Details have begun to emerge of an accord that would resolve a three-month standoff over the fate of “Site F,” a homeless shelter at Pier 94 in San Francisco.

Supervisor Shamann Walton announced Monday that the site will stay open “for the time being” after a “tentative agreement” was reached between the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) — the city agency responsible for the site — and the Port of San Francisco, where the site is located.

The agreement — not yet reduced to writing — would end the public confrontation between the Board of Supervisors, who wanted to keep the site open, and HSH, who had acceded to the port’s insistence that the site be closed.

Emily Cohen, HSH Deputy Director for Communications & Legislative Affairs, said a “verbal agreement” has been reached between the port and the city that will allow the site to remain in operation on a month-to-month arrangement until shelter operations are eventually wound down.

Signage identifies “Site F” near Pier 94 in San Francisco — a place where trailers are used to provide shelter for Bayview residents experiencing homelessness. (Joe Dworetzky/Pagransen)

Key terms still being negotiated include how long the site may stay in operation and when intake of new residents will recommence.

The anticipated outcome would be a win for the 82 people currently living at the facility and Walton who led the charge to keep the shelter site open.

Site F is on port lands near Pier 94 and contains 114 trailers that in April sheltered as many as 118 people experiencing homelessness. 

While the location is distant from commercial areas and air quality has been a concern, the site has been in operation since April 13, 2020. Many of the residents have lived there for years.

Each trailer at Site F contains a kitchen and bathroom and is powered by 24/7 electric service. There is a small medical clinic at the site.

The site was initially established during the pandemic and it was to continue only through the end of the public health emergency. Mayor London Breed declared the emergency over on February 28.

A temporary reprieve

HSH initially asked the port for a 2-year extension but the port declined, claiming to need the land for maritime uses. HSH then negotiated a 10-month arrangement that it said would allow time to wind the site down and close it in an orderly fashion. 

That agreement was presented to the Port Commission for “informational” purposes at a meeting on April 11. Port staff advised the commissioners that they would bring the matter back for a vote on April 25.

After the hearing, questions surfaced about the wisdom of closing a shelter site amid a profound citywide shortage of shelter beds. The city is under a federal court order barring authorities from clearing tent encampments while there are not enough shelter beds to cover all people sleeping on the streets. Testimony in the case showed the city’s bed shortfall exceeds 4,000. 

Walton, whose district includes Bayview, where many of the residents of  Site F  came from, had called the agreement a “travesty” and introduced a resolution that opposed closing the site.

“To have this available is like a treasure.” 

Supervisor Shamann Walton

Walton said that the agreement between the port and HSH to wind down and close the site amounted to “forcing homelessness by our very own city departments.”

He noted angrily that the closure would mean that “over 100 people, mostly Black, mostly disadvantaged groups, will be put out on the street with no alternative placement and be evicted by the Port and [HSH] and sent right back to the street.”

Walton emphasized that the trailers at Site F provide individualized places to stay and included private bathrooms and showers. He said it was “unbelievable” that this option was in place. “To have this available is like a treasure.” 

Walton criticized HSH for deferring to the port as if it were an “alien nation.” In his mind, the port is a part of the city family and had to do its part for the homeless, like any other city agency.

Supervisor Myrna Melgar said she has been working for two years unsuccessfully to find a place in the city that can provide safe parking for people living in their vehicles with electric, water and sanitary services. She said it was  “inconceivable” that the city would let this site — which already has those services in place  —  close. She said the site should be expanded to serve more people. 

Winding down

On May 9, the full board adopted Walton’s resolution.  However, notwithstanding the supervisors’ expressed opposition to closure and the fact that commission had not approved the wind-down agreement, HSH was actively working to close the site.  HSH ceased new intake in April (even though it had until October to do so under its wind-down agreement with the port). As a result, by July 7 only 82 people were living at the site, down 36 from April, according to data on HSH’s shelter inventory website.

Moreover, on May 19, ten days after Walton’s resolution was adopted, Louis Bracco, Shelter System Supervisor for HSH, reached out to two individuals working on homelessness issues for the city of Oakland. Bracco advised them that San Francisco was looking for alternative sites to reuse or store the trailers from Site F, “but we expect to have at least 20-50 leftover without a home.”

Bracco explained that the trailers were donated to San Francisco by the state in 2020 and were new at the time. Bracco asked if Oakland would “have any interest in taking some of these RVs and/or storing them at one of your existing sites.”

Email requests for comment to Bracco were returned by Cohen, who said, “As we plan for site F, or any program wind down, significant due diligence is needed. In response to HSH’s due diligence in exploring options, the City of Oakland expressed a desire to learn more about the trailers.”

Trailers at “Site F” at San Francisco's Pier 94 have been used as temporary shelter for as many as 118 unhoused people. The city of Oakland had shown interest in the trailers with the planned shutdown of Site F, but now that the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing has reached a month-to-month deal with the Port of San Francisco to keep the site operational, HSH said it likely won't donate the trailers to another community. (Joe Dworetzky/Pagransen)

She said HSH had not contacted cities other than Oakland and in light of the tentative agreement with the port, “we probably won’t donate the habitable trailers to another jurisdiction.”

Beyond the loss of shelter beds, the closure of Site F would have been another blow to the efforts of the city to test potential alternatives to traditional shelter models.

While Site F has not been without its share of problems, it has provided residents with personal space and autonomy that are missing in other models. According to Cohen, more than 300 people have been served at the site over the three years of operation and 38 have moved on to permanent housing.

She said, “it’s something we would certainly consider replicating if we could find the property for it ... [but] finding a site appropriate for this stuff is incredibly hard.”

Daniel Wlodarczyk, a San Francisco internist who has provided medical services at the clinic, said he was relieved to hear the shelter would remain open, calling it “a valuable resource to the people experiencing homelessness in the Bayview Hunters Point community. Having a stable, secure place is essential to the residents’ well-being.”

Walton said he was pleased that the site would remain in operation.

He said, “Site F is a very special place where residents, staff, and volunteers have created a tight community supporting folks experiencing homelessness to transition into a more stable environment and eventually to permanent housing. This is a one of a kind community and model that does not exist elsewhere.”

Joe Dworetzky is a second career journalist. He practiced law in Philadelphia for more than 35 years, representing private and governmental clients in commercial litigation and insolvency proceedings. Joe served as City Solicitor for the City of Philadelphia under Mayor Ed Rendell and from 2009 to 2013 was one of five members of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission with responsibility for managing the city’s 250 public schools. He moved to San Francisco in 2011 and began writing fiction and pursuing a lifelong interest in editorial cartooning. Joe earned a Master’s in Journalism from Stanford University in 2020. He covers Legal Affairs and writes long form Investigative stories. His occasional cartooning can be seen in Bay Area Sketchbook. Joe encourages readers to email him story ideas and leads at [email protected].