Closing time - Page 2

San Francisco shuts a much-needed 24-hour homeless center

Also, unlike any of the 15 other city-funded places for homeless people, it's open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is "low threshold," meaning there are no basic requirements to come in.

Nakanishi listed several reasons why a drop-in center aids in overall public health, from preventing deaths on the street to providing a place to take a shower and use the bathroom. A Request for Proposals put out by DPH to continue the 24-hour drop-in services next year is also on hold, shaving a slim million from the city's budget.

Tenderloin Health, which operates a drop-in center on Golden Gate Avenue, was one of the respondents to DPH's RFP for a 24-hour center and said it was more than willing to extend operating hours past the current 11:30 p.m. closing time.

"The funding was pulled the same day we submitted the proposal," said Colm Hegarty, director of development for the nonprofit. "We would do it. Our proposal was very specific."

Drop-in centers have been criticized as places where people hang out and avoid the shelter systems and services they provide, but that was never the intention for Buster's, which has only been open for 13 months. "The program was designed to really have around the clock case management," said Nakanishi, who wrote the RFP.

Akbar said Homeless Outreach Team officers were supposed to be working with center staff to move people deeper into the care system, but she's been told they're too busy working with people on the streets.

Which is what Buster's is all about. Most of the people still on the streets aren't interested in doing something to change their situations, points out Keith Bussey, deputy director of integrated health services for the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics. "But people who come into a drop-in are in that pre-contemplative stage of change. They're venturing inside for maybe the first time."

Will is unequivocal about Buster's proposed replacement: "Not 150 Otis. I don't want anything to do with 150 Otis because of the people who work there." Claiming he's received rude treatment there too many times, Will even stopped using the storage facility there. Middle-aged and homeless in San Francisco for the past couple of months, he sleeps outside and after two stays in the city's shelters said, "Never again."

"Ultimately it's going to hurt the city," said Hegarty of the closing. "You'll see more of a presence on the streets. People will want to see something done about it, so there will be more police responding. The criminal justice system is going to become burdened. The emergency room at San Francisco General is going to become burdened. People will go anywhere they can just to get off the streets."