On Tuesday, October 19, the Board of Supervisors will vote on whether to approve the proposed Vehicle Triage Center (VTC) at the Candlestick Point State Recreation Area in the southeastern corner of San Francisco. The site, funded by Proposition C dollars released in this year’s budget, would be large enough to accommodate up to 155 vehicles with 177 tenants. According to the Department of Housing and Supportive Housing’s (HSH) proposal for the VTC, the site could be opened as soon as the end of the year, and guests will have access to desperately needed services such as restrooms, showers, laundry, electricity and blackwater dumping, as well as the opportunity to work with on-site housing case managers.
For the guests who may soon be able to stay there, the VTC would be a welcome resource indeed, as it provides protection from many of the dangers of living in a vehicle in San Francisco. Cindy Keener, a vehicularly housed resident of the Bayview, said that she would happily move her vehicle to the VTC given the chance. “People need a place where they feel safe. Safe from harassment from police and DPW. A place with showers. A place without vandalism,” she said.
Doc, who currently lives in his vehicle near the proposed site, feels the same. “I want to live at the Safe Parking Site if they would allow me in my car. We are already like a community, parked around Candlestick. I would like to see it formalized,” he said.
While many of the details of what the VTC would look like have been released by HSH, one question looms large in the minds of prospective residents: How would it be run? As of now, it isn’t known which organization would be contracted to operate the VTC, and what rules they may set in place, but according to Doc, the residents themselves should have some say in the matter.
“We need some rules…[and] we should make the rules,” he said. “We are the ones living there… The city would not need to come out all the time like they do now to do check ups on us. Now they come out all the time and profile what they think are troublemakers.”
Another unanswered question is what will happen to those vehicularly housed folks who are unable to access the VTC. A City count conducted last August found that in the district covering the Bayview, over 650 people are currently living in their vehicles, hundreds more than the site’s proposed capacity of 177 guests. Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, which publishes Street Sheet, warns that City-sponsored sites like these can often result in increased criminalization of those left outside. “These 155 spots funded by Prop. C are a fantastic start,” she said. “But with about 2,000 people in San Francisco residing in vehicles, there will not be enough space for everyone. We will continue to have households residing in vehicles on the streets. Often with new initiatives, comes increased enforcement against those left outside the gates of a new program.”
But according to Doc, the city can still provide more safety for the members of its vehicularly housed community who won’t be lucky enough to get into the VTC, simply by changing their policies of enforcement. By Doc’s definition, safety means, “No towing due to [an out of date registration] tag or other issues… My car is my house.”
Friedenbach shares Doc’s viewpoint.“ Enforcement will only exacerbate and increase homelessness,” she said. “The City can address safety concerns by refraining from harassment of those living in vehicles and halting the confiscation of inhabited vehicles.”
However the City decides to move forward, it remains clear that it will need to do more than just open this site to address the needs of vehicularly housed people. As of the last point-in-time count in 2019, the City counted over 1,500 people living in their vehicles across San Francisco, a number that has likely risen significantly since then. For people like Cindy and Doc, all they can do is hope that the city will one day provide a solution that can help them once and for all off the streets and into a home.