An overview of the Box City pilot project from SFHC's Director and a testimonial from former Box City resident, Roland. The City of SF needs to create humane, outcomes-driven, and cost-effective shelter opportunities in the midst of our shelter and housing shortage crisis by working WITH unhoused residents.

box city encampment (7th Street @ Mission Bay) PIlot project

SFHC began working with Box City - an encampment with dozens of wooden "box" shelters located at 7th Street (between Mission Bay and 16th Street) - after being contacted by an SFPD officer on September 15, 2016 with a request for SFHC to provide a portapotty. The pilot project developed to include organizing support, trash clean up, an incentive program, co-development of community agreements, identifying transition goals, and a proposal to work with encampment residents, neighbors, and the Department of Homelessness and the Department of Public Works to model a new type of sanctioned encampment with clear agreements and increased accountability to address safety, health, sanitation, and livability issues.  

The pilot project continued onsite until early January 2017 when Box City was targeted by the City's "Encampment Resolution Team" for resolution. The vast majority of the 31 Box City encampment residents at the time of the January "Resolution" agreed to relocate to the Navigation Center for a short-term stay with case management services, while 10 of the residents moved to different nearby street encampments. As of March 2017, the majority of Box City residents who entered the Navigation Center have returned to street encampments. SFHC continues to work together with over a dozen former Box City residents as an ally and advocate.

The only pilot project in SF that worked to increase livability, well-being, and safety for both unhoused and houses neighbors while cutting costs for the city. 

Sign the petition today in support of a new approach to address livability and safety issues for residents who live in and near homeless encampments in SF!: Learn more and/or donate at


Front page of the Chronicle: 9/26/2016

With the clunk of a portable toilet plopping down alongside the sidewalk at their shantytown, 20 homeless people in San Francisco began an experiment with the police and a nonprofit agency to try to improve their lives before they inevitably have to tear down their camp. The agreement with the Box City campers is that if they can take good care of the toilet and keep their settlement of a dozen hand-built shacks orderly, they’ll earn gift certificates at local businesses, and in two weeks everyone will have a barbecue together. Nobody’s calling the little spread near the Caltrain tracks at Seventh and Hubbell streets a permanent camp, and no one wants more homeless people to rush in and set up more boxes. It’s just an effort to put a bit of order into an inherently disorderly situation that is replicated daily throughout the city in more than 75 street camps. Read more . . .

overview of SFHC's box city pilot by Director/Founder AFW 

"I was contacted on Sept. 15th by SFPD Officer Moilanen inquiring about my ability to bring a portapotty to Box City per the request of one of the residents. Although I currently have a full-time job at SFCLT, I have visited Box City at least 3 times per week over the last two months to build relationships, organize, and provide the following types of services with the 20+ residents: 

  1. Offer basic sanitation services (The portapotty was delivered on 9/23 and the encampment self-monitoring over the last two months has been a success in that approximately 140 pounds of human waste are kept off the streets each week with just once a week servicing). 

  2. Replace tents with transitional sleep & storage shelters (Secure sleep and storage of personal materials is essential for the well-being of residents and supports their transition by allowing residents to retain belongings and paperwork)

  3. Support trash organizing and pick-up with the addition of 9 additional garbage receptacles (I have been requesting a contact at DPW so that I can help better coordinate trash pick up and organization; I know that SFPD is often present during DPW cleanings/pick-ups at Box City or other encampments due to safety concerns, but I believe that we can eliminate the need for that costly service with the proper coordination and organizing work)

  4. Survey residents to identify their transition goals and skills (See attached spreadsheet)

  5. Identify and address the livability concerns of neighbors, the community (Namely working to keep the gutter and parking spaces clear of debris and belongings and improving the aesthetic of the shelters with murals)

  6. Work with residents to develop Good Neighbor Agreements that address resident and community issues (See attached document, currently in draft stage)

  7. Identifying and addressing crime and safety issues (I would like to create a coordinated system which works with SFPD to further enable Box City residents to prevent Car Break-Ins; Residents take pride in protecting the cars that park in front of their structures and building relationships with car owners, but there isn't currently a system that allows residents to safely alert police to issues of car break-ins. Residents should also have a system in which they can alert a coordinator, SFPD, or other service providers to behavior of fellow-residents or unhoused residents passing through that requires professional mental health or police intervention)

  8. Identify ways to link resident bike repair and construction skills to community-beneficial work and incomes rather than participation in bike theft operation. (More than a dozen Box City residents have bike repair and building skills and construction skills that can be put to use to benefit the community. Box City residents don't steal bikes but people who steal bikes come to them to have them repair the bikes; I am currently working to develop a pilot project that connects Box City residents with opportunities through the Yellow Bike Project and Bike Coalition and I would like to explore how to connect this effort with the existing GA program) 

  9. Identify unhoused residents in need of intensive mental health and housing/shelter support (I coordinated with SF HOT to get services for two late-term pregnant women who were staying or passing through Box City and identified two women who were in need of intensive resources and support who should not be living on the streets)

Let's work together to further develop this pilot project

The vast majority of Box City residents are high functioning and cooperative and that's why Box City can serve as a cost-effective, humane, and outcomes-driven model if we work together to strengthen the work I have initiated. I would like to work together with the Department of Homelessness, SFPD, DPW, Box City residents, apartment residents, and other community stakeholders to further develop an approach to encampments that builds upon the 9 areas identified above. I believe that we can do this in the current location at Box City by (1) creating specific geographic boundaries for Box City (meaning that no residents would be allowed beyond Hubbel Street), (2) clearing stating "You can be here if .... (quiet hours are established, gutters are clear, participation in bike theft stops, etc), (3) creating better coordination between myself and DPW, DPH, and SFPD, and (4) getting residents on a path towards housing and community-beneficial income. 

I suggest that we co-develop a plan with all stakeholders to try this out at the current location for two months to see how successful it is. Or, as per the attached Transition Goals Spreadsheet, you can see that 24/25 of the residents have agreed that they will move to a different location identified by the City to continue with this pilot. That would allow us to create a uniformity in structures, proper sanitation and trash support services, and clear and reasonable rules about behavior, participation, and organization. As per current DOJ guidelines, encampment residents should not be displaced from Box City unless they are redirected elsewhere (including SRO or long-term Navigation Center placement). None of the residents want 90 day shelters due to past experience and current conditions and limitation of long-term shelters, but that is okay because there is an 800+ waiting list and we should save those long-term shelter beds for the people who need them as a life-line.

It is too costly to continue our currently approach to encampments and it doesn't get us the outcomes we want. I would be thrilled to work together with you all to develop an approach that blanketed the city's approximately 100 encampments (see attached DPW spreadsheet) with 30 additional site-specific organizers/community liaisons (such as myself) that worked with 2-4 encampments each to organize, develop community agreements, identify pathways for transition, and identify residents who CANNOT live on the street due to severe mental health, addiction, or behavioral issues and require intensive supportive housing/shetler services (not jail)."