Dozens of RVs seen through a chain link fence at Pier 94
The Pier 94 RV parking lot site on May 2, 2023. Photo by Joe Rivano Barros.

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The Bayview RV site that has housed hundreds of homeless people since it opened at the beginning of the pandemic will, in a reversal of course, remain open and begin taking in new residents, a victory for Bayview homeless advocates and District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton.

“I am so excited to hear that residents at Pier 94, Site F, will not be transferred out for the time being, and intakes of new unhoused residents in the Bayview will resume soon,” said Supervisor Walton in a statement. “This is a one-of-a-kind community and model that does not exist elsewhere.”

Site F at Pier 94 had stopped intakes in April, and was set to wind down by the end of the year. It will now reopen its trailer doors, admitting unhoused people from the neighborhood into the 114 RVs on-site. 

There are now between 81 residents Pier 94, according to city data, compared to the 118 there when the closure was announced.

Dr. Dan Wlodarczyk, a San Francisco General Hospital doctor who volunteers at the site, said that the site should remain open, but eventually be replaced by a more suitable alternative.

“This is not a permanent solution, to keep a camp at Pier 94, because of the toxic exposure and its isolation,” said Dr. Wlodarczyk. “They need to work on finding another location that’s more appropriate, safe, and more accessible.”

The site is in a heavily industrial, and remote, part of the city’s southeast corner. In March, the Bay Area’s air district mandated the closure of a toxic, unpermitted debris-crushing Recology site next door to Pier 94 that had, for 14 years, spewed carcinogens into the air, including onto the RV site. 

“But, in the meantime,” Dr. Wlodarczyk added, “you’re trading living on the street versus having your own trailer, services, meals and safety.”

Arieann Harrison, a Bayview environmental activist who has worked with several people on the site, said she was “really happy” about the news, but agreed that it was a “temporary win.” 

“It gives people more time to be in supportive services, to figure out what’s next,” she said.

Community living

Supervisor Walton called the site a “tight community” for those moving between homelessness and permanent housing. 

The site hosts dozens of RVs behind a chain-link fence, with free laundry on-site, hot showers, two meals daily, regular medical and mental health care, and a dedicated shuttle taking people to Third Street nearby. City staff works with those on-site to find permanent housing across the city.

It is not clear how long the site will stay open. Walton said it would continue taking residents “for the time being.” Both the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing and the Port of San Francisco, which owns Pier 94, have an agreement, but details are “still being drafted,” according to Walton.

The Port, in a statement, said it was in a “month-to-month” agreement with the homeless department “for continued use of the site as they continue to wind down and prepare their demobilization plan.”

The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing said it was “extending the wind-down time frame” and would “proceed more gradually” with the site’s closure.

Not a permanent solution

Site F opened in April 2020 as part of San Francisco’s pandemic-era emergency housing push, meant to prevent contagion by keeping homeless people off the streets. It was specifically intended to house residents from District 10, which has one of the highest rates of homelessness in San Francisco.

According to an April presentation by the city’s homeless department, the site largely catered to older, Black residents: Since 2020, 53 percent have been older than 45, and 70 percent have been Black. A total of 303 people shuffled through the site, and 37 of them eventually got permanent housing elsewhere.

Some residents have been at the site since its opening; others stay for a few months before finding other housing.

Harrison, the Bayview environmental activist, said that she hoped an alternative site was identified that was less remote and, perhaps, not adjacent to a crushing operation that had spewed asbestos and silica crystals into the air.

“It wasn’t truly an ideal space,” she said. 

Instead, the city should look towards suitable alternatives in less remote and less industrial areas, she said, pointing to the need for more communal housing sites like the tiny home village at 33 Gough St. or the tiny homes proposed for the Mission District.

“It beats the heck out of the sidewalk”

Supervisor Walton introduced a resolution in May urging the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing and the San Francisco Port to stop the site’s closure. The Board of Supervisors unanimously supported the resolution, and the process to undo the site’s planned closure began then.

“I’ve been working on it since the announcement that they were going to close it,” said Anne Gallagher, a volunteer with City Hall who is married to Dr. Wlodarczyk. She has supported the site in her free time, corralling donations for underwear and socks. 

After the resolution was introduced, Supervisor Walton and his aides continued lobbying the homeless department and port to keep it open, Gallagher said. “Shamann Walton fought back fiercely.”

Since then, Dr. Wlodarczyk said the transition of residents to permanent housing has ramped up, with city staff working with residents on-site to find housing placements.

He expects the current resident count of 81 to increase as intakes resume.

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Walton will introduce a resolution to honor all 54 staff members and volunteers at the site “for all the tireless work that they have put into creating and fostering a strong community.”

Gallagher, for her part, said the honor ceremony was “the least that the city could do,” and that the additional time would be invaluable for Pier 94’s residents.

“It beats the heck out of the sidewalk.”

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Joe was born in Sweden, where the Chilean half of his family received asylum after fleeing Pinochet, and spent his early childhood in Chile; he moved to Oakland when he was eight. He attended Stanford University for political science and worked at Mission Local as a reporter after graduating. He then spent time in advocacy as a partner for the strategic communications firm The Worker Agency. He rejoined Mission Local as an editor in 2023.

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