First city officials chased RVs largely occupied by the homeless out of the Sunset and Richmond Districts. Then they were rolled off Potrero Hill and squeezed out from underneath the “Hairball,” a series of interconnecting freeways in the southeast.
Now, in the latest effort to curb which curbs RVs where people — who often say they have nowhere else to go — sleep and live, Supervisor Ahsha Safai is seeking an oversize vehicle ban for a tiny street tucked behind Alemany Boulevard, a stone’s throw from Cayuga Playground.
De Wolf Street, one city block long stret tucked between Alemany Boulevard and Lawrence Avenue and nestled just beside U.S. Interstate 280, was the subject of a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency engineering hearing to ban oversize vehicles along it Friday morning.
There, a handful of people met to discuss the future of the destitute and homeless. Those who live in the RVs came before the hearing officers, whose job usually holds them responsible for placing stop signs and concrete fixes, and begged to stay.
In that hearing room, Gladys Odilia, a woman who lives in an RV along De Wolf Street, spoke to hearing officers in Spanish — though the officers could not speak or understand Spanish, and no translator was immediately available.
“Please, I need to explain,” she said in Spanish. “I have a mobile home that’s parked there. I live there, I sleep there. I take care of my (disabled) son and only daughter. Where will I move? I’m (disabled).”
Odilia pulled against her blue shawl, looked down, and began to sob midway through. She briefly broke into English.
“Please, help me.”
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Safai’s effort to oust these homeless RV dwellers is something of an anomaly. Within the last two years, the SFMTA Board of Directors, which gives final approval for such street changes, told SFMTA staff it would no longer be willing to pass oversize vehicle restrictions because those restrictions aren’t permanent solutions.
SFMTA Board of Directors Chair Cheryl Brinkman told the San Francisco Examiner that “we weren’t really solving anything … by putting these block by block restrictions on, we were simply moving the problem of vehicularly housed residents around The City.”
Those vehicles were shuffled around to new neighbors who then would ask for their own ban. And on, and on, and on.
Due to the SFMTA board’s lack of appetite for RV bans, Safai would’ve been out of luck in shuffling homeless RV dwellers off De Wolf Street had he sought this change even just in April. But in May, the Board of Supervisors approved legislation, authored by Safai, granting them the power to consider apeals of SFMTA decisions. The legislation places pressure on the SFMTA board to approve decisions the supervisors agree with, lest that power be wrested away.
Safai was not present for the engineering hearing, and could not be reached by phone. But his legislative aide Cathy Mulkey Meyer told the hearing officers Safai sought the RV ban because neighbors “felt unsafe.”
She said those neighbors reported “people are using gas powered generators at night” near the brush along the freeway, which could be a fire hazard. “There is nothing else we can do legislatively to stop overnight camping,” Mulkey Meyer said.
On De Wolf Street Friday, a man living in an RV named David disputed that his neighbors were unsafe. He said police had “gotten rid of the folks who use drugs.” He came to live in his RV after he could no longer afford his apartment.
Back in the hearing room, a woman who also lives in an RV along De Wolf, Melodie, asked why The City would ask her to overcome her poverty and housing woes with little help, “while stripping me of every single resource to do so.” Previously, Melodie told the Examiner she suffers from short-term memory problems that prevent her from holding down a job.
“I’m asking you to please not do this,” she told the hearing officers, while standing at the podium. She turned around and looked directly at Safai’s aide, Mulkey Meyer and said, “Please, do not do this.”
The MTA Board of Directors are scheduled to vote on vehicle restrictions to De Wolf Street Sept. 18.
Montse Reyes and Kevin Hume contributed to this report.