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Candlestick Point Tests Using Parks to House the Unhoused

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Visitors to Candlestick Point State Recreation Area alongside San Francisco’s western bayshore sometimes go to the city park oasis for its panoramic views of the Bay, East Bay Hills, and San Bruno Mountain, strolling between the areas of restored grass, native crops and timber, or resting at one in all the park’s picnic desk areas. 

But on a sunny afternoon in early October, a State Parks worker in a inexperienced bulldozer pushes heaps of particles from the park over a concrete Okay-rail, out of the State Park and into the official jurisdiction of San Francisco, the place it may be picked up by the metropolis’s Department of Public Works.

Informal settlements encompass the typically bumper-to-bumper row of leisure automobiles, vans, and vehicles that line the Hunters Point Expressway. The settlements are surrounded by cones, tarps, and picket constructions in some instances, granting privateness to the people and households residing there. For the final practically two years, that’s been a typical scene at Candlestick, the place car dwellings have mushroomed alongside the 3.2-mile park border.

In comparability to a month in the past, immediately the street feels abandoned, as extra Okay-rail and a “ROAD CLOSED TO THRU TRAFFIC” signal have changed the encampments that used to line both aspect of the street. 

In a metropolis already combating an reasonably priced housing disaster, the pandemic has turned the margins of the state’s signature city park into a house for a number of hundred individuals who dwell out of their automobiles. Amidst rising well being and security issues for these people and the larger neighborhood, group advocates, state parks, and the metropolis have proposed turning a small a part of the park right into a safer, extra humane place for folks to dwell of their automobiles. On Oct. 21, the State Lands Commission unanimously handed a proposal to enable California State Parks to sublease 312,000 sq. ft of parkland, about 2 % of the general park acreage, to the metropolis of San Francisco for the operation of what they may name a car triage heart, or VTC. 

The heart is slated to open this January in the State Park’s boat launch parking zone, and can run for 2 years. It will present areas for 150 automobiles to park, in addition to loos, electrical energy, blackwater pumping, showers, laundry, and a communal space, as well as to case administration, housing providers and 24-hour staffing and safety. Setting up and operating the program for its two-year time period will price the metropolis $13.2 million.

Though San Francisco piloted one other car triage heart in a parking zone close to Balboa Park from January 2019 to March 2021, the Candlestick VTC might be the first time a state park is formally used to shelter people who find themselves unhoused. The Candlestick challenge stretches the boundaries of what has historically been thought of correct use of public lands, pointing to an evolving dialog round how the “public trust” can be utilized to fight financial and racial inequality. It additionally reveals the fragile nature of belief and sophisticated net of stakeholders in the inexperienced areas of Bayview-Hunters Point, the place group activists have fought air pollution and metropolis neglect for many years.

“If peace is found on common ground, then equity is found on public lands,” says Anthony Khalil, the inaugural environmental justice advisor to the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and a meals sovereignty supervisor at Bayview-Hunters Point Community Advocates. Khalil says that whereas the pandemic has created a “unique and endemic situation,” he sees the VTC as an “opportunity to showcase” how public lands can assist the wants of group members most affected by the housing disaster and historic inequality by placing them at the forefront of selections about how public land is used.

Though the results of the reasonably priced housing disaster are squeezing folks throughout the state, there are few locations in California the place state parks, extraordinarily pricey housing markets, and histories of environmental racism intersect as carefully as they do in Bayview-Hunters Point. The international pandemic has compelled jurisdictional businesses and the group to work collectively in methods they by no means imagined.

“This is not something that normally I thought I would be dabbling in in my career with State Parks,” mentioned Gerald O’Reilly, the San Francisco Bay sector superintendent of California State Parks.

In addition to path work and grounds maintenance, park staff like O’Reilly have turned their focus to addressing vehicular encampments close to the park, whether or not that features placing a Okay-rail alongside the park’s boundary to preserve vehicles and RVs from coming into the park, or assembly with group stakeholders to focus on how to finest support people residing out of automobiles.

Vehicular encampments have been rising in San Francisco even earlier than the pandemic. From 2017 to 2019, two thirds of newly unhoused folks in San Francisco have been sleeping in automobiles. As of August 2021 there have been 677 RV and car dwellings — barely lower than two-thirds of the metropolis’s whole car dwellings — recorded in District 10 (which incorporates the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood).

After conducting a point-in-time depend of unhoused folks in the neighborhood in March, a working group of group organizers and stakeholders started workshopping options to join them with much-needed entry to sanitation services, showers, laundry and different providers, together with assets to exit homelessness. The end result took form as a car triage heart in Candlestick Point State Recreation Area.

However, now that the VTC proposal is shifting ahead, some residents are resistant — calling out a continual lack of assets in the traditionally Black neighborhood, and asking why one in all their coveted pure areas ought to be used for the heart. 

Once bountiful wetlands, by the Seventies Candlestick Point was an off-the-cuff dumping floor. Community members, alongside California State Assembly Representative Art Agnos, efficiently advocated for the state to buy the land and develop its first city state park, which opened in 1978. But Candlestick has been underfunded from the begin relative to more-visited state parks. In 2008 and once more in 2012, the state threatened to shut the park to assist cut back state price range deficits.

“There’s very little access from the community to the actual open space,” mentioned Patrick Rump, Literacy for Environmental Justice Urban Stewardship Director, citing a scarcity of trails, sidewalks, indicators, and public transit close to Candlestick State Park. “Some of the tragedy of what’s occurred during covid out here is that you already had a park that had some accessibility issues and they’ve just been exacerbated.”

