SF works to open city's first-ever center for homeless people living in vehicles

SF works to open city's first-ever center for homeless people living in vehiclesImage via Google.
Camden Avery
Published on July 16, 2019

In May, San Francisco released the results of its biannual Homelessness Point-in-Time (PIT) count, which found that 8,011 people in San Francisco lack permanent housing — an increase of 17% from the previous count in 2017.

One of the most notable aspects of the report was a steep increase in San Franciscans living in their vehicles. That group accounted for 68% of the rise in homeless San Franciscans between 2017 and 2019. 

Yet long-term parking is banned in many San Francisco neighborhoods, with particular efforts to curb RV camping around Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach. Unhoused people are often forced to move their vehicles by police, or face parking tickets they can't afford to pay. Without access to sanitation facilities available, vehicle dwellers' sewage or trash can end up on the street, causing issues for neighbors.

Now, the city is finally taking action on opening a Vehicle Triage Center (VTC), which would provide safe parking and basic services — bathrooms, sanitation, and social workers — to people living in their cars or RVs.

This week, District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai and District 5 Supervisor Vallie Brown announced a $1 million proposal to open the city's first VTC at the Balboa Upper Yards at 500 Geneva Ave., near the Balboa Park BART Station.

Next fall, the two-acre parking lot is set to be transformed into an affordable housing complex, with 138 units for very low- to low-income housing units. In the meantime, the Supervisors hope to use it to offer interim relief for unhoused people, as they seek a more permanent solution.

The Balboa Upper Yards, currently a parking lot, will become affordable housing next fall. | Image: Google

The proposed VTC follows efforts by Oakland earlier this summer to provide safe 24-hour parking for campers. 

Though the site only has room for 33 vehicles, Safai's office said the program would be an entry point from vehicular residence to permanent housing. Applicants will be able to stay on site for 90 days at a time, applying for renewals.

Supporters of the effort include the Coalition on Homelessness and the Mission Housing and Development Corporation — the nonprofit agency responsible for the site's eventual development into housing.

The Supervisors will host a community meeting about the project this Saturday, July 20 at Balboa High School (1000 Cayuga Ave.) from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. At the meeting, neighbors can see proposals for the plan and voice their questions and concerns.

After that, the next step for the VTC becoming a reality is a planning code change that will go before the Board of Supervisors for a vote later in July. If it clears the Board, District 11 legislative aide Monica Chinchilla said the center could open as early as October or November this year.