San Francisco’s techies and homeless residents seem like opposite poles of the city. But not for Ronald, a 26-year-old programmer living in a Honda Odyssey. He can often be seen working at the desk he sets up next to his car on Albion Street between 16th and 17th streets. Sometimes he strings a tarp from his van to a nearby tree branch, and sometimes his laptop is hooked up to the solar power he generates from the panels atop his car.
Originally from Miami, Florida, Ronald moved to the city both for its community of programmers and its liberalism, simultaneously confirming contradictory ideas of the city: One as a tech magnet, and the other as a bastion of progressive hippies.
“The people here seemed very kind and intelligent,” he said. “A lot of people here program, which I like. I want to meet more people and grow my skills, to try to get better.”
A friend of Ronald’s taught him to code in 2017. This friend then got a job at Uber, and in 2021 Ronald came out to San Francisco to see him.
“My friends from Miami were going on a road trip to visit. So, I hopped on. And I liked the city a lot, so I stayed,” he said.
He lived in a hostel for two months, reaching the maximum stay. Then he started hanging out at Noisebridge, a hacker space on Capp Street in the Mission.
“I started going there every single day until like 5 a.m. and leaving, sleeping outside somewhere. But then I realized I could just sleep there. So I did, for like 10 months,” he said. When others found out, however, he was kicked out of the community.
“After that, I stayed outside for a while, I just decided to be so cheap I wouldn’t even get a van,” he said. He started sleeping outside of the Smitten ice cream store on Valencia Street.
“I had my spots. I had a cart. I rolled around,” he said. This lasted for about six months.
“Then I stepped on a slug in my socks one night and I thought, this is so disgusting, I’m traumatized. Like, this is the worst thing that’s ever happened,” he said. “And that’s when I decided to finally get a van.”
A year ago, he bought the Odyssey on Craigslist for $2,000. The van has 270,000 miles on it, a number which won’t be increasing.
“It’s broken down as fuck,” he said. “Actually, when I said hi to you, it’s because you were the first person around. I wanted to maybe get your help to push it back.”
Though Ronald had spent time in the Mission before getting his van, he didn’t end up on Albion Street by choice.
“I just happened to end up here, because it broke down,” he said, of the van. “It broke down right in the intersection in the middle of 16th and Valencia.”
He pushed it onto Valencia, then to Duggan’s Funeral Service, at 17th and Albion streets. He was then told that there was going to be a funeral and that he’d have to move the car.
“I just started pushing it by myself,” he said. “I’ve been here for a month, and I realized it’s actually fucking great.”
“It feels really safe. It’s right next to the police station. I just got a fridge two or three days ago,” he said. Before having the fridge, his solar panels were capturing too much energy. Though now that he has the fridge, his fortunes have turned.
“I’m depending on the clouds to really not fuck me over,” he said.
He’s working on a couple of projects at the moment: Coding a multiplayer shooter game, and building a motor, which he wants to use to build an e-bike.
“On Craigslist, I put up an ad that I was tutoring coding, but this firm hired me for robotics, to program this motor,” he explained.
He’s enjoying San Francisco, though he’s unsure of what the future holds.
“Maybe it doesn’t have the same glow as before, but I still prefer it to other places,” he said.
“I like how everything’s close together, it’s the perfect city to skate in,” he adds, describing it as a big, but small town.
“I run into the same people often. It feels like a community.”
For now, he’s focused on his coding — and avoiding parking tickets.
“I got a note on my car like a week ago that said, ‘Hey, us neighbors that are actually paying for parking would appreciate it if you would leave. We contacted the city and they haven’t done shit.’”
“And that’s another thing I really like about San Francisco, is that it’s super liberal,” he said. He’s gotten some tickets, but he isn’t fazed.
“I don’t plan to pay any of them. I think maybe the city will help me out eventually.”