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39 Fell: Where Things Stand (Or Sit)

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August’s Street Sheet reported the impending closure of the McMillan Drop-In Center at 39 Fell. That closure is slated for the end of this month, and at the time of printing, nothing has changed for 39 Fell, or for the people who make use of its services.

While the Coalition on Homelessness applauds the City’s decision to open a respite center in central San Francisco, we are dismayed that the city will lose its only 24-hour drop-in center. We have sent the following open letter to Mayor Gavin Newsom and Human Services Agency Executive Director Trent Rhorer—

This letter concerns the planned closure of McMillan Drop-In Center at the end of September. We have serious concerns about the resulting lack of after-hours drop-in access for homeless people in the central city area. The need for 24-hour drop-in capability is disconcertingly absent in this part of the city. We support the addition of a respite center in San Francisco, and believe that this is a good use of the facility at McMillan. We therefore call for the City to identify funding and relocate the drop-in services on a 24-hour basis.

24-Hour Access Urgently Needed

We strongly believe that San Francisco is not yet in a position in which we can justify losing 24-hour access to a drop-in center. This is evidenced by the throngs of vulnerable people found at McMillan Center at all times of day and night. The loss of 24-hour drop-in access will result in homeless people’s having nowhere to go after hours and a decreased ability to access shelter beds. Without identifying an alternative site, homeless people will have emergency respite from neither bad weather, nor police harassment, nor unsafe situations. We continue to have thousands of homeless people spending each night on the hard, cold ground. Dozens depart their lives having had no place to call home. While the City no longer officially tracks “turnaways” from shelters, most days and nights there are many individuals who have failed to find accessible shelter. The Coalition on Homelessness has long maintained that it is unacceptable to make dozens of homeless people sleeping upright in chairs every night. However, we believe it is disingenuous for the City to close McMillan for this same reason after having ingored the population residing there for more than a decade.

McMillan Never Lived Up To Original Vision

The McMillan Center originally came out of the Coalition on Homelessness in our efforts to decrease the number of homeless deaths in San Francisco. Working alongside community members and the Department of Public Health, the need for a safe, low-threshold drop-in center for intoxicated and other individuals surfaced. It was not adequately funded and many elements of the original plan, such as on-sight medical support, only materialized years later. McMillan staff are overwhelmed, underpaid, under-trained, and often hostile to clients. Attempts at reform have not worked. Efforts to improve the center by adding services have suffered as a result of McMillan’s overall culture of disrespect. However, more than a decade later, the original concept behind McMillan is as relevant as it ever was.

<h3Opportunity for Change

The closure of the McMillan drop-in center and the opening of a respite center should be seen as an opportunity for the City to succeed where it previously failed. San Francisco can open a central city area center where people can receive care, treatment, and crisis intervention services in a dignified and safe setting. A 24-hour drop-in center provides the advantage of offering homeless people safety in which whereby they can engage homeless services and access opportunities to exit homelessness. Without such a facility, homeless people are hidden in neighborhoods and are transient, making efforts to connect them with healthcare, treatment, and permanent housing considerably more difficult.

As you know, San Francisco’s homeless population is aging, and its health status is deteriorating at an alarming speed. Efforts toward creating permanent, affordable housing help address this, and we applaud them. In addition, we continue to work on reforming the shelter system, and addressing vacant bed issues. However, systemic issues such as a burdensome access process, staff mistreatment of clients, lack of language capacity, limited disability access, and transportation failings continue to plague our shelter system. These issues must be addressed, and when they are, we believe the shelter system will operate at full capacity. However, given the large numbers of homeless people grappling with limited affordable housing and shelter capacity, we firmly believe in the continuing need for 24-hour drop-in capacity until the day when chairs sit happily empty. It grieves us to report that that day is not today.

In summary, we call for the City to relocate 24-hour drop-in services to a client-centered agency that can truly stand beside homeless people in their effort to transform their struggles into lives of stable dignity.

Join the Coalition on Homelessness in its efforts to create a better shelter system at our weekly Right to a Roof Workgroup meetings, every Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. E-mail r2ar@cohsf.org.

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Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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