“Kar Keys” for Post-Coronavirus Homelessness?

In 2009, I lost my home to foreclosure. The experience, which I learned to love, led to me becoming an expert on being homeless. Therefore, I am confident in saying, if we are more creative, we can get the upper hand on homelessness in post-Coronavirus living San Francisco.

Honestly, time flew by. Mainly because I stayed busy and had a lot of fun with this ten plus year adventure that I determined would last no more than a year. And if it had not been for a bad transmission, I would still be living in my truck and authoring this essay from it.

I proposed we extend on an existing city pilot program but change the name to, “Kar Keys.” But the only engines in these cars would be, homeless San Franciscans, equipped with enough dignity and respect to navigate this part of their life with more hope for the future.

Evidence suggests, San Francisco City Hall does not give a damn about people who really need to be off the streets. They only want to push the homeless out of sight and out of mind. Especially those with severe mental illness. I call it as I see it. Again, City Hall does not care about the homeless.

San Francisco City Hall background to the right a 65 homeless tent encampment 4/2020

I defend my statement with the fact, there are too many people in wheelchairs living on the streets of San Francisco. This lack of care is worse than countries that warehouse the disabled in institutions. The easiest homeless to get off the streets should be a person who has no legs or arms and is wheelchair-bound; namely, “Shorty.” A wheelchair-bound homeless meth addict.

The latest attempts vomited out of City Hall of suitable shelters for all homeless juxtaposed with the number of wheelchair-bound still living on the streets; equals, they do not care.

Homeless disabled man sleeping on a San Francisco street 4/2020

Consider this: The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently passed a law to house 7000 homeless a month temporarily. Then some of these same lawmakers’ next piece of proposed legislation called for using vacant parking lots for tent encampments and using city parks to allow tent encampments. To throw anything, at something, to get a problem to go away, is evidence of incompetence or worse: Do not care.

In follow up to March 17, 2020, Department of Public Health Shelter-in-place order announced by Mayor London Breed, she then announced in April 2020 that The City had obtained space at Pier 94 that will accommodate 120 RVs and trailers for the homeless and those who need quarantine due to the Coronavirus. I support this move by the mayor. But it is safe to say not one of these RVs or trailers is wheelchair accessible.

Adding a non-solution, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a law to spend $58.6 million a month to house 8,250 homeless, first responders, and quarantined in hotels due to COVID-19 temporarily, of which 7000 are for the homeless and 1,250 for first responders and those in need of quarantine. This new law does not place any special emphasis on the many wheelchair-bound homeless on our streets who need preferential or special treatment.

San Francisco is currently spending more than $340 million a year on homeless services. And the problem is getting worse. This includes in addition to overcrowded shelters, in December of 2019, San Francisco has opened a pilot program at the Balboa Park BART station for 30 slots where RVs and people living in their cars can stay. There are basic amenities like showers, portable toilets, laundry services and security. But wait a minute. This program created in response to residents across The City fed up with the disrespect people living in vehicles displayed. In other words, pushing the homeless aside solves nothing.

The mission should be to help the homeless be a part of The City and not tear the city apart.

I fell in love with my alternative living situation in my first winter rainstorm. I looked forward to rainy days because they were so peaceful. But I know that is not the experience of most who experience homelessness.

One man told me how brutal it was for him when it was cold or rained and I felt guilty for loving when it rained. Nevertheless, being homeless does not have to be so cruel if you are creative and respect yourself and others.

What made it so easy for me to live in a vehicle was the fact, I had bought a brand-new Ford pickup the year prior. My 2008 Ford F-150 was so nice, I even loved to stay in it when I had a home. — Keep that point in mind.

But before I get to the “Key,” let me address the need of using a toilet. My clean appearance and daily routine never denied me the use of businesses or public services when needed. In other words, I hid my being homeless behind being clean, and that allowed me access to at least twenty bathrooms throughout The City to choose from when needed.

The key to enjoying living in a vehicle was the fact that I learned to keep my truck and body clean. In fact, I have nine siblings that have all been in my truck while I lived in it and they all marveled at the fact I kept it and myself so clean. But I did receive occasional reminders that my breath was not as fresh.

I have seen vehicles that appeared to have as much junk in them that would cause home hoarders to seek treatment. I would say, “How you can drive in that thing is amazing.” With that in mind, I sympathize with the NIMBYS who would balk at what I describe as being creative.

Based on my experience, I offer my “Kar Keys” solution to tent encampment living in the era of COVID-19 and for post-COVID-19: City Hall should use decommissioned city fleet vehicles and/or luxury vehicles for sheltering the homeless. These vehicles would be the ultimate “Social distancing” for the homeless during COVID-19. And the homeless need a post-COVID-19 acceptable alternative to tents and tent encampment.

