Noe Valley Voice March 1999

Some Residents Wary of Homeless Youth Shelter Set to Open in Castro

By Anne Sengès

Gay homeless young adults may have found a safe place to sleep during what is left of a cold and rainy winter in the Castro, but the opening of a temporary shelter at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center, expected to occur the second week of March, has not warmed everyone's heart.

Even as city and park staff readied the center's auditorium for its new nighttime inhabitants in late February, some neighbors and parents of kids who use the park during the day were voicing concerns about sanitation and safety.

Although a majority seemed to agree that opening a shelter was the right thing to do, many argued that the Eureka Valley Recreation Center, at 100 Collingwood St., was an inappropriate place.

In the last few years, the center has become a hangout for gay youth, many of whom take advantage of teen programs such as Wildnight (Thursdays, 6 to 9 p.m.) and Pink Saturday (1 to 4 p.m.). However, the park has traditionally served a broader population. It also functions as a day-care center, a meeting place for senior citizens, a ball field, and a playground for kids going to Live Oak Elementary School at 117 Diamond St., less than a block away.

Many of the 190 students attending this small private school live in Eureka Valley, the Castro, and Noe Valley.

"None of us disagrees with the fact that these children [homeless teens] need a place to stay," said Ailene Coffino, who has a third- and an eighth-grader attending Live Oak, but "using a park and recreation facility as a homeless shelter sets a bad precedent."

Matt Allio, Live Oak School's director, also wonders whether it's a good idea. "We fully understand the need for a homeless shelter, but we are worried that the recreation center will be harder to manage once it becomes a shelter," he said. "Our students are using the center to play basketball, and we are very grateful that the city lets us use a public facility," Allio continued. "But we are not sure we will keep using the center [when it becomes a homeless shelter] because we still don't know what kind of law enforcement the city will provide."

The city's Recreation and Park Commission okayed the shelter after its regular meeting Feb. 18, at the strong urging of Supervisors Leslie Katz, Mark Leno, and Tom Ammiano.

"This shelter is a stopgap measure, a short-term solution to house these youth through the winter months, until the city's permanent youth shelter opens at another location," said Katz, while defending the proposal at a hearing in February.

She pointed out that the Eureka Valley facility would be reevaluated again, at another hearing March 31. "Our goal is to make sure that everybody has their needs met," Katz said.

According to Katz, the shelter will house up to 25 young adults, ages 18 to 23. The young people must be referred by LYRIC (Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center), a center for lesbian and gay youth, located nearby at 123 Collingwood St.

The shelter will be open from 10:30 p.m. until 7 a.m., at which time the building will be cleared and cleaned by janitors from the Rec and Park Department.

The shelter residents will use a separate entrance from that used by the general public, Katz said.

Two staff members from the Ark of Refuge -- a private foundation offering housing, counseling, and education to low-income people with HIV/AIDS -- will supervise the shelter teens overnight.

Although the center does not have working showers, Katz said the Board of Supervisors was trying to arrange transportation for the homeless youths to another facility where they could shower. Volunteers will also be needed to help make the project work, she said.

Still, some merchants and local resident remained skeptical about the plan. Many who spoke at a packed City Hall hearing Feb. 18 expressed worries about drug use and crime in and around the center. They also complained that a homeless shelter might attract more panhandling and vandalism to the Castro District.

Supervisor Katz assured her critics that police patrols would be stepped up in the neighborhood.

And several homeless youth at the hearing pleaded for understanding.

"Some parents are very uncomfortable with a lot of the kids who are hanging out there because they wear makeup, have weird hair, and might have lice," said 22-year-old Darien, whose hair was dyed green. "But people should not be scared of what they see. We, the homeless gay kids, are also very vulnerable, and people have to understand that it is very hard to live on the street."

Katz said the Eureka shelter would close by May 15, and that the kids would go back on the street while awaiting the opening of a permanent shelter for homeless young adults.

The new shelter, expected to open sometime this summer, will be located "either along the Van Ness corridor or at Sixth and Howard," Katz said.

As for the exact date the Eureka shelter will open, her office's best bet was "the week of March 8."

Katz advises those who have concerns about the center or who need an update on the permanent shelter to call her staff at 554-5335.

The Who, What, Where, and When of Eureka Valley Shelter

Editor's Note: Supervisor Leslie Katz, chief backer of a temporary homeless shelter for gay youth scheduled to open in early March at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center, produced this factsheet in hopes of easing residents' and merchants' concerns.

Temporary Youth Shelter Facts

* Location: Eureka Valley Recreation Center auditorium, on the first floor of EVRC (a separate entrance exists), 100 Collingwood St. at 18th.

* Hours of Operation: 10:30 p.m. to 7 a.m.

* Ages: 18 to 23 years old.

* Food: Packaged cold breakfast will be handed out in the mornings to the youth as they are leaving the shelter.

* Cleanup: Janitors from the city's Rec and Park Department will clean the auditorium every morning. Shelter staff will help stack cots and put away blankets.

* Staff: Two professional shelter staff from the Ark of Refuge will supervise the youth each evening.

* Referral: Youth need to be referred by LYRIC staff to be allowed into the shelter. There will be room for a maximum of 25 youth. If there are more than 25 youth, they will be referred to Diamond Youth Shelter or another adult shelter, with transportation provided by MAP (Mobile Assistance Patrol) vans.

Frequently Asked Questions

* Will the shelter be temporary?
Yes. This shelter is a short-term solution to house youth during the winter months. The shelter will close on May 15. There will be a public hearing on March 31, approximately one month after the shelter opens, to assess how the shelter is running.

* Will this be a magnet for other youth from outside neighborhoods?
No. Outreach efforts will be made only to queer-identified youth in the Castro. LYRIC staff will be responsible for referring youth to the shelter.

* Will any programs at Eureka Valley Recreation Center be disrupted?
No. The shelter hours of operation are from 10:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. All programs at EVRC end by 10 p.m., and do not start before 8 a.m.

* Will the auditorium be sufficiently cleaned before seniors or tiny tots come into the building?
Yes. Rec and Park janitorial service will thoroughly clean and mop the portion of the auditorium used by the youth. Staff will stack the cots and blankets outside in the back of the auditorium under an existing overhang, since space in EVRC is limited.

* What happens when more than 25 youth want to spend the night?
Staff will refer the youth to other shelters. MAP vans will be called to take the youth who are 18 and under to Diamond Youth Shelter, and youth who are 18 and over to another adult shelter.

* Will this temporary shelter contribute to the crime and noise problems that already exist in the neighborhood?
No. This shelter is a way to provide continuity of service and house the youth that are on the streets of the Castro every evening. Because a majority of noise complaints occur in the evening hours, the shelter provides a solution by bringing youth indoors and off the streets and doorways of the Castro neighborhood. In addition, the shelter will not allow youth in/out privileges.

* Why were residents and merchants not notified earlier?
Because of the emergency nature of the shelter, the public was notified as soon as the shelter details started to be realized. People are encouraged to call City Hall staff to voice their support and concerns throughout the duration of the shelter (554-5335).

Source: Office of San Francisco Supervisor Leslie Katz, 2/26/99.