Two similar yet very different press releases sent out Tuesday morning hinted that change is on the horizon for San Francisco’s beleaguered RV dwellers, many of whom are just steps away from sleeping on the street.
As anti-homeless rhetoric grows among city officials and encampment sweeps rise, many unhoused people have driven to the edges of San Francisco searching for respite from authorities knocking on their car door and asking them to move along. Earlier this fall, Supervisor Ahsha Safaí took on RVs in the Excelsior, requesting a ban on parking vehicles more than seven feet tall or 22 feet long from midnight to 6 a.m. each day. At an SFMTA meeting on the issue in September, RV residents were desperate, stating that as parking restrictions have grown tighter around the city, they have nowhere left to go.
Nevertheless, supervisors’ constituents are powerful forms of pressure, and on Tuesday Supervisor Hillary Ronen hopped on the issue — albeit with a more long-term approach than Safaí’s original plan.
“For the past six months, my constituents in the Portola have been pleading for relief from the dozens of RVs lining the streets right in front of their homes,” she said. “These RVs are sleeping quarters for homeless residents who have been a largely ignored part of the city’s homelessness crisis.”
On brand with previous work in her district, which has held three of the city’s Navigation Centers, Ronen said she would introduce legislation Tuesday to create a Vehicular Navigation Center Program within the next six months. The site would offer services, bathrooms, and showers, and would function with the goal of finding people stable housing — be that an RV park, or a brick-and-mortar home.
“So far, the city’s only response to address this situation is to ban oversized vehicles from particular streets in the city. This tactic has only pushed people living in their vehicles from one neighborhood to the next neighborhood,” Ronen said. “Until we give people an alternative place to go, these bans are not effectively addressing this crisis in our city.”
Two hours and five minutes after Ronen’s press release went out, another followed — this time from Safaí, Mayor London Breed, and Supervisor Vallie Brown. They pledged to create a new, vehicle-focused encampment resolution team from the Department of Homelessness that will also connect people to services. In addition, they promise to find a garage that can store vehicles while people are receiving care in Navigation Centers, none of which currently have participant parking.
“After months of research, we are taking an aggressive step to address people living in their vehicles in our city’s neighborhoods,” Safaí says. “A vehicular triage lot with wrap-around services is a strong step in addressing this long-term problem.”
In response, Ronen pulled her legislation — but not without a little snark. “For close to a year, I have been begging [Department of Homelessness] Director Jeff Kositsky to deal with the growing crisis of people living in RVs, especially in the Portola neighborhood of my District,” she stated. “He has told me over and over again that RVs were not his priority and that he didn’t have the funds to address the issue.”
The obvious lack of communication hints at an uncomfortable disconnect in City Hall. But in the end, this community of vehicle-dwellers needs all the help it can get — and it’s only growing. In 2017, an estimated 387 vehicles (both cars and RVs) were used as sleeping quarters for the city’s unhoused residents. Last month, the Department of Homelessness counted 432.
Nuala Sawyer is SF Weekly’s news editor.
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