District 10 Supervisor Shamman Walton will today introduce a resolution urging San Francisco’s port and its homeless department to stop the planned shutdown of a Bayview RV site that has housed hundreds of homeless people over the past three years.
Local advocates and Walton say the closure of Site F at Pier 94, in the city’s far southeast, which currently houses some 118 people in 114 RVs, will shuffle people out of stable housing and into the streets. That will happen, they say, in a neighborhood that has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the city.
“They’ve had a home, they’ve had meals, they’ve had medical services on site,” Walton said of Pier 94’s residents, who have had access to in-depth care not widely available at city homeless shelters. The move to wind down the site is “just a testament to how the city treats Black people, and how they feel about Black unhoused people in San Francisco,” he said.
The site is owned by the Port of San Francisco, but operated by the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. It is being shut down per an agreement made with the port when the site opened, which leased the land to the city until the Covid-19 public health emergency was over.
The city’s emergency declaration ended on Feb. 28.
Justin Berton, the port’s spokesperson, noted that his department is following the homeless department’s lead and that, being an industrial site, the lot “is not suitable as a long-term place to live.”
Just last month, an unpermitted Recology debris-crushing site, also on Pier 94 and next to Site F, was ordered to shut down after it had, for 14 years, spewed carcinogens like asbestos and crystalline silica into the surrounding air. Mounds of contaminated dirt were, until recently, still at the Recology site, blowing into the RV lot.
“On windy days, it would do no good to get a car wash,” said Charles Walton, 65, who has been living at the site since it opened.
The resolution before the Board of Supervisors “urges” the Port of San Francisco, the homeless department, and their respective oversight commissions to keep Pier 94 open to “prevent evicting over 100 residents, mostly Black, African American, or African descent, back to the streets.”
A homeless department presentation, made April 11, indicates that residents will be either moved into Bayview “housing options” and homeless shelters, or offered some form of housing aid, like “relocation support” and “financial assistance.”
Closed for New Year’s
If the transfer does move forward as proposed, Pier 94 would be emptied by Dec. 31.
The site opened in April 2020 as a pandemic-era emergency measure meant to house homeless people from District 10, and saw 303 people shuffled through over the past three years. Of those, 37 moved on to permanent housing elsewhere.
The majority of residents (53 percent) have been older than 45, and 70 percent of residents have been Black; nine percent have been Latinx. Almost all have been single residents living alone, except for a few couples.
The site is a rarity, according to those working there: A fully staffed trailer park with hot showers, regular medical and psychiatric visits, free laundry, and twice-daily meals, among other amenities. Though isolated in an industrial part of the neighborhood, it was a short walk from Third Street, with a dedicated shuttle taking residents around the city.
“It’s unique among homeless housing or shelters because people come from one area,” said Dr. Dan Wlodarczyk of San Francisco General Hospital — who has, since the inception of the site, volunteered there two days a week. “It has helped to build community, and even though the people are homeless, they often have family or friends in the community.”
A memorandum from the Port of San Francisco outlines the terms of the transfer: The end of new intakes 90 days before closure, the relocation of all tenants 30 days before closure, and a payment of $900,000 in rent to the Port for the remainder of the year.
Surprises and shrugs
News of the closure was met with surprise for those who didn’t already know, and resignation for others.
“They ain’t really able to go into much detail, because they really don’t know theyself,” said Charles Walton, who was standing outside the fenced-off site in a high-viz Caltrans jacket, waiting for a shuttle to take him to a doctor’s appointment. “All they know is, we’ll be mounting up pretty soon.”
Boris Boggiano, a 53-year-old immigrant from Cuba who had been at the site for two years, gasped in surprise when told of the closure. “Why? How is it possible that it’ll close, if there’s people with nowhere to live?” How could he find somewhere else to live in the city, he asked, if he only made $2,000 a month as a security guard? “It’s hard, it’s hard.”
He and other residents were sitting outside the chain-link fence, in their cars, listening to music or scrolling on their phones. One man fixed his motorcycle, blasting reggae. Private security circled the site. A janitor walked around picking up trash; she too had not heard of the closure, and worried about her job.
“Here there’s no fighting, nobody argues, everyone is leading their own life,” said Boggiano.
People are content, they have somewhere to sleep, and they don’t have to face the San Francisco rental market, he added.
Wlodarczyk, the San Francisco General doctor, said the population on-site suffers from a wide variety of ailments: Hypertension, diabetes, heart failure, pulmonary disease, asthma, and more, not to mention mental health issues and substance use.
But the medical team here signed people up for Medi-Cal and contracted with a pharmacy to deliver medication, Wlodarczyk said. They connected residents to clinics and reminded them of their appointments. They reversed heart failures, lowered residents’ blood pressure, and treated asthma and diabetes, he said.
“There are so many barriers facing people in their lives that getting to medical appointments — these are not the highest priorities, and people really need help to get started,” Wlodarczyk said, worrying that the site’s closure would mean a neglect of medical issues. “It’s just a net loss of 100 beds in a community that needs more rather than less.”
“They created community and a support system amongst each other,” added Arieann Harrison, the founder of the Marie Harrison Foundation and a long-time environmental activist in the neighborhood who knows several people living on-site.
The wide industrial streets in that part of the Bayview-Hunters Point often host RV dwellers or people forced to sleep in their cars, finding running water and warm showers where possible. But, at Pier 94, Harrison said, residents would “get your meals, clean clothes, start to feel a little safe — it’s extremely important.”
No more intakes
Though the Port memorandum only requires the site to stop taking in new residents in October, the city’s homeless department has already decided to cease intakes as of April. In the next few months, the department will begin transitioning those on-site elsewhere.
That, said Harrison, is no plan at all.
“If you have your own RV, where you finally feel safe, then why would you go backwards? To stay in a shelter?” she asked, adding that the people she has known at the site are not fond of homeless shelters or single-room occupancy hotels, where rules are restrictive and privacy rare.
“I heard a guy just say, ‘I’ll just get my tent,’” she said, of his plan after closure. “It was really heartbreaking.”
Mystic Cesar, 25, had driven from Stockton to visit her mother, who has stayed at the site for the last two years — the first time her mother has been homeless. Cesar said that her 56-year-old mother, who suffers from heart problems and seizures, has for years been promised more permanent housing, to no avail.
“They’ve been saying that they’re trying to move her into an apartment, but that’s been ongoing and ongoing, so she’s still been in here, so she’s a little frustrated.”
Cesar had also not heard of the closure. She was waiting outside in the parking lot and called her mother on the phone; staff would not let her visit except on weekend days, she said, meaning her 90-minute drive from Stockton was fruitless.
“I don’t know what’s going on with the United States,” Boggiano, the Cuban emigre, added. “They have money, but I don’t know what’s wrong with them.”
“Tell them don’t close this shit, man, to find me an apartment first,” added Sal Matau, 63, from Samoa, before he cycled away.
Update, 6:20 p.m.: The San Francisco Port sent the following statement in response to the resolution: “We wholeheartedly agree with the resolution’s language to find alternative placements for the residents.”