San Francisco this week quietly opened a large sanctioned parking lot for homeless people and made dozens of Bayview spaces available for those living in RVs and cars.
Despite stiff opposition, including a lawsuit from some neighbors, the Vehicle Triage Center at Candlestick Point State Recreation Area welcomed residents Wednesday, marking the beginning of a two-year program designed to provide vehicle residents with a safe place to park, sleep, and connected to services being.
Ultimately, the site will have 130 parking spaces, but it’s starting at 57 while officials get the program up and running.
The vehicle center is part of an attempt to help the city’s skyrocketing population living in RVs and cars — a pressing problem in the southeastern part of San Francisco, which has by far the largest number of inhabited vehicles in the city.
While many homeless people and their advocates agree that a large licensed parking lot is badly needed, some people the space is intended to serve have resisted moving there from a nearby property on Carroll Avenue. They told The Chronicle on Wednesday they didn’t want to go to the new location because, among other things, it has limited electricity and banned propane tanks and generators.
“That pretty much makes your RV a storage unit,” said BA Anderson, who has lived on the Carroll Avenue property since the city designated it as an emergency parking lot late last year. “No one would say, ‘I’ll rent you this house, but you can’t cook.’ Treat people like people.”
Anderson emailed city officials a list of demands Wednesday, asking for immediate access to electricity, heating, hot and cold running water, mechanic help and more.
He included photos of a few dozen signatures that he said were from people who lived in vehicles and organized themselves into a tenants’ alliance.
Neither the city nor its contractors would allow The Chronicle on the Carroll lot or the new location. But Emily Cohen, an assistant director for the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, said officials had received the list of demands and were trying to respond.
“We’re definitely always interested in hearing from the clients on our programs,” said Cohen. “We want to make these programs as accessible, welcoming and dignified as possible.”
The city didn’t plan to address every complaint. Individual propane tanks and generators aren’t allowed because they pose a fire hazard, Cohen said. But the city tried to solve other problems, such as insufficient electricity supply.
“There are long-term plans for the power supply, but it’s going to take a while to get it up and running, so we’re working on an interim solution,” Cohen said. “There is currently limited power capacity available.”
The new site, which the city spends $2.8 million a year to operate, has running water, officials said.
City officials established the Carroll lot as a short-term emergency parking lot more than two months ago after a rainstorm caused flooding along the Hunters Point Expressway, where scores of people lived in vehicles. Some of the vehicles – and the belongings of the people inside – were badly damaged.
Officials say they only have access to the Carroll property until the end of the month, so they’re trying to get everyone to the new location as soon as possible.
As of Thursday noon, 17 households living in 15 RVs and two cars had moved from the Carroll property to the new vehicle center, according to Cohen. About 25 mobile homes and 42 cars remained.
Some homeowners involved in a local neighborhood group have filed a lawsuit against the secure parking lot, but its opening has not been delayed. Yet neighbors continue to resist what they see as an attempt to shelter the homeless in a corner of town.
“We shouldn’t be burdened with the uneven burden of housing these people,” said Shirley Moore, a longtime resident who lives in a house near the RV site. “If you’re going to let them park on our streets, let them park on the streets in every community throughout San Francisco and don’t focus them on our area.” It’s about balance.”
City officials point to the high concentration of people living in RVs and cars as justification for opening a large center to cater to them.
Regulatory District 10, which includes Bayview-Hunters Point, had more than 500 occupied vehicles in November — up from about 300 in April 2019, city data said. District 10’s latest count was far higher than that of the next most concentrated area, District 7, which had about 150 inhabited vehicles in November.
“The one common denominator that we can all agree on is that we have a lot of people living in vehicles in District 10,” said Supervisor Shamann Walton, who represents the area. “My job is to make sure we are responsive to the needs of the community and also to the needs of people who are not housed in vehicles or on the road. You can do both.”
About 20 vehicle residents gathered outside the Carroll property Wednesday afternoon to discuss the next step. Several said cooking and generator restrictions were one of the main reasons they didn’t want to move to the new location. Local residents also worried about whether the site would have enough water and electricity.
“They make it really impossible for people to be there,” said Cynthia Keener, 57.
She said she uses a nebulizer twice a day because she has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, and she doesn’t think the new property has enough infrastructure to accommodate her needs. She wondered if it wouldn’t be better to park her vehicle back on the street instead of driving to the sanctioned Candlestick Point lot.
Sonya Rekula-Talone, 54, said she and her husband had their own generator powering their vehicle, which was parked in the Carroll parking lot, on Wednesday. Her husband uses a walker and she works night shifts, so she was very concerned about the ban on generators at the new location.
“I will not leave my husband alone in the dark when he can barely walk,” she said.
Anderson, meanwhile, said that as of Thursday, some residents of the Carroll property were determined not to go to the new site until their demands were met, and he continued to lobby them.
“You don’t want to go anywhere where the situation is worse than here,” he said.
JD Morris is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @thejdmorris