An aerial photo shows the parcel near the Balboa Park BART station to be developed by Mission Housing Development Corporation. (Google Earth photo courtesy of Mission Housing)

The San Francisco Planning Commission has unanimously approved plans for a temporary vehicle triage center that would provide a safe parking space for people who live in their vehicles.

According to the plan, the center would be located at 2340 San Jose Ave., the future site of Balboa Park Upper Yards, a 138-unit affordable housing complex. Construction on the complex, however, won’t start until October 2020, so the space would only serve as a temporary spot.

The pilot program would provide space for 33 vehicles, allow people to park long term and camp in their vehicles overnight, and offer amenities like restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, a kitchen and eating areas. Residents would be allowed to stay for up to 90 days, and after that their stay could be extended at the director’s discretion.

The space would also be equipped with security and office space to provide onsite services for those living in their vehicles.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai, who introduced the legislation, spoke at the Planning Commission’s meeting Aug. 29.

With a 17 percent increase in homelessness over the last two years in the city, according to the 2019 Point-in-Time count, Safai said the time to provide a safe parking space for people living out of their vehicles is now.

“If you drive anywhere in the Bay Area, you will see RVs and vehicles all over the place,” he said. “This is a growing phenomenon of our housing crisis.”

Although the center would allow camping, the goal, Safai said, is to ultimately get people living in their vehicles into permanent housing.

“One of the challenges of getting people out of their vehicles is this is their only asset and they feel very reluctant to let that asset go. So if we have a space where they can store and then transition them into more permanent housing options, this provides that gateway,” he said.

“Given this crisis, given the growing number of people living in their vehicles, not just RVs but vans and cars as well, we felt like this would be an appropriate time now more than ever,” he said.

According to Safai, community meetings with residents and stakeholders has already begun and after hearing feedback. Safai said he’ll work with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to mitigate concerns that more vehicle camping will start to take place in the neighborhood once the center opens.

With the Planning Commission’s vote, the Board of Supervisors will decide sometime this month whether to approve the triage center. If approved, the center could be open as early as November.