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SOS Stewardship Village Pilot in San Francisco

A code-compliant, community-integrated model of emergency shelter that emphasizes participatory management, eco-design, & local stewardship.

Photo of Amy Farah Weiss
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

There are tens of thousands of unsheltered people throughout California in immediate need of SAFE ORGANIZED SPACES (SOS) to belong on their pathway to housing, while simultaneously there is an abundance of underutilized and neglected land in need of proper stewardship—empty lots in urban neighborhoods like the Tenderloin in San Francisco, wilderness areas near Nevada City in need of clearing out fuel for future forest fires, and rural agricultural land in need of regenerative agriculture practices to heal the soil and help sequester carbon. This project will impact people in need of emergency shelter, whether due to a shortage of shelter/affordable housing (i.e. dozens of cities throughout CA have declared a shelter shortage crisis, including San Francisco, Sacramento, and LA), individual/interpersonal challenges (e.g. current financial/behavioral challenges for maintaining stable housing), or displacement by natural disasters/extreme weather (e.g. the recent Paradise fire, future earthquakes, etc). The Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge (SFHC) has been working since 2015 to end the crisis conditions of street homelessness by developing and piloting a code-compliant and community-integrated framework for emergency shelter response that emphasizes local stewardship, eco-design, and participatory management. We developed the SOS Policy & Operations toolkit to empower advocates, service organizations, and government officials to activate land in compliance with CA State building codes for emergency shelter response. Unlike traditional emergency shelter, our model: 1) Includes a community council comprised of residents, service providers, and neighbors to support community-integration, 2) Allows and encourages resident participation in operations/management, 3) Provides individual locking shelter for safety and privacy, 4) Supports the needs of the surrounding community with stewardship projects, & 5) Can be fully off-grid depending upon site resources and budget.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

SFHC is based in San Francisco, where over 5,100 unsheltered people currently live in crisis conditions on the streets. Cities throughout California—including San Francisco—recently reported large increases in their unsheltered population over the past two years with data from the 2019 Homeless Point-In-Time count. SFHC's advocacy for a standardized set of building codes for emergency shelter response on public/private land came to fruition at the State-level in December 2018.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

One of the major issues facing municipalities who attempt to build emergency shelter is NIMBYism—aka neighbors who say: Not In My Back Yard. Our idea builds in community-integration and benefits through: 1) The programmatic infrastructure of a Community Council—comprised of equal parts village residents, service providers, and neighbors; 2) Participatory Management/Operations—as opposed to the current shelter model where residents are viewed only as recipients; and 3) Stewardship projects.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

The SOS Stewardship Village model aims to support displaced people in the most autonomous and least restrictive setting possible based upon the needs of the specific population and location. Our model provides individual locking shelters for residents in order to support individual dignity, safety, and privacy—as opposed to dormitory-style shelters. Our model emphasizes an ethos of participatory management and operations, with a minimum of 10-hours of operations stewardship encouraged for each resident based upon their capacity and interests, weekly dinner meetings, a community council, shared agreements, and baseline health and safety standards. Additional local stewardship opportunities and community benefits can be identified—including the development of on-site small business enterprises—and ideally a fund for stipends can be included in the budget for resident participation and vocational growth opportunities.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Cities throughout California are in dire immediate need of additional emergency shelter that is, at the very least, code compliant—but we believe that the participatory management and operations model of SOS Stewardship Villages will lead to a greater sense of dignity, autonomy, and belonging than traditional emergency shelter models, ultimately supporting successful transitions to housing and economic stability. Our model also includes neighbors in the process of shaping community benefits and providing oversight. In addition to lessening the amount of people living in crisis on the street, this pilot will also offer free health, safety, & wellness services to people in the neighborhood. We will follow the best practices laid out in our SOS Policy & Operations toolkit, which we share online to enable government officials and homelessness advocates in other cities to navigate the activation of public or private land with the Safe Organized Spaces/Transitional Village model.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

The Founder of the Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge, Amy Farah Weiss, has experience working, interning, and living in transitional communities, including a transitional shelter for women in Portland, OR (Jean's Place, a project of Transition Projects), a sustainability village and organic farm in Colorado (Guidestone Farm), and a transitional village/organic farm in the Berkshires, MA for people exiting from a psychiatric hospital (Gould Farm). The increasing number of unsheltered residents living in tents on the streets of California cities, along with the displacement of people in Paradise due to recent fires, calls for a new type of emergency shelter response that provides transitional residents with increased autonomy, privacy, opportunities to participate in village operations and management, and community-integration programming that supports local stewardship. Transitional Villages in Seattle, Portland, and Eugene have served as a great foundation for our model.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

There are two main types of displaced communities that SOS Stewardship Villages are designed to support: Currently unsheltered individuals living in crisis conditions on the streets of California cities, and current/future individuals displaced by extreme weather events and natural disasters. In this current moment, we are aiming to activate an SOS Stewardship Village pilot in an area of extreme unmet needs in the Tenderloin of San Francisco, and we can proceed with our pilot on a specific pre-development site at 180 Jones as soon as we fundraise for our $150,000 proposed budget. We also support the development of Safe Organized Spaces throughout California through our network of statewide allies and government officials.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Our current proposal for an SOS Stewardship Village in San Francisco is focused on a pre-development site for affordable housing in the Tenderloin neighborhood at 180 Jones. SFHC has spent over 100 pro-bono hours assessing needs, conducting outreach, building community support, providing site stewardship, and developing a proposal for site activation with the input of both unsheltered and housed residents who spend time at or near the site. We have collected signatures of support for this project from over 130 District residents, have dozens of volunteers—including currently/formerly homeless residents—who are ready to spring into action once/if we gain site control, and have the green light from the developer to start fundraising in order to make it a reality. Our proposed interim use of the site will not only benefit the 5 resident stewards that we select to participate, but will also provide monitored wellness programming, sanitation services, and other neighborhood benefits.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

If we are able to raise the $150K+ funding for the SOS Stewardship Village pilot at 180 Jones, we will be working closely with the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation—the developer that won the bid to eventually develop affordable housing on this site in 2-5 years—along with dozens of local organizations and volunteers. On a larger scale, we hope to gain support from a Foundation to jumpstart the development of SOS Stewardship Villages statewide with an SOS consulting group and fund of $5-$10 million to bring this proven model to communities throughout California. We are currently seeking partnerships for the development of modular emergency shelters that are eco-sourced, fire-resistant, and code-compliant (e.g. with hempcrete panels), experts in developing off-grid solar energy solutions, and property owners throughout California who have underutilized urban and agricultural land they seek to activate and steward.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Other

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge, a fiscally sponsored project of Intersection for the Arts.

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Since SFHC was founded in 2015, we have worked towards our mission to end the crisis conditions of street homelessness by: 1. Providing direct services at encampments (including portable toilets, trash removal, mobile sleeping cabins, linkage to service providers, etc.); 2. Organizing with local, regional, and state-level stakeholders to develop actionable solutions, including currently/formerly unsheltered residents, impacted neighbors, service/advocacy organizations, and government officials; 3. Developing and piloting SOS for activating underutilized public/private land with community-integrated transitional villages; 4. Advocating for SOS transitional village pilots in San Francisco and throughout California; and 5. Updating the SOS policy and operations toolkit for California cities experiencing a shelter shortage crisis, and building upon our local, statewide, & national network of advocates, service providers, policy experts, and government officials.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • Other

Organization Headquarters: Country


Organization Headquarters: City / State

San Francisco/CA

1 comment

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Dear Amy Farah Weiss, welcome to the challenge. We wish you success!