Proposal to provide safe parking for RVs gains support

Mayor promises $1M in funding for program to help homeless living in vehicles

It looks like the road is wide open for a City Hall proposal to create a “Safe Overnight Parking Program” for residents living in camper vans.

Legislation authored by Supervisors Vallie Brown and Ahsha Safai calls for The City to create a homeless navigation center for people living in RVs, and would decriminalize living in vehicles while San Francisco officials work to help people find housing.

Monday morning, Supervisor Hillary Ronen signed on as the eighth co-sponsor of Brown and Safai’s legislation, lending the proposal a veto-proof supermajority as it winds its way through various committees to the full Board of Supervisors, where it’s expected to be voted on within two weeks.

But even before Ronen announced her backing the proposal appeared to have solid support, as Mayor London Breed recently told Brown she will dedicate $1 million in city funding over two years to the program.

Brown announced the funding at the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation committee meeting Monday.

“Living in a car or RV is usually a last ditch effort to stay off the streets,” Brown said Monday, at the meeting. “This issue isn’t going to go away, and we can’t ignore it.”

The number of people sleeping in their cars or RVs has been an ongoing issue in San Francisco for years. The issue was pushed back into the spotlight in September last year when Safai sought a ban on RV parking on a tiny street near the Excelsior, called De Wolf, prompted by neighborhood concerns over cleanliness and noise.

Though the street is only a single block long, the move to clear it had a big impact. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors initially drew a line in the sand and refused to shuffle the RV dwellers to another street without a citywide solution to vehicular homelessness.

The tactic worked.

City leaders began developing solutions. Seven months later, Brown and Safai are working to find solutions that have eluded city leaders for years.

Their proposal would task the SFMTA and Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing with creating a program for people to park their RVs and cars safely, while also being offered city services. The plan is two pronged, as people would be able to live in their vehicles in a safe space, but The City would also offer vehicle storage for people it connect into shelters or housing.

The legislation would also create a program to offer towing fee and parking citation waivers to people who are vehicularly homeless, because towed vehicles can lead to street homelessness, city officials said.

A count conducted by The City in October 2018 found 432 inhabited vehicles on the streets of San Francisco, including 313 RVs and 119 passenger cars. According to housing rights advocates, these estimates are conservative.

One woman who counted herself among those vehicle dwellers, recently is Meghan “Roadkill” Johnson, who saved her money to purchase a bus for her and her two children to live in. Her son is four-years-old, and her daughter is 16 months old, she told the San Francisco Examiner.

Johnson lived in that vehicle with her children for four months. It was the only thing keeping them from homelessness, she said, and she had to constantly stay near it to ensure it wasn’t towed, or worse.

One day her worst fear was realized — San Francisco Police Department Officers came to tow her vehicle.

”When I asked the SF police department why it was being taken away, we were told the neighbors near where it was parked said it was an eyesore,” she said. “To me it was the only safe place that me and my children had.”

Now she’s in a family shelter, she said. But that took a long time.

SFPD Commander David Lazar told supervisors at the meeting that the department is committed to solutions.

“We want to make sure people are safe and secure and address issues that come up,” he said.

Jeff Kositsky, director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, also noted that vehicular homelessness has spiked in San Francisco recently.

At Monday’s meeting, the Coalition on Homelessness praised the legislation — but criticized city officials for taking so long to find a solution.

For years, The City has prioritized “pushing people out of their housing, towing their cars, then ripping away their tents when they’re on the streets,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness. “This,” however, “is really wonderful. It is the time, it has taken too long.”

 

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