If you live in or have ever visited some of the major cities in the Western United States, you’ve likely noticed the phenomenon of RV-lined streets. In many cases, financially strained residents with no other option occupy these RVs. While they may not be “homeless” in the traditional sense, they certainly don’t have a physical location to consistently park at.
Since COVID began, this situation has grown exponentially worse. Los Angeles alone has seen a 40% increase in homeless RV dwellers since 2018, now accounting for 22% of the unsheltered population. California isn’t alone in this either, as multiple jurisdictions in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and other states have had to deal with similar issues.
Recently, various cities around the country have begun to enforce parking laws or outright bans on RVs to remedy the issue. The implications can mean quite a bit for the greater RV community.
Here is some of the most recent action taken against RV parking and the effects it could have on the RV community.
A look at the recent RV parking crackdown across the country
Mountain View, California
Mountain View has been the subject of conflict between city residents and illegally parked RVs for years. In 2019, two ordinances were passed by the city that prohibited oversized vehicles from parking on narrow streets or streets with bike lanes. The ordinances were challenged in court by plaintiffs claiming the laws were unconstitutional. Critics worried that large numbers of already disenfranchised RV dwellers would be forced to relocate.
After resolving the lawsuit in September, the city set out to begin enforcing parking. As of October 1, law enforcement began ticketing offending vehicles, giving them 72 hours to move their vehicles. The city also designated 3 miles of road for vehicle dwellers to park legally.
In Olympia, Ensign Road has consistently been a popular place for homeless RVers to park, and in many cases, not move again. A variety of issues cropped up because of this, most of them concerning waste disposal. The city implemented a permitting process for all individuals residing on the street. This was a requirement if they wished to stay on Ensign.
When applying for a permit, RV dwellers must agree to a set of conditions. These included:
- No violent behavior
- One lawn chair outside per person
- Proper disposal of human waste and trash
Olympia’s Homeless Response Coordinator Kim Kondrat remarked that the permits were not an invitation for vehicle dwellers to stay on Ensign Road permanently.
Los Angeles, California
The homeless problem in Los Angeles is no secret. The city has a variety of bans for oversized vehicles, but enforcement has been nonexistent. On the West side, hundreds of RVs line the streets, many not moving for months on end.
To combat this, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and Department of Transportation are devising a strategy to get these people off the streets. Possible solutions included moving people into interim housing and incentivizing individuals to scrap their RVs once housing has been secured. Other options include designating an “RV safe space,” where RVs can park for 24 hours away from the public eye.
After relocating RV dwellers, the city would begin enforcing its parking restrictions more thoroughly.
Mesa County, Colorado
In the desert surrounding Grand Junction, many RVs have set up a permanent camp. Mesa County has grown sick of this and implemented an ordinance that would make doing so illegal, and subject to fines. The County reserves the right to impound these vehicles if they don’t relocate off the land in time.
The County clarifies that they aren’t intending to make residing in an RV illegal. Instead, they want to focus on the malpractices that come with it, including illegal waste dumping.
How this affects “non-homeless” RVing: Personal observations
In my personal travels, I’ve noticed firsthand how irresponsible RVing can have an impact on the way I explore the country. While I live full-time in my truck camper completely by choice, I often find myself wanting to utilize the same public spaces for a quick one-night stop that the homeless RV population now uses.
Unfortunately, there are now no overnight parking signs in many locations that were previously friendly to travelers. I can count multiple spots right off the top of my head:
- Highway 1: This one is quite disappointing. Highway 1 used to be a quintessential RV road trip. There are hundreds of pull-outs along the highway offering scenic overviews of the ocean that many people used for a one-night stay while traveling. This isn’t the case anymore. Most of the highway pullouts now have banned overnight parking, particularly in popular areas like Malibu and Big Sur. It forced me to occasionally travel 20 miles inland to find a legal spot for the night.
- Ski towns: Many ski towns like Breckenridge, Jackson, and Mammoth Lakes used to be quite friendly to the average ski bum. Now, most of these towns have implemented restrictions on overnight parking. What used to be a laid-back, understanding culture has now become a hostile attitude towards people that wish to “bum it” in search of powder. I believe much of this has been influenced by perceptions of the homeless epidemic across the country.
- Walmart: Historically, Walmarts everywhere accepted overnight RV stays. Many RVers relied on them as their go-to stop between destinations. Now, however, many Walmarts across the country have resorted to banning overnight parking. This is largely due to unsavory individuals setting up more permanent camps in their parking lots.
If you’re the average boondocker, free overnight parking is the lifeblood of your travels. Without it, you’re forced to find accommodation at expensive RV parks, many of which are fully booked. If cities around the country continue to implement laws forbidding overnight stays, the days of unplanned adventure and travel will quickly come to an end.
Do you see urban boondocking returning to what it used to be? Or are the changes to nomadic RVing permanent?