The residents of five motorhomes on De Wolf make up the “RV People” neighborhood.
This is part of a collaboration with UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism to look at inequality in the Bay Area.
Five motorhomes and seven vehicles sit parked on De Wolf Street in the Outer Mission, under the Balboa Park BART Station rails. They face the back doors of six or seven homes.
There’s a rattle at the second motorhome. David, 35, who declined to give his last name, opens the door and takes a backwards step onto the sidewalk. He has lived on De Wolf Street in his Toyota Odyssey RV for the past two years and says he knows all of the residents who live in the four other motorhomes — the “RV people,” he says.
As we speak, a deafening roar of the BART train passes overhead — every three minutes. “If you have to live here, you will get used to it,” he said, raising his voice. “We just kind of talk over it.”
David and his neighbors are just the kind of RV dwellers that some on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency want to remove. At a meeting this week, the agency’s board of directors considered a proposal to restrict oversized vehicles. This restriction would apply to vehicles that are more than seven feet tall or 22 feet long — that describes all of the RVs on De Wolf Street. If approved — the agency will consider the proposal again in a month — it would mean that David and his neighbors will have to relocate every day from midnight to 6 a.m.
The RV dwellers ask: Why? De Wolf Street is their home. David is from the neighborhood and, before living on De Wolf, he rented an apartment a block away, on Regent Street. When his rent went up, he moved out. However, he wanted to stay in the neighborhood and, with the little money he had, he bought an RV, he said.
Henry Bran, 48, lives nearby in an RV with his mother.
“I’m from Mexico, I’m a doctor,” Bran said, later introducing himself as the President of the United States.
Bran’s mother usually sits in the front seat of the RV. “I feel bad for her,” said David. “She says that he had a head injury.”
Gladys Ortiz, 67, tried to explain this to the transportation board this week.
“Please do not take me away. I live with my son,” she said through tears. “He received a blow in his neck in his earlier years handling trailers. Please do not move me, I beg you.”
Kelley Cutler, a human-rights organizer at the Coalition on Homelessness, who also attended Tuesday’s meeting, said the organization has been fighting the expansion of the Oversize Vehicle Overnight Parking Restrictions since 2012.
“The reason why we keep coming back to the board meeting is that they did nothing to help these homeless people, and the head of MTA he is lying, that’s why I was so pissed off yesterday,” Cutler said, referring to MTA Director Ed Reiskin’s assertion that most of the city’s homeless residents were from “somewhere else.”
Studies have shown that 71 percent of the city’s homeless are previous residents of San Francisco. The city has failed to build enough supportive housing, so the RV homes are safe alternatives, Cutler said.
District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai disagrees, and told the board members that his constituents on De Wolf have complained about garbage and noise.
At the meeting this week, Cutler presented a proposal called the Safe Parking Program, which envisions a community-operated site with bathroom and shower, as well as case-management services. Similar programs have proven successful in several west-coast cities in recent years, she said.
“We’ve been doing this in past years, but they did nothing but ignored us,” said Cutler over the phone. “And they keep targeting and harassing those homeless people and causing trauma for them.”
At the meeting, residents who live across the street complained about noise from the RV people.
David acknowledged that the street had some noise problems, but said he has taken charge on De Wolf Street.
“I got this alley pretty quiet,” David said. “Telling people to leave if they’re loud.”
Two years ago, David said, the street was full of trash, but the current group helped to clean it up.
“Joey, in the long RV, swept up a big pile of trash and I helped him throw it all away,” David said.
Joey lives in the largest, newest and cleanest motorhome. A small black broom rests to the right of his door, a box step underneath and a security camera to its left. In front of his motorhome, a motorcycle is parked. David said that when the motorcycle is there, he’s home. He knocks on Joey’s door, but no one answers.
“Most of the people living here work,” said David, who is currently unemployed, pointing towards the string of vehicles. “Have you talked to the Mexican dude? He leases an Uber car.”
Jose Medrano is an Uber driver and, like David, he’s lived on De Wolf Street for two years. Medrano is from El Salvador and came to the country when he was 15 years old. Now, at the age of 42, he drives a silver Hyundai Elantra and lives with two others in the last motorhome in the row.
The three roommates share a faded brown-and-tan Tioga Arrow, by Fleetwood. It’s the second-oldest motorhome on the street; David’s is the oldest.
Medrano’s roommates are both employed. One works as a construction worker; the other cleans for a living.
“I think that I will move very soon, but it’s very expensive.” Medrano looks down and continues shaking his head, muy caro, muy, muy caro.
And the parking tickets don’t help. The parking on De Wolf Street is currently restricted to 72 hours. Ortiz said that she has three outstanding tickets that she needs to pay: two for her van and one for her motorhome.
David agreed that this is a dilemma for the group. De Wolf Street is patrolled by the Ingleside Police Department.
“Officer Tillan comes through a couple times a day,” said David.“ But RV people are not easy to get rid of.”