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San Francisco opens parking lot specifically for the homeless

Small city-owned lot near BART may presage larger facility for car and RV-dwellers

Campers and RVs parked extremely closely together on the side of a street.
An RV encampment in Mountain View.
Via Shutterstock

On Wednesday, San Francisco opened its first “vehicle triage center,” a long-term parking lot geared for people living out of cars and recreational vehicles, which City Hall hopes will offer solutions for homeless residents who rely on vehicles as shelter but have trouble securing legal parking.

The lot right by the Balboa Park BART station at 482 Geneva Avenue is only modestly sized, offering 30 parking spots, along with basic amenities like shower facilities and security.

Mayor London Breed says the center is a pilot program, and the city may pursue more ambitious—larger—parking solutions if it deems this one a success. The city will reportedly try to guide the lot parkers toward housing options.

In an emailed statement, Supervisor Ahsha Safai, whose district includes the lot in question, said, “We know 30 parking spots is not enough, and we are looking forward to seeing this program grow.”

Outgoing Supervisor Vallie Brown, who, along with Safai, co-sponsored the legislation that created the center, noted that people living in their vehicles is “one of the fastest growing groups experiencing homelessness.”

During the most recent point-in-time homeless count in January, 35 percent of those counted slept in a vehicle, compared to 28 percent in 2017 and just 13 percent in 2015. The count report noted that the number of homeless people sheltering in cars is likely underrepresented in the official count.

Oakland opened a similar safe parking facility for the homeless earlier this year.

However, Berkeley banned overnight RV parking in an effort to drive out homeless parking encampments, helping spur an activist movement, dubbed Where Do We Go, complaining that homeless residents have almost no legal options to sleep overnight.

The SF Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a measure creating the “triage center” in April. Safai proposed the Geneva Avenue site in July. The use is temporary, as the city-owned lot is scheduled for affordable housing development in the future.