San Francisco Has Made the ‘Homeless’ A Profitable Industry
prospect of a 225-bed shelter in San Francisco’s trendy South Beach
neighborhood has kicked off a bitter fundraising battle between area
residents who say homeless people should be helped somewhere else and
supporters who say no one should be sleeping on the streets.
To some residents in the pricey and touristy neighborhood along the
Embarcadero, plans to build a new homeless shelter amid expensive
apartment towers threaten public safety and tourism. To supporters of
the proposal, that opposition reflects NIMBYism pure and simple.
Mayor London Breed’s planned 225-bed shelter near the Bay Bridge
would become the city’s seventh “Navigation Center.” Unlike many basic
overnight shelters, the centers have all-hours staff and no curfew.
Services and referrals related to health care and housing are available.
Extended stays are possible.
But as San Francisco grapples with a highly visible homelessness
crisis featuring sidewalks littered with human waste and needles, the
initiative has sparked dueling GoFundMe efforts for and against the
Days after concerned residents launched a “Safe Embarcadero for All”
GoFundMe campaign last month to drum up cash for a potential legal
fight, a former Google employee launched a GoFundMe counter-attack, the
“SAFER Embarcadero for ALL” campaign, which has attracted big donations
from some of the city’s most prominent tech CEOs. As of midday Friday,
supporters of the shelter had raised about $168,000 compared with about
$94,000 amassed by opponents.
“When you’re living outside, it’s so dangerous, so cold, there’s so
many reasons it’s bad,” said ex-Googler William Fitzgerald, who started
the SAFER campaign to raise money for the city’s Coalition on
Homelessness. “I’m just supportive of housing in general. It shouldn’t
be that radical of an idea. San Francisco has chosen the route of at
least trying to get people on a first step toward housing.”
That step, in this case, is in the wrong place, said Wallace Lee, an
organizer of the opposition campaign who lives a block-and-a-half from
the proposed shelter site with his wife and toddler daughter.
“My biggest concern is public safety,” said Lee, a 34-year-old
stay-at-home dad, who also worries about the prospect of used needles. “Gathering
a lot of people, some of whom will cause property crime and some
violent crime, in an area that’s densely populated and with a lot of
children and a lot of elderly is not a good idea. I can hardly imagine a
worse area to put a Navigation Center with so many residents and
tourists and workers walking by every day.
“It’s not that we don’t want to see homelessness — it’s that we don’t want the effects of Navigation Centers.”
He cited a Vancouver, Canada, study that concluded property crime
rates increased by 56 percent within 110 yards of winter-only shelters
in that city. However, that study also found crime started dissipating beyond about a quarter-mile from a shelter.
Lee said he and other opponents of the proposed Navigation Center
support efforts to resolve San Francisco’s homelessness crisis — 7,500
unhoused residents in 2017, according to the city’s official count — by
putting Navigation Centers in empty lots in thinly populated areas of
To Fitzgerald, the backlash against an Embarcadero shelter is “straight-up NIMBYism.”
“This idea that they want housing solutions for people but just not
in their neighborhood, I just don’t think it’s an honest argument,”
But Lee puts the NIMBY label on the tech honchos leading donations in
favor of the shelter. The fundraising campaign in favor of the new
shelter has drawn support from CEOs Marc Benioff of Salesforce, Jack
Dorsey of Twitter and Square, Nat Friedman of GitHub, and Twilio’s Jeff
Lawson. Dorsey kicked in $25,000, with the other three each contributing