SF 'vehicularly housed' self-supporting car community proposed

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 17 Feb 1998 18:54:04 -0800 (PST)

FWD Feb. 9, 1998 By Maureen Bogues, Sacramento, [CA] Bee Correspondent


SAN FRANCISCO -- Guinea Apollos dreams of the day when she can park her
"home" in one spot and not get arrested or towed.

That is why she helped organize the Vehicularly Housed Residents
Association (VHRA), a community organization seeking a solution for one
segment of San Francisco's homeless population -- those who live in their
cars, vans or trucks.

"I'm not homeless," she said, "my home is homeless."

"Home" to Apollos is a shiny, black, 30-foot school bus where she has lived
for nearly four years, parking it on city streets and in industrial areas
despite a San Francisco ordinance that makes it illegal to sleep in a
vehicle overnight.

Equipped much like a camper with a portable toilet, kitchen, bedroom and
closet space, the bus is cozy and colorful. Mexican serapes serve as
drapes, and a crystal in the window casts tiny rainbows of light across the
kitchen cabinets. Sydney, a gray and white cat, stretches out on a
crocheted bedspread in the bedroom area near the back of the vehicle.

Apollos, with the help of friends, completely stripped and refurbished the
1964 Dodge bus.

She had been parked for several months on private property in China Basin
-- an industrial area near the bay -- but just last week was "red-tagged"
by police and told to move.

On Wednesday, Apollos plans to meet with the San Francisco Police
Commission to once again discuss the issues facing people like herself.

"I'm poor. So what? The only law I break is I sleep in my vehicle," said
Apollos, a 50-year-old self-described "gypsy" who once was a clerical
worker but has lived on Social Security disability payments for about 20

"The reasons people are in these vehicles are as varied as the people
themselves," she said. "They can't get a foot back up. It's like climbing
on quicksand."

About a year and a half ago, Apollos and a handful of other people living
in the China Basin area east of Third Street decided to strike back after
the city posted "No Parking between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m." signs there.

The group formed the VHRA and, with the Coalition on Homelessness, came up
with a proposal for a "Vehicularly Housed Residential Community." It would
be similar to a trailer park that, for a small amenities such as water,
bathrooms, electric power, sewage disposal, mail service and garbage pickup.

"It's a real alternative to living on the streets," said Abby Lehrman, a
community health outreach worker and VHRA advisory board member.
"Unfortunately, these people have been harassed by police and lumped into
"undesirable homeless.' That's not who they are."

San Francisco has a homeless population estimated at 8,000 to 10,000, about
a quarter of whom live in their vehicles. The plan for the vehicle
community would help at least 100 people get off the streets, even if only
temporarily, Lehrman said.

"It could be a viable model for other counties if it's done with some San
Francisco style," she said.

Plans call for the conversion of unused public property somewhere in the
city into rental spaces for about 60 vehicles, plus the creation of a
community space for events and social services. Management, operation and
maintenance would be performed by tenants in a partnership with a nonprofit

"For most people, it would be a bridge" to a more permanent living
situation, said Judy Appel, staff attorney for the Coalition on
Homelessness. "What's happening now with vehicles is that they get moved
around or towed and people are back on the streets."

The VHRA is searching for a site, probably on state Transportation
Department or other government property. After that, the group can turn its
attention to financing. It will cost more than $100,000 operate it.

The community is intended to be self-supporting, and to be considered a
pilot project that could be copied at several sites around the city.

Terry Hill, homeless coordinator for the mayor's office, said the city
supports the project.

The San Francisco police would give their blessing to such a site if it
were properly maintained, said Sgt. Bill Herndon, homeless liaison
coordinator for the department. But law enforcement officials worry about
the logistics of such an operation -- keeping it sanitary, safe and secure.

"As I see it, this is a population ... that doesn't want to comply with any
rules," Herndon said, noting that many of the vehicles now ticketed aren't
licensed or insured.

"We're happy to help, but it's a tough issue," he said.

Apollos is optimistic about the community's chances as long as the good
tenants are rewarded by being left alone and the scofflaws are kicked out.

"It would be a whole lot cheaper than running around and policing us," she
said. "Legalize us. ... It's the sensible thing to do. It's the fiscal
thing to do. It would clean up the city and help people who need it most."


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