A map of the proposed Vehicle Triage Center at Candlestick Point State Park, as submitted by the San Francisco Department of Public Works to the California State Lands Commission in late October. (Image from State Lands Commission employees report)

Today, park accessibility continues to lower as vehicular encampments have taken over sidewalks. On-site parking heaps and loos stay closed after over 18 months. The park is open, however O’Reilly mentioned fewer guests have come. 

VTC proponents hope the new designated parking space will handle accessibility points, relieve inhumane residing situations, and cut back environmental impacts in the surrounding areas.

“By repurposing underutilized public space, we’re going to be able to provide something that is healthier and more dignified for people experiencing homelessness and living in their vehicles, but also an ability to clean up that area from a physical environmental perspective,” mentioned Emily Cohen, the deputy director for Communications and Legislative Affairs at San Francisco’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. 

Lena Miller, CEO of Urban Alchemy, a nonprofit that ran the Balboa VTC’s day-to-day operations, acknowledged that car triage facilities are a short lived repair — however a wanted one.

People don’t take into consideration what residing in a car entails, she mentioned: “having to shit in a jar in your car on the street, having rats cohabitate with you, not being able to wash your hands, being exposed out on the street, being raped.”

The heart is essential to totally reopening the remainder of the park’s belongings, together with parking, loos, and campsites, O’Reilly mentioned.

But one group of residents is sad with the prospect of a middle, and enlisted the Golden Gate University Environmental Law and Justice Clinic to communicate towards it at the State Lands Commission assembly.

“Everything that no one else wants in the city is dumped in our community,” mentioned Shirley Moore, vp of the Bayview Hill Neighborhood Association, at a neighborhood affiliation Zoom assembly in early October. The group is advocating that cellular dwellings be unfold all through different elements of the metropolis.

In numerous conferences with metropolis and state officers, affiliation members expressed frustration fueled by the historic and ongoing lack of inexperienced areas in the space, opposing the plan on the foundation that it might restrict residents’ entry to the park. 

But Michelle Pierce, the government director of BVHP Advocates and a member of the VTC working group, says spreading out into the metropolis has by no means been a practical possibility.

“If you’re going to fight this particular solution, you’re saying you’re happy with the status quo,” Pierce mentioned. “Move those people to the Presidio is not a solution. These are not barn animals.”

When it comes to utilizing the public park, Pierce added, it raises many questions, particularly concerning race and sophistication.

“Who gets to use what spaces, and in what ways, and why is one person’s way of engaging with the parks more appropriate than another person’s way of engaging with the park?” Pierce requested. “Shouldn’t we all be allowed to develop our own relationships with nature, and what it means to us?”

The proposed VTC website is a barren parking zone, a shell of former days when it was populated with rowdy tailgaters donning crimson and gold jerseys earlier than 49ers video games in the now-demolished stadium. When the workforce left for Santa Clara, so did metropolis assets devoted to neighborhood maintenance, many group members say. Funding and a focus returned with proposed developments, which embrace 13 miles of recent trails and parks together with 12,000 houses. To residents who’ve lengthy felt missed, the conditional nature of the consideration, with assets tied to improvement and parks and trails constructed seemingly for the good thing about future residents, not present ones, has led to additional mistrust and worry of gentrification.

“It’s continuously always project, project, project,” Khalil mentioned.

A 2020 MTA Report notes that investments in roadway infrastructure and transportation are tied to improvement milestones, which means “the anticipated delivery of new transportation services is now unclear due to delays in full remediation of contaminated soil.” This follows the closure of many Bayview-Hunters Point MUNI strains throughout the pandemic, chopping off entry to necessities equivalent to grocery shops, Pierce mentioned.

Now, as the developments have stalled due to the pandemic and the failure to correctly decontaminate the former shipyard, the metropolis’s curiosity in the southeast bayshore waned once more, neighborhood advocates say.

“When the brakes screeched to a halt on this development, it felt like the city’s attention to this part of the city of San Francisco just kind of vaporized,” Rump mentioned.

However, regardless of closures and delays, the pandemic has the potential to produce one factor: new partnerships.

“Without the pandemic, we would have never been put in each other’s paths,” Pierce mentioned of the working group.

Though the heart and its providers might be short-term, O’Reilly mentioned he believes that it’s going to provide a possibility for the park to create an enduring partnership with the metropolis. 

Instead of paying lease for using public land, throughout the heart’s tenure the MTA will present common parking enforcement in the neighborhood, police will conduct day by day patrols of the park and the Department of Public Works will take away particles no less than three days per week in the surrounding space.

An association like that is “uncommon,” mentioned Cohen, who sees the heart as a “really important nexus between housing justice and environmental justice.”

“Building these relationships so that we can be in a position to compassionately respond to this pending crisis is important,” Bayview resident Chris Whipple mentioned.

Individuals like Khalil nonetheless champion the necessity of broader systemic change by means of what he known as “self-determination” of public lands, constructing past a “broken history of triage.”

To Khalil, the long-term answer is placing underserved folks and community-based organizations at the helm of selections being made about public lands, together with funding and the highest management positions.  

“Time will tell on what’s the next stages of this,” he mentioned. “I think it’s a real test of compassion, empathy, intersectionality and all that, and putting it on the line. But what can we change culturally on the larger scale?”