Homeless in California. An RVing family’s struggle to shelter in place

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By Kasey Yanna
SPECIAL TO RVtravel.com
My husband and I decided to sell our home, buy an RV, and travel full-time. I had my fears. But I didn’t imagine something like the Coronavirus pandemic would cause a series of events that would leave us feeling abandoned and homeless three months later.

But two days ago, we were kicked out of an Army Corps of Engineers campground in California. We picked the campsite in a small town to stay away from the more populated cities and practice social distancing while the virus was spreading through California. But when the shelter-in-place order was handed down by the governor, the order didn’t accommodate full-time travelers staying at state and federal parks or campsites.

When a park ranger first knocked on our RV door to tell us about the possibility of the park closing, my husband explained that we, plus our toddler and two dogs, live in our RV full-time and were trying to shelter in place, where should we go? Her response: “The Flying J allows RVs overnight.” The Flying J. A gas station? Driving from a secluded park in the hillside to sleep at a gas station with frequent visitors doesn’t sound like the responsible (or safe) thing to do in the midst of a pandemic, but okay. Thanks for that.

So I began searching for nearby BLM lands, which often offer free camping, but didn’t find a spot close to us that could fit the length of our RV (32 ft.). That’s when I turned to RV parks, which we typically avoid because we prefer staying closer to nature. I, along with my husband and brother-in-law, called more than a dozen RV parks, only to hear “We’re all booked” more than a dozen times. When I finally reached a park that had availability, a rush of relief ran through my body.

But the relief was short-lived. While completing my reservation over the phone, the RV park employee put me on hold to answer another line. When she hopped back on my line, she had her boss on speakerphone. He proceeded to share that due to an email he had just received regarding the shelter-in-place order, they could no longer accept new reservations. The efforts to make people stay home and flatten the curve were kicking us out of one park and causing us to be turned away from another. My heart sank.

Will we be forced to sleep at a rest stop until we find a place to stay? Should we leave California and head to a state with fewer restrictions? Do we need to travel back to Texas to stay with family? We considered our options and the fact that our heater had just broken and needed to be repaired. Our solar panel system was also not working properly but the rain (and assumption that we wouldn’t be forced to leave our campsite) had kept us from troubleshooting that issue.

Thankfully, another RV park took us in. I sound like a desolate orphan that received charity, but this park actually charges 3–4 times the rate of the other parks that were all booked, plus the one that turned us away. And still, in this situation, money was almost useless. We were almost without a place to park our home.

During these unsettling times and despite our struggles to find a place to park our home, I know how fortunate we are to have food, shelter, and other necessities. Still, this is the first time I missed our old house — the one that was stationary, survived a tornado and offered a type of security that our RV does not.

##RVT941

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34 Comments
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Rick
3 months ago

Point Rock Campground in Arizona is open as of 4/1/2020 it is in Prescott. It’s by Watson lake. I got and E-Mail from them maybe you can check it out .

Phil Atterbery
3 months ago

I wonder how many times this story will play out across the country?

mike santillan
3 months ago

I feel for you and your family. But for right now I believe your best bet is to leave Cali and find numerois places where you can stay for now. good luck and God bless.

livingboondockingmexico
3 months ago

Doesn’t sound so bad at all. It beats sitting at home. At least with the rv you can legally move somewhere. Enjoy the fact that you can change your scenery, be with your family and probably much safer as well. We all need to make the best out of it.

Ajax
3 months ago

Wow..That’s why I always believed its best to always keep your brick and mortar dwelling. I’m glad you found a place in these crazy times.

JR Thornton
3 months ago
Reply to  Ajax

Keeping the brick and mortar home isn’t exactly full timing.

Steven W. Browning, Sr.
3 months ago

Why would you want to stay in CA? So many places outside of that state that are still available.

