SF tries to find solution for homeless living in RVs

August 5, 2011 8:51:57 PM PDT
Everyone knows there's a homeless problem in downtown San Francisco, but it's also an issue in neighborhoods near the Great Highway, where it's not as noticeable. People are living on the streets there as well -- not outdoors, but in cars, campers and vans.

It is summer time and the RV's are lined up along La Playa Street, just below the Great Highway across from San Francisco's Ocean Beach. But they aren't vacation campers, the vehicles are people's homes.

"I've been living in this city all my life, where I live and how I live is none of your business," one person said.

The man was arguing with John Zwolinski who heads up the La Playa Neighborhood Watch. His group has had enough of the encampment.

Sometimes as many as 20 RV's park on a two block stretch.

"Not everybody in the vehicles is a problem, but with a group this large you do have problems, drinking, drug use, drug sales, used needles outside the RV's and this is where we walk and where our children walk," Zwolinski said.

"Some drop sewage into the sewer system, they urinate and defecate; I've got pictures to prove it," San Francisco Police Sgt. Kevin Mannix said.

Police say the situation has existed for years. There is a city law against sleeping in vehicles from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. but officers have to actually see a violator to cite him.

Parking control leaves warnings indicating it's illegal to park in one spot for longer than 72 hours, but those who are savvy have figured that out. To comply with the warning, campers only have to move one block away and they can park until they receive another notice. So as one officer said, it's simply a game of cat and mouse.

Homeless advocates say a renewed police crackdown will not work.

"People get pushed from one neighborhood to another, that is the pattern in San Francisco. We focus on one neighborhood, push them to another and then somewhere else; that's not a solution of any kind," San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness spokesperson Bob Offer-Westort said.

The district supervisor carmen chu is examining strategies.. Though she says the focus should be not just on the campers, but also commercial vehicles that are taking up public space.

"One of the things we're talking about is some kind of permitting idea for oversize vehicles? Some kind of registration is another potential option," San Francisco Supervisor Carmen Chu said.

Mannix says the solution might be a designated area somewhere in the city for RV's.

"Let's make it an appropriate place where there are bathrooms available, showers available," he said.

It's a good long-term solution in Zwolinski's opinion, but in the short term, he says, they have to go.

A new enforcement push has moved some vehicles along, but everyone agrees they'll be back.

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