No shelter from the budget storm - Page 2

Buster's Place, the city's main 24-hour homeless drop-in center, faces closure

"Last year Buster's was the only cut being made to homeless programs, so the community could rally around that one issue. The fiscal situation is much more dire this year. The supervisors will probably not reinstate the money."

Sup. Chris Daly, whose District 6 includes Buster's Place, isn't optimistic. "I will fight, but I won't be successful," he told us, referring to his reduced power on the board after being removed as chair of the Budget Committee last year. "The cut list resembles very closely the list of board priorities from last year. The board cannot compel the mayor to spend."

Over the past year, Buster's Place has had an uncertain future. The center was created after the temporary closing of the McMillan Drop-in Center, the city's previous 24-hour drop-in center, at 39 Fell Street. Homeless-rights advocates campaigned for the creation of a 24-hour facility until Daly lobbied the DPH to keep an all-night drop-in center open. The city then contracted the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics to open Buster's.

However, since the DPH established the center on a short timetable, it did not follow standard procedures for awarding the contract. The DPH is now going through a request-for-proposals process for a 24-hour drop-in center. Of course, if the midyear cuts are approved, this process will stop.

During a night at Buster's, visitors can count on a few things: hard plastic chairs, restless sleep (if any), and good conversation with familiar faces. While Buster's provides 24-hour shelter, it also serves as an important social hub for the homeless community. Elisa Frank, who handles shelter reservations through the city's CHANGES system at the 150 Otis Street administrative office, sends up to 60 people per night to wait for beds at Buster's.

"Buster's is a community for a lot of people. They want supervision so they're not just on the street doing dirt. Some people even have houses. Some who are in [single-room occupancies] and even some who just live alone come to Buster's just for company," she told us.

One 31-year-old homeless client at Buster's told us he has been in and out of shelters and illegal housing for most of his life. He has been staying at Buster's occasionally over the past year and hopes to get his own apartment.

"When I don't have a place to stay, I get suicidal," he told the Guardian on a chilly night outside Buster's. "More people are going to die on the street if this place closes."

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