Thursday, September 21, 2023


Are there really homeless RVers?

The topic of homelessness has been written about here in since at least 2018. Over time, the number of stories has increased. In early June, Gail Marsh took up the topic of “homeless RVers” in campgrounds. A couple of weeks later, publisher Chuck Woodbury posed the question in an editorial, “Does anyone believe RVers living on the ‘streets’ are going away?” In a poll posted, 92% of respondents felt that the number of “street dwellers” would continue to increase.

Any time we publish a story on “homelessness” we get plenty of spirited reader comments. We’ve been reminded, particularly by full-timers, that the phrase “homeless RVers” is wrong, wrong wrong. It’s a choice, they say, to not have a “home” per se, and that their RV is their home.

What do you call these folks?

It’s a big topic, and we think an important one. When we were asked if we’d like to do a monthly column on the topic of homelessness and its relationship to RVing, we took up the offer. But what to call the column? In light of the feelings of so many, “Homeless RVers” or “Homeless RVing” went out the window. Then along came an article that helped to clarify—a little—the question. What do you call folks who, for whatever reason, are living on the streets, in derelict buildings, or camped out in greenbelts across the nation?

The story, “Homeless, Houseless, and Unhoused: A Glossary of Terms Used to Talk about Homelessness” is from Scott Kerman. He’s the executive director of Blanchet House, a nonprofit group that helps people in Portland, Oregon. who might fall under any of those terms. Kerman makes the point that the words we use to label people and situations are powerful, and should be used with care. It’s a fascinating read, but to pull out just a bit of it are these descriptions:

“Homeless is a word most often used to describe people living unsheltered on sidewalks, in tents, camps, cars, or RVs. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word homeless as ‘having no home or permanent place of residence.’

“Houseless. More frequently, the word houseless is used in place of homeless. The reason is the important distinction between a house and a home. People described as homeless are not necessarily without homes.”

Not everyone living in an RV is doing so voluntarily

Yes, kudos to our full-time RVing readers, who aptly point out that you are NOT without a home. That old phrase, “Home is where I park it,” fits well. As full-time ourselves, we know the feeling. Of course, not everyone who lives full-time in an RV does so voluntarily. Many of those in “junky” RVs parked next to the curb in some metropolitan “jungle” would much rather be behind walls of sticks and bricks. “Homeless RVers” who are too often beholden to a mercenary “vanlord” wait for some kind of solution. We won’t get into the causes this month, but as future editions unwind, no doubt the causes will be explored.

So just what can you expect to find in the new monthly column we finally decided to call “Disadvantaged RVers On ‘The Street’”? Each month we’ll devote a little space to a focused discussion about these “housing-insecure RVers.” For example, in September, we’ll talk about what one Washington city did when such RVers took over a thoroughfare and, at times, blocked entry to an area hospital.

Each month we’ll give a roundup of news on the topic we think is important. We’re including a few of those items just below. And we’d like to hear from you. If you encounter “homeless RVers” or, more properly, disadvantaged RVers and feel that information could be shared with other readers, please drop us a line. We’ll include a “postage-free reply card” at the bottom of each article. Here’s the first roundup.

This month’s roundup

A new “camping” ordinance is being mulled over in Santa Rosa, California. If it comes to pass, people will not be allowed to sleep “in any public space.” That includes parks, streets, sidewalks, bike paths, bus shelters, near doorways, fire lanes and fire equipment, within 150 feet of a stream, within 100 feet of a school and areas where fire could spread quickly through trees or vegetation. The city runs a safe parking lot for RVers, and a shelter, to the tune of $5 million per year. Still, officials admit they don’t have enough space for all who need help.

homeless RVers

A “homeless camp” near Anchorage, Alaska’s Cuddy Park is growing again. City officials say they “abated” the camp in June to make it ready for a three-day concert, but the music’s over, and the campers are back. Near the end of July, an official count revealed six RVs, eight cars, and 21 tents on the location. One family of six has been there about a month—living out of their passenger van. Yes, the father says, they have money, he has a job. But because of a past criminal conviction, he says he can’t find a landlord in Anchorage who will rent his family the shelter they need. Last winter, officials opened an arena for the housing-insecure. They don’t plan on doing that again, but instead will try and find motels willing to put up such ones.

Warm and cold

Santa Cruz, California officials have finally received a green light to shut down oversize vehicle parking. The city had to wait until the California Coastal Commission finalized a one-year permit to allow it to ban unpermitted “oversize” vehicles (including RVs) from overnight street parking. Last fall the city started a 24/7 parking area for 14 vehicles. A few other “overnight only” sites were likewise made available.

