The proposed secure parking site for the homeless would be the largest in SF. Neighbors push back

Brothers James and Andre Keys live just 2 miles from where they grew up in Bayview-Hunters Point six decades ago. But instead of a house, they now call it a 40-foot camper van parked next to the house in Candlestick Point State Recreation Area.

It’s a step up from the Cadillac parked behind, where they slept with James’ girlfriend.

The brothers said that since the bank seized their mother’s home after her death more than a decade ago, they have struggled to afford housing in their hometown. Andre, who is retired, bounced between shelters in town, while James and his girlfriend, who are dependent on disability benefits, stayed with a friend until over a year ago.

That’s when they joined the growing number of people living in vehicles on the Hunters Point Expressway between the old vacant Candlestick Park lot and the State Park. There they found a nice view of the bay, but no electricity, bathroom or shower, forcing them to bury their trash and depend on a generator until it broke.

“Times have gotten tough during this outbreak,” James, 59, said last week in a hot midday sun. “We don’t beg, but we need people to help us. “

The pandemic has exacerbated unemployment and homelessness while limiting accommodation capacity across San Francisco, causing the number of manned vehicles to explode in the area. A state parks spokesperson said the recreation area’s bathrooms, parking lots and campgrounds were closed “to protect the park’s resources” from the encampments, but some argue the closures caused the accumulation of waste and human waste. The department said it is “helping the city find solutions to solve the problems in and around the park.”

About 92 vehicles circled the burnt grass lined with state park trash on Wednesday. Last month, the city found that the Southeast neighborhood that includes Candlestick Point had 62% of all manned vehicles in San Francisco, for a total of 677 cars, RVs and trucks.

James Keys, who grew up in the Bayview, has been living in his car and then in an RV parked on the site of the old Candlestick Park for about a year with his friends and brother.

Stephen Lam / The Chronicle

Everyone agrees the situation is untenable and inhumane, but a proposal to provide 150 spaces for recreational vehicle residents in an unused parking lot at the state park is meeting opposition from some area residents. In mid-September, Supervisor Shamann Walton, whose district includes the area, announced his intention to transform the land into a city-run “vehicle yard”. The site would allow unhoused people living in vehicles to park and would provide security, toilets, showers, electricity and case managers to help people find housing.

Safe parking sites are an increasingly common stopgap measure to help people who do not have affordable housing. Berkeley will be opening a similar site soon and Oakland has done so before, while Richmond’s efforts have been delayed, but Candlestick could be the biggest proposal yet. San Francisco operated a smaller temporary site at Balboa Upper Yard until early this year and approved funding to open two more – the second undetermined location.

Bayview’s proposal – backed by the Mayor of London Breed – came out of a homeless task force made up of state and city officials, nonprofits and residents who are reunited for 19 months. The group has called on Assembly member David Chiu to get $ 5.6 million to set up the site, and the city will pay $ 6 million in operating costs over the next two years. The opening schedule is uncertain, pending the approval of the Supervisory Board.

Some neighboring landowners, who claim the city lets garbage, sewage and illegal activities thrive there, oppose the secure parking site, arguing that the city is storing homeless people in a heavily black neighborhood already in the city. grappling with historical environmental and economic issues. Instead, they want to see them spread all over town.

But many people living in vehicles are from Bayview and simply cannot be shipped to other neighborhoods, said Michelle Pierce, director of Bayview Hunters Point Community Advocates. Chiu, who lives near Candlestick, said in a statement that “while I appreciate that some prefer that we move the center elsewhere, this is unrealistic given the number of homeless people who already live here.”

Walton, who also lives nearby, said he “understands the frustrations and concerns.”

“The vehicle marshalling center is the exact remedy that is needed to address their concerns,” he said.

The city has not withdrawn all vehicles due to a no-towing policy for manned vehicles, city spokesman Francis Zamora said. Instead, agencies tried to help, by providing portable toilets from December 2020 until February 2021, when federal funding ran out. Crews still remove debris at least three times a week and leave more than 100 garbage bags per week with residents.

Homeless social workers offered accommodation options, but only a few people moved, said Emily Cohen, spokesperson for the homelessness department. She added that people living in vehicles are less likely to take up an offer of shelter than those staying in a tent. Cohen said the proposed site should have enough space to provide a place for everyone along the highway, and then the road will be clear.

Half a dozen people, including the Keys brothers, told The Chronicle they would be ready to move in.

“I’m ready … as long as they say, ‘You can stay for sure, there are showers,'” said Carlos Macay, 67, sitting in front of the camper van he has lived in for 20 on Wednesday. years. An old friend of the Keys brothers, he said what he really needed was housing.

Further down the road, Peggy Nathan, who shares an RV with her husband, Gilly, and their Chihuahua, Chiquita, said the site looked like an “increase” but wondered if there was a “catch” like rules on curfews or visitors. She has permanent supportive housing at the Mission, but only uses it for showering and storage because it is cramped and there is a shared bathroom.

The couple prefer to live in their motorhome. Gilly works five or six days a week in construction when jobs are available.

“We’re trying to get a house,” Gilly said. “It’s just that the rent is too expensive.

Maya Bonner, Food Program Assistant with Bayview Hunters Point Community Advocates, drops boxes of produce for Michael Hasson at the RV camp along the Hunters Point Expressway in San Francisco.

Maya Bonner, Food Program Assistant with Bayview Hunters Point Community Advocates, drops boxes of produce for Michael Hasson at the RV camp along the Hunters Point Expressway in San Francisco.

Stephen Lam / The Chronicle

Down the street in Gilman Playground, a half-dozen homeowners held a press conference on Wednesday to oppose the proposal.

Shirley Moore, vice president of the Bayview Hill Neighborhood Association, said neighbors felt unsafe and ignored after complaining to the city about the problems there. She and others said the neighborhood, already struggling with toxic waste sites and delayed development, cannot absorb the site.

“We’re not NIMBYs, but something has to be done,” Moore said. “This is another opportunity for them to solve homelessness at our expense. All we want is fairness in the community. We are sorry for the homeless people, but we need to spread the homeless people… throughout the city. “

Neighbor Timothy Alan Simon has said he wants a “fair distribution” of vehicles in better-off fleets.

But Chris Whipple, another board member of the same neighborhood association, supports the proposal.

“It’s not about bringing poverty to the Bayview, it’s about helping lift people out of poverty who are already here,” he said.

Gwendolyn Westbrook, CEO of the United Council of Human Services, which runs accommodation sites and delivers food to people living in vehicles, said the living situation does not make people “criminal or bad”.

“They don’t have housing. They have to stay somewhere, so we have to do something until we can provide them with housing, ”she said. “The community needs to join with us in helping people and stop being so selfish.”

Mallory Moench is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @mallorymoench

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