview District are fighting to stop the construction of a new 100-bed homeless shelter. A lawsuit has been filed and representing the coalition is Steven Hammond, partner at the Hammond Law Group. Mr. Hammond said during an interview with KQED that city officials failed to invite public comment through the public hearing process. “This is not a transparent, open process that would allow for public debate. The City has committed itself to this project before it has followed the required legal procedure.”

Bevan Dufty, Director of Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement, refuted this claim and said public comments will be heard. “There will be a public process…we know that there is a crisis in homelessness. Without a shelter full time, we aren’t doing the best job we can helping people exit the streets.”

But Mr. Hammond contests that the City isn’t really interested in helping the homeless because the proposed Bayview shelter is right next door to a hazardous chemical plant. “I think it would be a great idea for Mr. Dufty to come down and see the hazardous chemical facility and see the full hazmat suits that people wear who work there,” said Mr. Hammond. “The new shelter is inches away from a hazardous chemical facility. How is that fair to the homeless?”

When asked why the City couldn’t build the shelter in a different part of the Bayview, Mr. Dufty said that other leases were too expensive and that those opposing the Bayview are merely experiencing homeless phobia. “We did look at other properties, but it would be an exponentially more expensive proposition…I think some of this (opposition) is really homeless phobia, which exists around San Francisco where people think services will be a magnet for people when, in reality, they are homeless that grew up in the Bayview.”

Current Options for Bayview Homeless

Many homeless people in the Bayview currently sleep at the United Council of Human Services Center (known as Mother Brown’s), because doing so is safer than sleeping on the street. Unfortunately, those who do choose sleep at Mother Brown’s must do so in chairs and with the lights on; the building is not zoned for residential occupancy. Those who do sleep sitting up are more susceptible to health risks such as the development of deep vein thrombosis, a type of blood clotting in large veins which can be fatal if it travels to the lungs.

“Their legs are swollen, it’s not good for their blood pressure,” said Director of Mother Brown’s, Gwendolyn Westbrook, in an interview with local public radio station, KALW. “Sitting in chairs isn’t healthy for them or the neighborhood.An easy solution for me was just to have these beds where people can lay down. I didn’t want all this political stuff to come about.”

Each night about 170 meals are served and, after dinner, homeless are led out of the dining area, upstairs to an open floor area, where they can set up their chairs for the night.Other services offered by Mother Brown’s include showers, nightly dinners, access to job postings, transitional housing pathways, and special programs to help veterans find employment.

“I’m talking 100 beds – I’m not trying to solve the homeless problem,” said Ms. Westbrook. “They need to be able to lie down and go to sleep.”

What’s really going on?

Two and a half years have passed since the Bayview homeless shelter grant was awarded. Both sides are holding firm, resulting in trivial arguments overpowering the basic human needs of those sleeping in chairs. This sad childish bickering was revealed in the latest debate between the City and the opposition when both sides couldn’t agree whether or not people do or do not live across the street from Mother Brown’s.

“No one lives on the block,” Mr. Hammond of the Coalition said.

“People do live across the street,” Mr. Dufty of the City refuted.

“There are not people living across the street,” Mr. Hammond contested again.

Meanwhile, homeless people in the Bayview District will continue to sleep in erect chairs at Mother Brown’s. Observers note the solution to the multi-year debate is easy, but the politics have become absurd. Fact is, Bayview is the only district without a homeless shelter. Fact is, Bayview has one of the highest homeless populations. Fact is, on the wall outside of Mother Brown’s, a large painting of a majestic bird hovers over the hard concrete below where human beings will sleep tonight when, just inside its building, there exists safe ground that could hold a simple bed and a sore body.

This story originally appeared in “Street Sheet.”