Frequently Asked Questions About Navigation Centers

Why do we need this?

On any given night in San Francisco, approximately 4,400 people have no place they can stay indoors. There are less than 2,000 beds available in the City’s shelters and Navigation Centers—an enormous shortfall with huge costs in human suffering. We will continue to see suffering on our streets until we address this shortfall; our policy is to not to clear encampments unless there is a shelter or Navigation Center to direct people to. Navigation Centers alone won’t solve homelessness; expanding our supply of permanent supportive housing and housing of all kinds is necessary for a long term solution. Still, Navigation Centers are a crucial short term solution.

How are sites chosen? Why here?

The Department of Homelessness has reviewed hundreds of potential sites for Navigation Centers. They have to find sites that are the right size, available for lease for the right amount of time, and which meet requirements around availability of water/sewer/electric. Given the difficulty of acquiring land in San Francisco, it’s not surprising that there aren’t many options.

Many Supervisors have not yet done their part to get Navigation Centers in their neighborhoods. We need to open Centers throughout the City, including the Richmond, the Sunset, and the Marina, and soon. Contact information for supervisors from all districts is available at

Will this affect the safety or cleanliness of my neighborhood?

Unlike some traditional shelters, Navigation Centers don’t push people and their belongings back out onto the street each morning and don’t have queues that form outside. Navigation Centers are also required to follow a “Good Neighbor Policy” in which they discourage noise and loitering around the center, maintain the cleanliness and safety of the surrounding area, and provide a 24/7 phone number for neighbors to call with concerns.

In 2017, the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association expressed concerns around safety and cleanliness when the Dogpatch Navigation Center was proposed. In January 2019, the Association unanimously voted to extend the operation of the Dogpatch Navigation Center for another 3 years.

“The Magnet Myth”

“The Magnet Myth”, the impression that San Francisco is a homelessness destination drawing people from all over the country to our generous streets is just not accurate. 69% of surveyed homeless residents report they were living in the City when they became homeless (with about half of them having lived here for more than ten years). Another 16% were living in surrounding Bay Area counties. Only 5% came from other counties in California, and 10% from outside the state. Homeless individuals in San Francisco are our neighbors, and we must do better by them.

A Bold Approach to Homelessness

Comparison: Navigation Centers vs. Traditional Shelters

Further reading/sources

“Gateways to new lives”, Kevin Fagan, SF Chronicle, June 26, 2018

“A Bold Approach to Homelessness”, London Breed, Mar 19, 2018

Staff Report on Details of SAFE Navigation Center Proposal, March 7, 2019

“The One Stat That Explains SF’s Street Homeless Crisis”, Nick Josefowitz, May 17, 2018

“Navigation Center Year-End Evaluation”, Office of the Controller, June 2016,

“New Navigation Center Opens in Dogpatch”, Nuala Sawyer, May 24, 2017

“The most cost-effective way to help the homeless is to give them homes”, Matthew Yglesias, Feb 20, 2019,

“After the Shouting, Do Shelters and Supportive Housing Harm Neighborhoods?”, Jesse Coburn, Feb 25, 2015

Support the Navigation Centers!


You can support the building of Navigation Centers by emailing our representatives:

YIMBY stands for Yes in My Backyard. YIMBY Action supports building a more inclusive and diverse San Francisco with more transit, homes, and neighbors for everyone. YIMBY Action supports building more Navigation Centers and permanent affordable housing.