Fred
3 months ago

Southern California has tons of BLM land that you can stay on. Joshua Tree NP has areas on the north & south side of the park where you can boondock. North of Yuma AZ on the California side of the Colorado River is Imperial Dam LTVA with tons of space for boondocking with a large dump station. They have stopped charging for staying there because the Yuma office is closed & the hosts have closed down. They’ve said they will not kick anyone out of there after the regular season permit ends on April 15. We’ve been here all winter & it’s the best place to be right now. Fresh water, dump station & 20 miles to Yuma, where there are only a few Corona cases, virus, not beer.

Montgomery Bonner
3 months ago

Millions of acres in AZ owned by federal government, BLM, is still open and ready for you. Get started.

pursuits712
3 months ago

Perhaps another reason or those who are taking the stay at home advice too lightly to stay at home.

Yes, you may believe you just need to get away for a week or two; you may tell yourself you are helping the small businesses; you can find a lot of personal justifications. We all have cabin fever by now.

But ask yourself if you are taking the space that a full timer needs to shelter in place. Have some empathy folks. This is the time for the RV community to come together for the better good not for our own self-interests.

PennyPA
3 months ago
Reply to  pursuits712

She IS a full-timer … and she’s gotten good suggestions.

wanderer
3 months ago

I feel your pain, it’s scary to think the ‘no eviction’ policy doesn’t extend to us. I got in a still open public FCFS I can hold til this subsides, pure luck.

My suggestion is go to Slab City, head for the LOWs compound, get oriented (yes it’s an odd chaotic place but it’s an adventure). Immediately seek out ‘Solar Mike’s business. he has retired but had a brilliant assistant who now does installs n repairs. Get your solar up to speed. Then head to Quartzsite, camp in a clean free beautiful setting n of town off Plomosa Rd. It’s getting warmish so ask around about cooler BLM sites.

Have courage!

Tommy Molnar
3 months ago
Reply to  wanderer

We are currently IN the Plamosa Rd area. Lots of RV’ers here, but still LOTS of room where your nearest neighbors would be a block away. It’s fairly warm, but the wind makes it cool and hard to sit outside without sweaters. Yup.

There are even fewer folks out in the Scadden Wash area (also BLM) but the roads are worse (bumpy and pot-holed) getting there.

PennyPA
3 months ago
Reply to  wanderer

Slab City has closed to anyone not currently living there.

Tumbleweed
3 months ago
Reply to  PennyPA

Not true. Slab City is inhabited by squatters who are either seasonal snowbirds or dropouts from civilization. They don’t own the land, so no one there has the right to close it to newcomers, nor to in any way regulate what anyone else does there. I know because I’ve spent 8 years there as a snowbird. But even though I greatly enjoyed my time there, I wouldn’t recommend it to newcomers because it “ain’t what it used to be.” Friends who are still there say it’s become a haven for thieving meth-heads and the friendly “clubs” of old are almost non-existent. In particular, the LOWS club is no longer functioning because only a few of the members show up anymore. Solar Mike is still there, though, and I presume he’s still installing solar systems.

wanderer
3 months ago
Reply to  Tumbleweed

The LoWs at the Slabs and elsewhere are functioning. Again as i said, Mike retired but the business continues. I did not suggest SC as a permanent camp but as a quick stop in lieu of nowhere else to go, til they have solar for boondocking. As you said, there is no ‘landlord’ to deal with.

Linda
3 months ago
Reply to  wanderer

In another few days or week, the temperatures in the Quartzite area is going to be in the high 80’s and low 90’s, making boondocking in comfort a bit more challenging. A lot of business’s catering to rvs are closing in another week for the summer. It’s going to get pretty dang hot pretty dang soon here.

Peggy
3 months ago
Reply to  wanderer

Slab City is closed to everyone not already there. No newcomers.

Tumbleweed
3 months ago
Reply to  Peggy

Not true. See answer to the previous comment by PenneyPA.