Housing-insecure RVers aren’t just found in warm, coastal areas. Missoula, Montana, officials say they spent over $40,000 in cleaning up encampments since early June. A city council member says Missoula officials have set aside $1M for “encampment response” for this year.

homeless RVers

An unincorporated area of Los Angeles County, near East Gardenia, has become the focus of conflicts over housing-insecure RVers. Hundreds of “rundown RVs” line some of the streets in the area, creating nightmares for locals who say their businesses have suffered when potential customers refuse to come to the area. On the other hand, many of the RVers are paying hundreds of dollars to “vanlords,” who buy defunct RVs, park them on the streets, and rent them out. “Pathway Home,” a county program, has been established with a goal of getting 1,500 RVs off county streets in three years. So far, 17 RVs have been removed, and their dwellers have gone to interim housing.

And, finally, a sad one with a personal face

homeless RVer
wptv news on

Alexander Jenkins, a Navy veteran, has his own “personal oven.” His RV is going nowhere, and falling apart fast, but is situated in an RV park in West Palm Beach, Florida. It’s an oven because his air conditioning doesn’t work. The only way Alexander can handle the stifling summer heat is to sleep under his fifth-wheel’s hitch overhang at night. Never mind the noise from the nearby busy street—at least it’s a bit cooler. To keep his companion cat cool, he uses ice blocks. A sad commentary on our world today.

Have a housing-insecure RVer story? Read an interesting story on the subject? We’d like to hear from you. Please contact us using the form below, and enter “Insecure” on the subject line. 

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Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña went from childhood tent camping to RVing in the 1980s when the ground got too hard. They've been tutored in the ways of RVing (and RV repair) by a series of rigs, from truck campers, to a fifth-wheel, and several travel trailers. In addition to writing scores of articles on RVing topics, they've also taught college classes for folks new to RVing. They authored the book, RV Boondocking Basics.


  1. Russ and Tiña,
    Thank you for taking up this project with your compassionate hearts. I’m glad you ended the article by putting a face on the issue. Possibly that will generate some small amount of empathy in the hearts of the Grinches out there.

    As an FYI, the “solution” proposed by the mayor of Anchorage is one-way plane tickets to a warm climate. However, it doesn’t look like the council is willing to fund that.

  2. Before we can define the definition of “homeless”, first we need to agree on the definition of “home”.

    Some people call a house, tent, RV, shipping container, car, shelter, apartment, drainage pipe, cave and yes, even a missile silo their home.

    Because their domicile doesn’t align with an ideological narrative that it must meet the criteria to qualify for an FHA loan, is that what labels them as homeless?

    Imagine if “the problem of homelessness” was society’s banter in the 1800’s where all but the top 10% would be considered “homeless” by todays stigmatic definitions.

    The early settlers would have been forced into encampments under the guise of humanitarian intervention…

    • Thankfully we do not live in the 1800’s because our “homeless” ancestors left their homelands for the opportunity of self determination. With few resources and no government safety nets, by hard work and shear determination they created what we enjoy today. If the current generations had 1/4th of their work ethic, there would be no homeless problem.

  3. I resent the name “Disadvantaged RVers On ‘The Street’”. I choose to live in my house which is an RV. In 2004 my late husband and I moved in to pursue our ‘golden years’ dream of travel and workamping. My house is paid for. The lot rent is half what an apt would cost. I am free to travel, move, etc anytime I want. I am not disadvantaged .

  4. I admire you taking on such a complicated topic. I applaud your effort to approach the topic systematically. Thank you for your willingness! 🙂

  5. If anyone is interested (including staff), there’s a group of volunteers who have formed a nationwide collective to discuss and work on solutions to this issue nationwide. We are the National Vehicle Residency Collective and we are now planning our second annual National Vehicle Residency Summit. We’d love to include RVtravel and its readers in our meetings and summit. Feel free to search us out and click on the website ending in .org. Yes, it needs updated, I’m running behind. 🙁 Anyway, we really are trying to change the world.

    *Note that we have been using the term “vehicle residents” to include those living in their RV/van/cars by choice or not.

