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SF homeless living out of a vehicle not always jobless

  • January 22, 2011

For Aaron Jason, the decision to give up his rented studio apartment in the NOPA neighborhood, purchase a Volkswagen van and live out of it came nearly 18 months ago after debt had piled up.

Jason is among the estimated 6,600 homeless people living in San Francisco, according to the Coalition for Homelessness San Francisco. It is unknown how many homeless in The City live out of vehicles.

Amid a clamor from neighborhood groups in The City about the problems caused by illegal habitation in motorhomes and vans, one point may have been lost in the shuffle: Some of the people, like Jason, are employed.

As an untenured lecturer for the California State University, East Bay English department, Jason can make up to $3,000 each month. But his income is based on the number of classes he teaches each quarter, which is at the mercy of the state budget.

When bills piled up, the details of which he declined to elaborate on for The San Francisco Examiner, Jason decided to give up his rental, forgo moving in with other people and live in the van.

Jason, who knows that living in the van is illegal, said that with his income he falls into a gray area when it comes to receiving services, which are often offered based on income.

Bob Offer-Westort, civil-rights organizer with the Homeless Coalition, said most homeless in San Francisco make money.

“When you do qualify the waiting lists are so long, it could take months to get help,” he said. “Having too much income is not the worst problem. They can at least hang tight for a while.”

Whether or not Jason can receive services, he falls into a category of homeless that has raised ire recently.

In the Outer Sunset, police have received an increased number of complaints from residents who witness illegal activity and some campers dumping raw sewage down storm drains. The Police Department says, however, that unless a camper opens their door to prove someone is living inside, authorities can only issue warnings to move the vehicle within 72 hours.

Instead of punishment for living in vehicles, Jason said he hopes he can speak with government officials to figure some way to offer services to those who live out of their cars or do not qualify for city services.

Jason suggested parking lots that could house the vehicles voluntarily or a network similar to Project Homeless Connect where local businesses can volunteer services for one day to help them move off the streets.

Offer-Westort, though, said funding locally and federally would also be a problem when providing even these volunteer networks.

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