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San Francisco embraces first tiny homeless cabin village with plans for SoMa

After years of resistance, San Francisco is finally embarking on the mini-house technique to shelter the homeless with the intention of installing them in two parking lots between Market and Mission streets, The Chronicle has learned.

The lots at 33 Gough St. have been in use since December as a city-sanctioned ‘safe sleep village’, housing 44 tents for homeless people while they receive guidance on how to get them to permanent homes. These tents will be replaced in late fall with 70 mini-homes, dubbed cabins, similar to those already in use for years in Oakland, the Peninsula and San Jose.

Each 64 square foot cabin will have a steel frame, 2 inch thick walls, heating systems, desk, bed and window. The site will benefit from improved bathrooms, storage space and a dining room.

The $ 1.7 million cost of building and installing the cabins, as well as the dining room and other facilities, will be paid for by money raised by nonprofits DignityMoves and Tipping. Point Community. The cabins will remain in place for 18 months, when the lease signed by the city for the use of the parking lots as outdoor shelters runs out.

The cabins are only a pilot program, and this test is just the latest in a series of new techniques the city has tried in light of the growing homeless population during the coronavirus pandemic. With new tax and federal funding that will bring funding for the homeless in San Francisco to around $ 800 million for each of the next two years, programs and policy makers plan to buy more properties for the homeless. shelter, place people in vacant apartments in the city and open a secure campervan site for 150 vehicles.

“So many homeless people don’t want to go to collective shelters, and tents have been a good outdoor alternative, but these huts are a big next step,” said Elizabeth Funk, founder and director of DignityMoves, who is the developer of the cabin site. “When you have your own bedroom and a door that locks, it makes a big difference.

These cabins will be set up at 33 Gough Street in San Francisco, replacing the current tent village for the homeless.

| SFC Column / Courtesy of Dignity Moves

“I believe when you give someone that kind of dignity that you can get with your own bedroom and a lockable door, you close them for more success,” Funk said.

Several of those now living in the tents at 33 Gough Street said they were excited to swap their fabric walls for solid ones. Each will be offered a place in the chalet community when it opens, officials said.

“Coming home to something that really looks like a home would be so great,” said Benjamin Longmore, 36, who has been at the Safe Sleep Village since it opened and is studying to become a poverty counselor. “A door you can lock, a little warmth so you don’t get cold at night – I’d love that.”

“I’m really trying to take the next step in my life and need all the help I can get. “

A few tents away, Jacqueline Smith, 29, said she was still recovering from the trauma of living on the streets for several years before moving to the Safe Sleep Village a month ago.

“I have never felt safe outside, and this place is a big improvement over the street, but I would really like to have a real door and window that I could look through without being exposed,” said she declared. “Having a place with walls would make you feel more like going back to normal, which I want so badly. “

Like many in the village, she said she agreed to move into the tent site after being intermittently homeless for 10 years because “it felt a lot safer than a typical indoor shelter, especially during a pandemic where you get sick from being so close to so many other people.

Oakland has served more than 600 people with similar cottage camps since 2017, and city officials say about half have moved to more permanent housing after stabilizing. The cities of San Jose and Mountain View, in partnership with several agencies and associations, have created more than 640 units of this type over the past two years, also used as transitional housing.

San Francsico has always been reluctant to set up tiny houses rather than assembly shelters due to the severe shortage of open and unused space in the city. But the pandemic forced authorities to be more flexible, and sheltering people in outdoor tents was safer than placing them in confined indoor assembly shelters.

The city now operates five of these sites, containing 220 tents and dubbed “Safe Sleep Villages”. Officials have been criticized for the relatively high cost of each site, $ 61,000 per year per tent, and said they have looked at that cost to reduce it.

The cabins are considered an improvement over the tent model. They will also reduce the cost of the site, since the 70 cabins in total will cost about the same cost to operate as the total of 44 tents.

In an email to The Chronicle, the Mayor of London Breed said the shacks were a promising method of providing people with a safe and dignified place to live while waiting for scarce permanent housing to open up.

“As we move forward, our goal is not to return to where we were, but rather to use the lessons learned during COVID to move this city forward and make a real difference for our residents,” she said. in the email. “We know we need more housing, but we also need temporary places for people to come off the streets and go to housing, and we want to test this new strategy for its effectiveness.”

Several people who work or live in the area seemed to embrace the idea of ​​the cabin, citing the lack of issues associated with the location of the tent.

“This place (the tent site) has been really quiet – organized and tight,” said Allen Beard, who works in a construction office across the street. “There was no problem. They have good security and actually help keep the area more secure. “

Kevin Fagan is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @KevinChron

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