New fines for Great Highway ‘car campers’ 

People living in their cars along the Great Highway will have to find new curbsides to call home.

A new restriction implemented by Supervisor Ed Jew, and prompted by residents and business owners of the Sunset district, makes it illegal to bunk in a vehicle from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. on the Great Highway between Lincoln Way and Sloat Boulevard. Violators face a $55 fine.

Some neighborhood residents say "car campers" — who occupy a single spot for months at a time and only move their vehicles for street cleaning — have brought litter, vandalism and drug use to the area. Homeless advocates, however, say the new law is a stopgap measure that traumatizes people and pushes them around The City.

Pat Maguire, president of the Take Back the Neighborhood Coalition and owner of Java Beach Cafe on the Great Highway, said he has spent the last few years working with legislators toward a solution.

Jew, elected in November to represent the Sunset district, put the issue on the fast track. Earlier this year, the San Francisco Department of Public Works created 100 signs reading "Habitation Prohibited," and 50 have been posted.

"Many campers and vehicles have already moved on," Jew said. "It’s good for the community."

On any given day, lived-in campers, vans and RVs can be seen taking roost along the Great Highway. They’re easy to spot: Many have makeshift curtains covering the windows and piles of sleeping bags, newspapers and clothes creeping toward the windshield. While the owners leave during the day, especially when it’s warm, the cars sit and bake in the sun.

Maguire said the situation has spiraled out of control.

"They dump their garbage and feces on the street. Sometimes they’ll put their feces down the gutter," Maguire said.

"A lot are using their mobile homes for drug dealings. They’ll break into cars and smash windows and then hide in their campers," he said, adding that not all car campers are destroying the neighborhood.

Jennifer Friedenbach, organizing director for the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, said there are a few hundred homeless people living out of their vehicles in The City.

She said they’re already "horrendously harassed" by police and subject to illegal tows and tickets. They frequently lose their cars, she said, because they can’t afford to retrieve them from the impound lot.

"Pushing homeless people away from one area into another and spending a lot of money to criminalize them does not solve the problem of homelessness," she said. "They have nowhere to go. They are San Francisco residents."

Another 50 signs are set to go up in the next few weeks.

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