Philip H. Wood
3 months ago

The reply from the good folks in Texas is correct. The COE parks have closed (sound dumb to be sure but I cannot change it). That being said, it sure beats living in lala land. We have a lot of parks that would just love to have you. Rates run from nosebleed to $300/month and this is for some pretty nice places. The RGV (thats the Rio Grande Valley you non Texans) is amazing in the winter and this might just be what you are looking for. Even the area around the DFW can be pretty nice and as a bonus if you move your perment address to Texas you can kiss those California taxes goodby because we have no income tax here.

Don Baker
3 months ago

Get out of CA as soon as possible. There is no rhyme nor reason to the way they do anything.
We are also full time and currently in Louisiana. Lots of space and no restrictive orders so far.

Jim
3 months ago
Reply to  Don Baker

Louisiana Gov. issued a Stay-at Home Order on March 22. Check the details of that order before relocating to LA. HTH!

KellyR
3 months ago
Reply to  Don Baker

New Orleans is now a hot spot. Fla. governor is shutting down people coming from Louisiana at airports and on I-10.

David Allen
3 months ago

It is a sad time and I feel for people who have no place to go. But, I am hard pressed to be sympathetic to someone who fails to plan, leaves a home for a cheap life on the road, and is then faced with reality. RV life is not cheap. California is NOT the place to go and live cheaply. A home owner living from paycheck to paycheck can not expect to find bliss in an RV. If people (not necessarily the author) decide to live in WalMart, Cracker Barrel, and free or cheap places, and these go away, they have to have a back up plan. That may be to go where family is. Or to a state with less cost of living. Others have offered suggestions and it seems like there are places to go. Maybe not what you want (COE Parks) but places to live in your home. “We called 12 places and all we were told is we re full” is a cop out. Call 12 more. Don’t sit back and cry “poor little me”. Sorry to sound harsh but I am sick of the people who decided they want the freedom of RV’ing but want the rest of the world to take care of them.

Alvin
3 months ago
Reply to  David Allen

David, you describe relatives of ours exactly. We thought they were nuts for “going full time” leaving a wonderful settled lifestyle & their bricks and mortar home for the wild wide open spaces – the great unknown – and guess, they’re in a pickle too, and I’m reading about them everyday in this and other material I get here.

Don’t let this be interpreted that I don’t feel empathy for each and everyone. Let it be known that i wish what’s going on today serves as a learning experience for those who follow.

That’s the best we can hope for to help future RV’ers think reality beyond their nose for adventure when making a decision that will be very hard to call back.

Tom Smithbrother
3 months ago

The very reason I have a home base property to park on.

Will
3 months ago

Stop being helpless and fearful. Take control of your life. There are tens of thousands of acres of BLM land in California that allows boondocking. Go to the BLM website, or search on iOvelander, Campendium, or Allstays. Filter for free camping.

I can name you half a dozen BLM sites along US395 in the Owens Valley that are close to small towns with well stocked stores.

Hiley
3 months ago

Try California City. They have a very large open space and access to water and a dump station. May get a windy and a little hot. It is an OHV site. You can call the city direct and ask.

Jim Webster
3 months ago

Move back to Texas. We just moved back to Victoria from BLM land in California and found a great campground for $350 a month. They have many empty sites.

Will
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Webster

Big mistake going to CA in the first place.

Ran
3 months ago

Report the park for price gouging! They are not supposed to raise rates in the state of emergency more than 10%………..!
Sick!

Anne
3 months ago
Reply to  Ran

Maybe that is it’s regular rate and not price gouging? Go home and stay there.. That is exactly what you shouldn’t be doing … driving state to state….small towns don’t want you there depleting their resources for their full time residents.

LiVan_Life
3 months ago
Reply to  Anne

Anne, they’re FT so they are at home. Where do you consider home is for them?

Captn John
3 months ago
Reply to  Ran

Maybe not price gouging! Where I winter a 3 month stay is $1990 per month. Lots of cheaper places near by.