David Samples looks at the refuse outside his 1971 Chinook RV that has been targeted for towing along with other RVs in the Bayview District. Samples lived in the RV for about six months until health problems forced him to seek help and get into the Dogpatch Navigation Center. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

City exploring ways to help homeless living in RVs

Two city leaders are exploring a more permanent solution to help bring RV dwellers out of homelessness, and to alleviate the woes of nearby neighbors, who complain van-campers are dumping trash and lighting dangerous cooking fires in sleepy residential neighborhoods.

Supervisors Ahsha Safai and Vallie Brown are in talks to help bring services to homeless people living in RV campers, aimed at lifting them into affordable housing.

This solution potentially includes finding space in The City to temporarily park their RVs while people seek medical and housing services, Safai said.

“We can’t keep pushing them around The City,” Safai said.

SEE RELATED: Clock is ticking for SF’s RV dwellers

The answer to this issue isn’t immediately apparent, he said, but he told the San Francisco Examiner he’s preliminarily looking at San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency parking lots as possible places to park RVs and offer services.

“They own a lot of land,” he said, and its only right their land is used, he added, as he blamed the agency for failing in their responsibility to find parking for RV dwellers for years.

But he also noted talks have only just begun. “Honest to God it’s not even that far,” he said. “But here we are. We’re starting a conversation.”

It’s been seven years since city officials began to decry a rash of RVs parking in the Sunset District, and six years since The City began to oust them.

And it’s been five years since the SFMTA Board of Directors said “no” — forcefully — to any new proposals to ban RVs on specific San Francisco streets. The SFMTA board tasked city officials with finding a permanent plan to help RV-dwellers who are homeless.

Yet earlier this month a ban sought by Safai crossed the line in the sand drawn by the SFMTA board.

Safai represents District 11, including the Ingleside, the Excelsior, and other south side neighborhoods. He came under fire this month for seeking an oversize vehicle ban on De Wolf Street, a single-block stretch in his district where a handful of homeless people camp in RVs overnight.

Safai’s housed constituents demanded action, citing outdoor cooking and the RV generators as public hazards.

The SFMTA board found itself in a stalemate over Safai’s proposal, with its six members split over enacting it. (It has one vacant seat, a tie-breaker).

After perhaps unwittingly falling into a years-long conflict, Safai rebounded, and is meeting the challenge for the homeless in his district and citywide.

At the Department of Homelessness, Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing Encampment Resolution Team Coordinator Jason Albertson struck an optimistic but cautious tone about the effort.

“I think technically almost anything is feasible, including travel to the moon, if you throw money at it,” he said. “It probably costs more than you think. If you bring vehicularly housed folks into a contained environment, you have to think about what programs you offer.”

Albertson said it makes sense to offer medical and social services, and supervisors would need to consider if any parking lot for RVs is a temporary stop for 30-day visitors, or a place to help those on the brink, who truly need immediate aid.

That’s what the supervisors aim to do.

In a statement, Brown said she reached out to Safai because “the housing issue reaches every corner of our city” and because illegal dumping and health hazard are concerning.”We need to look at this old issue with fresh eyes,” she said, to reach “meaningful and dignified solutions.”


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David Samples sits outside his 1971 Chinook RV that has been targeted for towing along with other RVs in the Bayview District on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. Samples lived in the RV for about six months until health problems forced him to seek help and get into the Dogpatch Navigation Center. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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