RV parking plan unfairly targets people living in vehicles – Opinion
Opinion By Kathleen C. Gray
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is asking for a new ordinance that would make it illegal to park large vehicles (read: RVs) overnight anywhere that a sign is posted. The first proposed areas for such signage are all areas known to be where RVs park on an ongoing basis, including the Lower Great Highway in the Sunset District.
One of the major reasons given for why this legislation is needed is that neighbors in these certain areas are complaining about the near constant presence of RVs, campers, etc. I wonder what those neighbors would think if they realized that those vehicles cleave to certain areas because the SFPD herded them there in the first place. For at least the last 15 years, to my direct knowledge, the police have been instructing those living in their vehicles to park there.
I know a little bit about the game that is played. It is called Musical Chairs for Inhabited Vehicles.
I don’t do drugs. I am fairly well educated. I have been gainfully employed from the age of 15 onward. I have also, sadly, experienced being a homeless person. Surprisingly, it didn’t take all that much to find myself in that bind: job loss, then savings used up, and making a bad choice of a companion, which led to domestic violence. All at once, with nothing available for me in the shelter system, I had no where to live, no money for a new place. So l literally walked down the hill from the house where I had been living in the Richmond District, to sleep in Golden Gate Park.
I lived in Golden Gate Park for the better part of a year (from 1997 to 1998), not by choice but as the absolute last resort.
So all told I worked and lived in San Francisco for 17 years, only two years of which was in conventional housing (the first two). I have stayed in Golden Gate Park, the back of a friend’s van, in a van of my own, and later in my beloved 1957 travel trailer which had been in storage for the previous seven years, from a time when I actually used to go on vacations in it.
Throughout these experiences I had a lot of contact with the police, so believe me when I tell you they know exactly who is living in what vehicle. I have even had a district captain (new to the Richmond at the time) rolling with the black-and-whites as they ID’d me and threatened to ticket me for “camping” in the middle of a sunny Saturday afternoon at the park. When I reasonably pointed out to the uniform the illegality of this, the captain stepped out of the car to explain that she “knew I wasn’t breaking the law,” but they just wanted to know “who was in there.” This sort of treatment is common practice, subverting the use of authority for an agenda.
During my time living in a vehicle, the police hounded me relentlessly. I was continually woken up by them at 3 in the morning. The rude awakening entailed spotlights, shouting and pounding on the trailer with their Maglites, thus denting the body of the vehicle (I’d like to see them try that on somebody’s Mercedes). I had to step out in the cold in my pajamas while they ticketed me for the misdemeanor of having been peaceably asleep in my vehicle. The funny thing is, this was always accompanied with the direction to move my vehicle: not just away, but to specific areas. If I was parked in the Sunset somewhere, I was told to park on the Lower Great Highway. In the Richmond, they just told you to go to the Sunset, but “suggested” the Lower Great.
This was cyclical. There were a few years where the instruction was, “Why don’t you go park on Lincoln Way with everyone else?” Then it would return to being directed to the Lower Great Highway.
Now, the SFMTA wants the Board of Supervisors to pass legislation that will allow them to start herding these people, who are just trying to be self-reliant in the best way they know how or can afford. Saying that the obstacle keeping these people from accepting city housing is fear of losing their vehicles is disingenuous at best; the real fear is for their own quality of life. Would you give up your independence, your pets, the beach, the park, your neighborhood, to be corralled in the Tenderloin, without your pets, in what in many cases amounts to crack hotels filled with all the people who may have dragged you down in the first place? I have visited friends in these places, and I wouldn’t have lived there if you had paid me to.
Problems exist. Some people in vehicles, just like in any segment of society, are irresponsible. They don’t carry their trash to the trash cans. Surely you don’t believe that homeless people are the only ones littering at Ocean Beach?
So, needles are found. You must be aware that drug abuse is not solely the affliction of people who are not conventionally housed? It always amazes me that whenever needles are found in Golden Gate Park, they are always attributed to the homeless people who make the park their home, never to the thousands of other citizens who use the park to recreate in!
For these problems there are already laws in place. This new proposal sounds to me as though the City, despite vigorous resistance to it, is just clearing the way for its new pet project at the beach, the Beach Chalet soccer field renovation with its attendant 60-foot-tall stadium lights. And as usual, they are prepared to do the clearing right over the backs of the poor.
Publisher’s Note: This opinion article does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Ocean Beach Bulletin. It represents the opinion of its author, who is responsible for the veracity of statements made in it. The Ocean Beach Bulletin accepts submissions of opinion articles. For more information or to submit your own opinion article for consideration, please email Tom Prete.
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