Changing demographics in the Bayview complicate city efforts to open a shelter there
"In Bayview-Hunters Point, that's it. Providence is the shelter," said Nick Kimura, shelter client advocate with the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness.
In Mayor Ed Lee's 2013 State of the City address, he said he was "proud to support" efforts to expand services for the homeless in Bayview—specifically "Sup. Cohen's effort, aided by a federal grant — to build a new 100-bed shelter"
The only problem: that was the first Cohen said she had heard of it.
"My first concern was how the proposal came about," Cohen told us. "I wasn't made aware of it until it was announced."
After Lee's announcement, there were two community meetings, one in March at the police station and one in April at the YMCA. The idea gained support from the Southeast Community Facility Commission and the San Francisco branch of the NAACP.
A wave of opposition also grew, including the neighborhood organization Bayview Residents Improving Their Environment (BRITE), and a handful of businesses led by David Eisenberg, president of Micro-Tracers, a food testing company next door to Mother Brown's.
On July 16, Cohen herself came out against the shelter. Cohen said her decision came after "meeting with residents about their concerns and fears."
Neighborhood residents are a shifting demographic. The African American population has declined by 10 percent since Mother Brown's was founded in 2001. The Asian population increased slightly in the same time period, and the white population has more than doubled.
Homelessness in the neighborhood has also increased. According to the city's biannual homeless count, the number hovered around 400 until January 2011, when the number jumped to 1,151. It had 1,278 homeless people in 2013.
After Cohen declared her opposition, the meetings went back behind closed doors. In September, David Curto, director of contracts at the HSA, said that "[city homeless czar] Bevan Dufty and other folks in the Mayor's Office are trying to revive it." On Oct. 9, Lee met with a group of neighbors. And on Oct 30, the shelter proposal made its public reappearance.
Sups. John Avalos, Eric Mar, and Mark Farrell of the city's Budget and Finance Committee heard the issue. They were tasked with voting on whether to accept the EHAP loan, a question that would be put to the Board of Supervisors if it passed.
Out in the gallery, the two sides sat divided down the aisle like squabbling families at a wedding. House left were the shelter's supporters, a mix of residents and community leaders and staff of Mother Brown's and their clients, some with their shoes pulled on only half way over feet swollen from sleeping in their chairs. On the right, BRITE members, an ad hoc group called Protect MLK Pool and Playground, Eisenberg, and other community members in opposition.
The shelter became a vehicle for a debate about larger changes in Bayview. BRITE member David Armagnac saw no need for shelter beds in the neighborhood that he has "seen transform and emerge into an ever-increasing vibrant area." Bayview business owner Carla Eagleton wanted economic and quality of life impact reports on the proposed shelters "as it relates to the city's only remaining blue collar industrial area, MLK Park, surrounding neighborhoods and the Third Street corridor, which the city of San Francisco has spent billions of dollars to revitalize."
Meanwhile, resident Sandy Thompson testified that "for you guys to move in and make yourself comfortable," many of her neighbors have been displaced. "Make the homeless comfortable, just like you guys are making yourself comfortable, because they need a place too," Thompson said.
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