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SF proposes Balboa Park parking lot for homeless living out of vehicles

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Following in the footsteps of Oakland, and other California cities like San Diego, LA, and Santa Barbara

Shanna Couper Orona kisses her cat Maison through a window of her RV parked along a street in San Francisco.
Shanna Couper Orona kisses her cat Maison through a window of her RV parked along a street in San Francisco.
Photo by AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Two San Francisco lawmakers have staked out a parking lot near the Balboa Park BART station as a safe spot for homeless people living out of RVs and other vehicles to park overnight.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Supervisors Afsha Safai and Vallie Brown have proposed the pilot program, the first of its kind for San Francisco, for the Upper Yards site location at 482 Geneva Avenue.

Brown first proposed the “vehicular navigation center” earlier this year, which passed the board unanimously, amending the police code “to create an exception for participants in the Safe Overnight Parking Pilot Program to the prohibition on using a vehicle for human habitation.”

The proposal gives people “granted a license by the city to park and sleep in their vehicles” immunity from police interference. Now Brown has paired with Safai to select a specific parking site in Safai’s district.

The parking lot, which currently serves as parking for San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency employees, would serve as a secure location for up to 30 vehicles belonging to homeless residents, who may be living out of their cars or otherwise need a safe place to park long-term.

According to the most recent point-in-time homeless count results, “While the majority of persons identified during the street count were sleeping outdoors, a notably higher percentage of persons were sleeping in vehicles. Consequently, people residing in vehicles may be underrepresented in the survey results.”

In 2019, a reported 35 percent of homeless residents counted during the one-night census slept in a vehicle, compared to 28 percent in 2017 and just 13 percent in 2015. During the same period, the number of homeless people sleeping outdoors declined from 82 percent to 65 percent.

“Though tent encampments continue to remain a priority for Health and Human Services to monitor, [the city has] begun to identify an increase in persons sleeping in vehicles in certain regions,” the report noted.

The Mission Housing Development Corporation presently lists 482 Geneva, a city-owned location, as the future site of low-income housing.

“The city’s plan for the parcel is to create 80 to 120 units of housing that is 100 percent affordable to low- and very low-income families,” the affordable housing developer reported in 2016. The project won’t break ground until 2020.

Oakland opened its first safe parking facility for the homeless in June. Other California cities, including San Diego, LA, and Santa Barbara, run similar programs. However, Berkeley banned overnight RV parking this year in an effort to drive out homeless parking encampments.