Using refurbished vehicles as a shelter for the homeless could save The City millions of dollars overall and resources if done right.

Removing the engine for added storage space, the best type of vehicle would be a 4-door sedan (police cars) luxury vehicle (Lincoln Town Car or Cadillac) or any number of classy looking cars. Giving the vehicles an appealing high-gloss paint job that even critics would smile at, we could make the interior look equally impressive to the outside. Then hooking up the “Shelter” with a portable solar power source, this power would be able to run a few necessities safely.

Fleet of old San Francisco Police Department Ford Crown Victoria cruisers in need of a new life/mission

Most importantly these shelter vehicles parked, no more than two per city block preferably near vacant storefronts would cut tent living by 90% as I see it once fully implemented.

San Francisco homeless tent encampment one block from a city shelter

With cooperation from property owners, allow the homeless to use their facilities (Install a portable shower if needed) and offer penalty waivers from the vacant storefront law (Prop. D) recently passed by the SF voters. This would not prevent owners of these storefronts who find suitable tenants from renting their storefront. Towing the shelter vehicles to new locations would be to a pre-approved site.

Tent blocking an entire San Francisco sidewalk. To the right is a ten year old building that has a storefront that has never had a tenant.

According to the Department of Building Inspection, there are more than 500 vacant building storefronts. But I estimate there should be no less than twelve-hundred vehicles throughout The City for this one program.

There are 5,321 city blocks in San Francisco, with over 320,000 parking spaces. And I would not object to having shelter vehicles on both sides of a selected street. But wherever we park these vehicles, they could offer one added feature: Street surveillance cameras placed out of reach of vandals, of course, could aid in the reduction of car break-ins in some high break-in locations. I would also notify with all (including the NIMBYS) who lived or had businesses within three blocks of such vehicles.

If the homeless ignore encouragement to help The City with the upkeep of the vehicles and surrounding area they should be first admonished and then risk losing the use of this new type of “shelter.”

This is better than San Francisco’s “Navigation Center” shelter program in many ways; chiefly privacy. But beyond the added street surveillance feature, keeping better track of our homeless is necessary and with the use of our already “Hot Team” service, we can reduce the ugly tent encampments to near zero. And for those like myself who now use a mobility scooter, wheelchair, or even those pushing a baby stroller, there is less of a chance that we run into a tent blocking our path.

Navigating a mobility scooter passed a San Francisco tent encampment

I call this program “Kar Keys” is opposed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “Operation Room Key,” where the California governor has bragged about obtaining more than 15,000 hotel rooms for the homeless as some genuine answer to COVID-19 Shelter-in-place for homeless. The difference? The governor’s program is temporary, my plan is until one gets their act together if so desired.

Of course, there is the concern of people using vehicles for criminal activity. To that I say, I was not born yesterday. And I would not dream of suggesting a project with such an enormous potential for misuse. In other words, you cannot out slick them, but you can outsmart them.

I have seen where The City has embraced “Parklets” and some restaurants and customers swear by them. And I admit, I am not a fan even though some are appealing. But personally, I would rather see a Lincoln Town Car parked on the street than a Parklet.

An utterly ugly of a San Francisco parklet closed due to The City’s Shelter-in-place order.
2011 Lincoln Town car

One restaurant owner said his business increased 20% after he invested $20,000.00 for the parklet outside of his business with an annual upkeep of $500.00. In contrast, Kar Keys could eliminate completely the need for the costly and troubled-plagued city-run shelters once fully functional.

2013 Cadillac XTS

Sure, it would be nice to have a home for anyone who wanted one. But the biggest mistake City Hall and city residents make concerning the homeless is thinking for the homeless or trying to babysit the homeless. In other words, not everyone can handle living in a house or apartment.

Respect the homeless and their desire for privacy and we will cut our homeless problem in half with this one concession called Kar Keys. As San Francisco’s most successful homeless expert, I guarantee it.

I am already laughing at the fact; my Kar Keys plan is sure to receive criticism without mercy before hearing the meat of the details. However, anyone silly enough to think we do not need to plan better for post-Coronavirus homelessness will also be criticizing how many people/families live in their vehicles due to poor or shortsighted planning for post-Coronavirus life. Then what?

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1983 to 1993 Bible Study teacher at SF juvenile hall. Currently prison reform activist and author of Case Game - Activating the Activist; an autobiography.

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Allen Jones

Allen Jones

1983 to 1993 Bible Study teacher at SF juvenile hall. Currently prison reform activist and author of Case Game - Activating the Activist; an autobiography.

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