Why Parking Spots Make Great Beds for the Homeless

Categories: Local News
Bennett Austin
Is she going to take a nap?
ast week we regaled readers with stories of residents converting highly coveted parking spots into parks, offices, and even nudist camps. Perhaps that's where Bennett Austin, a local advertising student, got the idea to turn metered spots in the Haight District into beds for the homeless.

All week, Austin has been hauling in a twin-size bed -- pillows, blankets, and all -- to a parking spot on the corner of Haight and Cole streets. He keeps the meter running from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., giving homeless residents a place to crash for a few hours without getting busted by the cops.

"I was thinking about ways to circumvent the sit/lie law," Austin says. 

But Austin isn't doing this just to create a more rested homeless population. It's a mostly symbolic overture, meant to show us that you can't arrest your way out of the homeless problem in San Francisco. Oh, and he's taking donations to help raise some cash for the local Homeless Youth Alliance organization. "It's really about trying to stop sleeping in the streets, and give the homeless a place to sleep," Austin tells SF Weekly.

In his opinion, converting parking spots into beds is one way to legalize sleeping on the streets. Austin says that paying for a metered spot means that space is his to do anything with until the meter expires. "If I'm on the sidewalk I could be fined for loitering, but in a paid parking spot there's no clear definition about what can and cannot be legally fixed," Austin says. 

But local cops would disagree on that. Captain Denis O'Leary says that what Austin is doing is technically violating the city's sit/lie law and he could be cited.

"Given that he's engaging in the First Amendment, we are walking a fine line between enforcing local law and honoring the United States constitution," O'Leary says. "I just told officers to handle it with a sense of humor."

So then, Austin has been successful in giving the homeless a place to sit and lie in the Haight without being hassled by the cops. "Well, that's your take on it," O'Leary told us.

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The point is not wanting to break the law but to bring the plight of homeless youth to the attention of the public in hopes of raising money for beds in the shelter, that's the point. 

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