Go Fund Yourself

San Francisco homeless shelter inspires online fundraising battles

News Technology Urbanism West
San Francisco's Embarcadero neighborhood is at the center of a heated battle over a homeless shelter. (daveynin/Flickr)
San Francisco's Embarcadero neighborhood is at the center of a heated battle over a homeless shelter. (daveynin/Flickr)

A homeless shelter proposed for San Francisco’s Embarcadero has resulted in dueling GoFundMe campaigns; one from residents who want to keep the Navigation Center out, and one to support the shelter.

On March 4, San Francisco mayor London Breed allowed a plan to move forward that would transform a 2.3-acre parking lot in the eastern waterfront neighborhood into the city’s largest Navigation Center. Centers allow residents to stay 24 hours, provide health and wellness services, and allow pets—they’re also designed to be temporary. It’s expected that the center at Seawall Lot 330, if allowed to open by the end of this summer as anticipated, would only operate for four years while the city wrangles with its homelessness crisis.

Some Embarcadero residents aren’t happy. On March 20, a group calling themselves Safe Embarcadero for All launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $100,000 for a legal defense fund to help them oppose the shelter. Complete with its own website, Twitter feed, and well-heeled backers, Safe Embarcadero successfully hit its goal in 25 days.

The group cited the large number of families and tourists the neighborhood draws, and the site’s potential proximity to landmarks such as Oracle Park as reasons for trying to push the shelter elsewhere.

“The rushed process the Mayor is following to build the homeless shelter by the end of the summer is concerning to the community,” reads the Safe Embarcadero for All GoFundMe page.

“We are worried that the rushed process puts the political goal of building a large Navigation Center ahead of legitimate concerns about public safety, drug use, and other problems that a large shelter may bring to the community. According to the city’s own data, a third of the homeless are drug users and some are sex offenders.

“The Navigation Center will not allow drug use inside, meaning that about 75 drug users will be forced into the surrounding family neighborhood to use drugs. The community is also concerned about the environmental effects of building on a site that is known to have toxic materials beneath.”

Perhaps recognizing that concerted opposition by “not in my backyard” organizers has killed or segregated low income and homeless housing elsewhere, a counter fundraiser was created in support of the Navigation Center. SAFER Embarcadero for ALL, citing the potential legal costs and community challenges that the shelter is facing, sought to raise $175,000 in support of the Coalition on Homelessness.

With 1,900 donations, in comparison to the original group’s 360, that goal was reached in 17 days. The GoFundMe in support of the Navigation Center also drew big donations from Salesforce, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, and GoFundMe itself, which contributed $5,000.

The fight over the Embarcadero center is playing out in real-world meetings and protests that are just as charged as their online counterparts. On April 3, Mayor Breed was shouted down at a town hall meeting as she tried to stump for the scheme. While the mayor has proposed opening another 1,000 beds worth of shelters by 2020, so far only 212 have actually come online.

The final battle over Seawall Lot 330 will culminate in a vote by the Port Commission on April 23, as the body (whose five members were selected by the mayor) votes on whether it will lease the site to the city.

Related Stories