      • Diane, thanks for posting that link. I didn’t post it in case I was interpreted as spam and booted or otherwise violating commenting rules. Diane, if you or anyone at RVTravel would like to keep up with us, partner with us on communicating about these issues and how they affect RVers, or even present a session in this year’s summit, we’d love to have you. Or maybe an article about us and what we’re doing on this topic could provide some content for you to publish. Either use our website’s Contact form, or use the Join form to join our collective, or just email the info@ email address to reach me and my comanagers directly. This goes for anyone out there reading this who’d like to contribute or keep abreast of what we’re doing! Thanks!

        • Thanks, Jake. I’ll pass your information along to the higher-ups, in case they’re interested in your proposals. I’ll also make sure to bring your comments to the attention of Russ and Tiña De Maris, who are writing this new column. BTW, if you had included a link in your comment, it would have been held for moderation, but I would have approved it when I saw it – no problem.👍 Take care, and have a good afternoon/evening. 😀 –Diane

          • Thanks, Diane, for taking those steps. And for the info about links. Y’all do a great job–thank you so much! -Jake

          • You’re welcome, Jake. I haven’t heard anymore on this end, but I’ll remind Russ and Tiña, who are doing this new monthly column. Thank you again for what you and your organizatioo are doing to make a difference.👍 Have a good night. 😀 –Diane

  6. A dire situation, indeed. But employing euphemisms so as not to hurt the feelings, or insult the vanity, of another neither improves, nor changes the situation. We’ve tried “residentially challenged”, “urban outdoorsman”, etc. but surprise, surprise, nothing changed that actual situation. Typically, this overuse of “feel good” euphemisms was the bailiwick of government which is more concerned about optics and feeling good as opposed to actually DOING good. And now it’s come into the mainstream lexicon? We live in strange days, for sure.

    • Well said. Putting pretty “identity” wrappers on this problem is not helping the situation and even can cost taxpayers money that could be put to better use.

    • Changing the language and it’s definitions has always been an integral tactic of the liberal political playbook.While some people still try, glad to see many are realizing that regardless of government rhetoric, you just can’t make chicken soup out of chicken poop.

  7. The problem is using “RV” in two different ways, in that we use RV for Recreational Vehicle and we use RVer as a person who uses an RV for recreational purposes. In reality, an RV is really a mobile home that is either self powered or towed, that can be used in different ways such as being a mobile Library or supplying Medical needs such as collecting blood or seeing a Doctor, or as a place to live or a mobile office and also, a place to travel for recreation. They are no longer “Recreational Vehicles” since they are now being used for many other purposes.

  8. If I, at some point in my life, choose to start taking drugs and become addicted, then lose everything I have as a result, am I “disadvantaged?”

    I’m not saying that all individuals in the category this monthly report focuses on are druggies. But I am suggesting that many are not “disadvantaged” either. Many are there due to prior and continuing poor life choices not caused by an insurmountable “disadvantage” not of their making. And…many in life that truly faced a “disadvantaged” start or event in life overcame and have prospered. The term “disadvantaged” sounds like others are holding them back when in fact the answer may lie within themselves.

    • First, addiction isn’t a choice, it’s a disease. If it was a choice, it literally wouldn’t be addiction. Second, two of the most harmful substances to society are legal. Alcohol, and cigarettes, two of the highest costs to society both in the form of individual deaths, but also the killing of bystanders (drunk driving), and increased load on constrained medical systems. Followed only by obesity. By your logic. If you smoke your whole life, get cancer, we shouldn’t bother treating you because it was your choice. Ignoring that cigarettes are intentionally addicting, for profit. If you eat yourself into a heart attack, because you can’t put the fried food down, no treatment. Your choice.

      • Marcus, addiction is an awful disease but you are incorrect, it is almost always a disease driven by choice. Bad choices.

        People catch a cold, not a heroin addiction. The CHOICE to use is made willingly. The CHOICE to not get treatment is also a CHOICE. No one passively becomes addicted to meth, it takes an affirmative action to start.

        Addicts mat not want to continue being addicts but quitting is painful.

        In some cases, bad prescribing practices by doctor’s regarding RX opiates may cross the boundary of choice versus passive addictions.

        Saying that a meth or crack addiction is not a choice implies it was never a choice. It was a choice.

  9. When and if our country ever decides that our citizens, especially veterans, are more important than political ideology we might get a handle on this problem. When I met my late husband he was couch surfing in his 50s, an ex-TWA executive but more important and ex Vietnam Vet. It took fifty years and a few short wars for our country to recognize PTSD.
    I read so many comments from full-timers that they feel insulted by being called homeless and then in the following sentence run on about homeless rv’ers taking up space in campgrounds that they think they should have because they are houseless, not homeless.

