SF Search Drags On For A West Facet Car Website for the Homeless, Regardless of Guarantees Two Years In the past | by Freddy Brewster | Mar, 2023

A child’s bike sits in front of one of dozens of RVs parked along Winston Drive and Lake Merced Blvd. in October 2021. San Francisco said at the time it had funds to open a secure parking lot in the area, but nothing has materialized. (Photo: Alex Lash)

This is a critical year for San Francisco’s homelessness efforts, and the city has grappled with high costs, complicated policies, and growing demands for accountability as it struggles to find enough housing for the homeless.

Perhaps nothing shows more clearly the difficulties in creating temporary housing than the city’s efforts for at least 18 months to create a Vehicle Triage Center (VTC) — a secure parking lot and de facto home — on the city’s west side for people living in RVs and other vehicles live.

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In October 2021, as The Fresh reported, the Department for Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) said it had room in its budget for two VTCs. The first at Candlestick Point opened shortly thereafter and had space for 135 vehicles. Officials said the second would be on the west side. Gordon Mar, then supervisor of the Sunset District, even said at the time that there should be two VTCs on the west side.

To date there is zero. One option, a San Francisco State University parking lot that was put into circulation last August, is no longer an option. University and city officials have been in talks about the property, which could potentially house up to 50 vehicles and provide basic amenities for residents, but the school’s plans to build permanent housing make a temporary VTC impractical, according to parties involved.

“SF State has supported the idea of ​​working together to meet the needs of homeless people in the area who live in their cars,” said HSH spokesman Denny Machuca-Grebe The Fresh by email. “However, this property is not available for this purpose as the school will proceed with its long-term development plans for the site sooner than expected.”

SF State spokesman Kent Bravo confirmed the news, saying the details of the permanent placement “have to be finalized”.

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According to HSH, more than 830 vehicles are used as homes across the city, and by this reporter’s most recent count, about 100 RVs and large vans are parked along Lake Merced Blvd and Winston on the outskirts of SF State.

The unavailability of Lot 25, which lies between Winston and the Lowell High campus, means more searching and more waiting for people like Freddy Martinez, who lives in his trailer on Winston. Martinez tells The Fresh he had no problems with the police and not many interactions with the city’s outreach staff in the two years he lived there. But he’s frustrated by the lack of a long-term solution.

“The community is feeling hopeless right now. It’s been a year or two since they waited for a site,” said Yessica Hernandez, peer organizer at the Coalition on Homelessness The Freshadding that the Lake Merced/Winston Drive community has unique needs.

Residents range from young children who need a school education, to older residents who need access to senior services, to new immigrants who need help with immigration paperwork, Hernandez said. The community also needs access to a sewage and gray water dump, and the closest ones are in Redwood City and Pacifica, according to Hernandez: “They literally lug their house from place to place just to meet some of their needs.” ”

Where next?

The Frisc reached Sup. Myrna Melgar, whose District includes 7 SF State, Lake Merced and the longtime group of RV residents, but declined to comment. Current District 4 SUP. Joel Engardio, who beat Mar by a hair’s breadth in November, also declined to comment.

Mar said locations are still being considered, including parking lots near Lake Merced, SF Public Utilities Commission land, and recreation and parkland near the south end of Ocean Beach. However, he cautioned that “all of these locations have logistical challenges as they would require plumbing and electrical work given the current model of vehicle triage centers. That is the biggest challenge for all locations.”

​”In order for the property to be suitable for secure parking, we consider the size; rental costs; and the ability to connect to sewerage, electricity and other utilities,” said HSH spokesman Machuca-Grebe. “It’s also looking at whether it can be available instantly, 24/7, and for a longer period of time.”

San Francisco State University dormitories overlook RVs parked on Winston Drive. (Photo: Alex Lash)

As supervisor, Mar championed VTCs on the West Side, but felt District 7 was more appropriate than the densely populated neighborhoods in District 4. D4 continues to have a low number of homeless people compared to many boroughs — 81 at last year’s census — but it has seen SF’s largest percentage increase in that number.

The citywide censuses, known as point-in-time censuses, are widely considered an undercount of the homeless population. The HSH estimates that up to 20,000 people could become homeless for a certain period in a calendar year.

Mar said he has been campaigning for locations where people could park off the main roads and perhaps have access to portable potties. HSH officials ultimately disagreed, saying other cities that have tried this model have not had much success. “HSH appears very committed to replicating the model that operated from Candlestick Point, which has been very successful,” Mar said.

The Candlestick Point location provides quick access to bathrooms and showers. Residents receive food and have access to city services that help them find housing. But the site also had problems. Neighbors sued the diesel generators that powered the site, claiming they violated the Clean Air Act. The city replaced the generators with solar-powered lamps.

Then there’s the cost. According to Bay City News, the Candlestick Point VTC spent nearly $215,000 per vehicle in one year of operation. (HSH has not responded to a request for comment on costs as of press time.)

As the search for a VTC drags on on the west side, families and local residents are at risk. A recent incident near Lake Merced Blvd. According to Hernandez of the Coalition on Homelessness, a car was involved, ramming an RV with a sleeping family inside. No one was hurt, but it was another traumatic experience in an already traumatized situation.

“This is a community of families just trying to make a living,” Hernandez said. “But they have nowhere else to go. It’s a lot for her.”

Freddy Brewster is a proud graduate of Humboldt State University and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He began his journalism career at the Lost Coast Outpost in Humboldt County, California, covering homelessness, public records, tribal affairs, and many other topics. It has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, NBC News, CalMatters and other media outlets across California.

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