The 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 shelter.
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 the city.
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,” Fitzgerald said.
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 $10,000.