  10. Most jurisdictions have existing laws, and ordinances going back 100+ years regarding vagrancy, vehicle licensing/insurance requirements, and parking restrictions. Enforcement of these laws (fines, impoundment/confiscation, and destruction of units in violation), could control the mobile slum problem, but will NOT eliminate the homeless problem. Our society has, and continues to teach our youth how NOT to work, and until this changes, the homeless problem will continue to worsen. There are solutions to homelessness, most of which are unacceptable to the current majority.

  11. “Sanitized for your protection.” As someone gets offended by language, we sanitize it so as not to offend. “Homeless RVer” for example; it has a noun and an adjective. The adjective modifies the noun. Everyone knows what this means. It does not mean all RVers. But so as not to offend all RVers, we soften the language.

    George Carlin had something to say about this:

  12. Homeless was a result of loss of job and not finding another. That changed back in the 90’s when people to lazy to work found they could beg on the street corner and make more tax free money than they could working a job. With todays economy where every business is advertising for help because no one wants to work when the government pays them to stay home, they are going to have a rude awakening with the next election. We are going to be either a socialist country of slaves to the government, or a country of employment where you work for a living or starve. Personally I prefer not to stand in line to get a stale loaf of bread in a government hand out like you see pictures in socialism.

    • Though there are many caveats to the homeless situation, you are correct that much of this country seems to think they are owed something.

      But aside from that, just because a person lives in an RV (or what used to be an RV in a previous life) it doesn’t make them an RVer. Just like the assumption that a person living in an RV parked on a permanent lot is a full-time RVer.
      RV is shortened from (as we all know) “recreational vehicle” but how many are actually using them for recreation?
      If we would stop labeling people living in an RV at a homeless “camp” as RVers, and instead see it for what it is, maybe they could get more help. It’s lazy and inaccurate. And not RV or travel related

    • At the beginning of the pandemic, it was baby boomers that created the largest workforce exit in several decades in the form of “early retirement”. Collecting social security and medicate (socialist programs, so is writing off home ownership on your taxes, which makes your home government subsidized housing). Employment among Gen X through Gen Z, now far exceeds that of working age Boomers. So point of fact, it’s your generation that doesn’t want to work, and prefers to suck off the government teet. But hey. Boomers worked soo hard destroying the planet, maybe you all should sit the rest of history out.

      • Boomers laid the foundation for prosperity enjoyed by Gen X thru Gen Z’ers. They paid their taxes and many businesses that GEN X/Z work for also enjoy tax write-offs, not to mention employee tax deferrals and diversifications, so I guess that makes you and your boss “government subsidized” also. Boomers didn’t destroy this planet the made it the developed high standard of living platform for you and other future generations to move forward with and build on, but it seems you are moving life and all the hard won liberties by your predecessors, backward with your progressive ideologies. Boomers did their jobs, paid their due and it’s time to retire and enjoy the fruits of those labors.

      • Thank God your here to save the planet, all powerful that you are. Once you’ve accomplished that task, maybe you could figure out sustainable cold fusion. What are your plans for day 3?

  13. WRT Mr. Jenkins and other veterans in similar circumstances, first of all thank you for your service. I read continuously about veterans who have fallen on hard times and am curious as to the path that brought them there. Surely when they left the service they were not living in this way. Do they not have family? Does the GI bill still exist? Did they not have a plan for moving forward after their service? A lot of theses stories seem to reflect a lot of elderly veterans. These are just some questions I have been wanting to ask and perhaps find some answers that could correct issues leading to those unintentional forks in the road and eventual homelessness.

    • It’s sad that Alexander Jenkins, a Navy veteran is in his situation. Would be nice if a another veteran by living by him could get him help. Even allow us fellow veterans a place to send some money to help him.

    • As a 5 tour combat vet. The VA makes getting a disability rating extremely difficult, PTSD is extremely difficult to treat, and makes it even more difficult to hold down a job. It took me 12 years of fighting to get my 100% Service connected rating. We end up homeless because we have been broken, by our service. Asking for help is stigmatized in the military, and our toxically masculine society. (Shows weakness) Some of my fellow Vets feel safer sleeping under a bridge, than they do in a house. We tend to have a lot of sick days due to Migraines, Service related illness from burn pits. Depression makes it hard to be motivated to do anything. Drug and alcohol abuse are high among my cohort.


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