Saturday, December 2, 2023


Homeless ‘solutions’ have mixed results

Two cities on the West Coast have taken different approaches to homeless solutions. They’ve certainly had mixed results, showing that there are no quick fixes, and certainly no “one size fits all” for the problem of people who’ve lost their homes. We’ll focus on how these have affected disadvantaged RVers in this month’s report, “Disadvantaged RVers on ‘the street.'”

Portland’s “safe lot” off to a bumpy start

Portland, Oregon, has played the unwilling host to plenty of homeless people. Multnomah County, where Portland sits, declared there were “5,228 people experiencing homelessness” last April. Of them, 20% were disadvantaged RVers living on the street—more than 1,000 people.

One homeless solution bandied about by Portland officials was setting aside a “safe lot” where those living in RVs could park off the street in relative safety. From the idea’s seed to the actual finding and opening a safe lot took nearly six months. Located near Portland’s international airport, the Sunderland RV Safe Park opened last July. With so many folks living on the streets in RVs, one would expect such a safe haven to fill up instantly.

The siren call of drug use—or something else?

homeless solutions
RVs parked on the street not far from safe park. kgwnews via x

A month after opening, the 55-site lot held just nine RVs. Not far from the official park, an unofficial lineup of RVs was parked curbside. What was the problem? One media outlet suggests the problem is associated with Oregon’s laws regarding the use of drugs. Oregon voters earlier passed laws eliminating criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. At the same time, those using the Safe Park aren’t allowed to possess or use such drugs on site. That, summed up the paper, was the issue. These folks would rather smoke crack than come in off the street.

Digging a little deeper, another media outlet suggests seeming lack of interest in staying on at Sunderland may have other roots. To move into the Portland safe lot, disadvantaged RVers must be able to show proof they own the RV they live in. Some who want to take advantage of Portland’s offer find themselves ineligible. For many, some of whom have moved into abandoned rigs, or perhaps gotten them through a “van lord,” showing such proof is impossible.

Olympia: From sewage plant to reflecting lake

A couple of hours north of Portland, in Washington’s capitol city, Olympia, disadvantaged RVers living on the streets have been an issue for years. For some time a homeless encampment was parked across the street from the area’s giant sewage treatment plant. Not exactly a pleasant-smelling location. Another group parked along a roadway directly in sight of the state’s capitol dome. Legislators and tourism promoters found that undesirable. The state took an official position on the matter and rows of RVs were chased out.

homeless solutions
Before ‘clean out’ RVs near Olympia’s main hospital. Danny Stuser on

Other RV “encampments” appeared around the city. One group parked along the curbs near Olympia’s major hospital. At times rigs and their denizens blocked the hospital’s ambulance entrance, creating patient arrival issues. Another encampment popped up on an Interstate 5 right-of-way. When local residents complained to the city, officials said they had no authority over the matter, and they should complain to state officials.

Tiny homes and converted motel rooms

One of Olympia’s tiny house villages.

City officials looked for homeless solutions and hit on a multifold approach. A city-owned paved lot was equipped with tiny houses: wood constructs with a window, a lockable door, and electric heating. The tiny houses had room enough for up to two, and on-site bathrooms and shower facilities were provided. Also included, counseling to help transition folks away from these temporary measures and into permanent housing solutions.

The tiny home homeless solution has since expanded; there are now a total of three similar facilities in the area. And with the infusion of federal funds to help with homelessness, a large building, formerly a motel, has been converted into apartments for folks in need. Unlike Portland’s drug-free safe-lot ruling, the Maple Court complex allows tenants to use drugs, albeit they can be used only in the privacy of their apartments.

Road near Olympia’s hospital now occupied only by barriers. R&T De Maris photo

We recently drove through the areas that had been filled with disadvantaged RVers. Where the street near the hospital had once been lined with RVs, now huge concrete blocks discourage anyone from curbside parking. The site near the sewage treatment plant still has a somewhat unwelcome odor, but no RVs. The state’s capitol building looks down on a lake, and the sidewalks are filled not with boxes, tents, and overflow, but with bikers and pedestrians. At the site near Interstate 5, we encountered a handful of RVs—none of them occupied—while work crews removed what was left of the former encampment.

So far, Olympia’s homeless solution appears to have had some success. It’s possible that some disadvantaged RVers simply moved on to other towns and cities, but at least some are hopefully on the way to a more stable existence.

Here’s a roundup of other news related to disadvantaged RVers on “the street.”

A disadvantaged RVer living in Idaho’s Payette National Forest got an unwelcome visit from undercover U.S. Forest Service police. Brooks Roberts and his family had been forced out of their permanent home by circumstances. After allegedly overstaying their time limit, undercover agents showed up at the Roberts’ site and in the process, ended up shooting Brooks Roberts eleven times. Read more about this traumatic situation in this report by writer Randall Brink.

Like many other Bay Area cities, San Jose, California, is struggling with how to deal with the plight of disadvantaged RVers. By a recent estimate, there were about 800 of these folks living on the streets in the rigs. Last month the city said they’d ban RV-dwelling near schools. Now officials are talking about outright bans of rigs on certain streets, and beefing up street parking time-limit enforcement. One other possibility being considered is this novel approach: Issue permits to RV dwellers based on their agreement to a code of conduct including that of keeping personal possessions off sidewalks.

“Let’s organize a honk-a-thon”


Kenneth Houser and his two kids had an apartment and reasonable living until the COVID crisis messed up their lives. They were evicted and ended up living in a motorhome on a Bend, Oregon, street. Kenneth’s job working in a Laundromat doesn’t pay enough for sticks-and-bricks housing. Adding insult to injury, now an area truck driver has taken to making the family’s life a bit harder. Quite regularly, the big rig driver shuttles through the area where the Houser family is parked, repeatedly blasting his air horn at 6:00 in the morning. When the story was picked up by The Sun media, readers were mixed in their reactions. “I’d take an RV parked on my street, if they’re not trashy, over speeding honking entitled drivers going down my street any day,” commented one. Contrast it with this one: “Let’s organize a honk-a-thon.”

A non-profit group in Bradford, Maine, has purchased rural property with plans to build a place for “those without a permanent residence.” Bangor Friends of Affordable Housing got a price reduction from the seller when he heard how the group planned to use its 35 acres of land. Initially, the group plans on a six-site RV park. Some locals have expressed worries, but Michael Tuller, the group’s president, says they should have nothing to fear. Tuller told local media, “We are definitely not going to have an encampment. This is going to be housing for people who just got put out and haven’t had a problem being homeless up until now. Here, we’re taking clientele that can self-sustain.”

RVers tow themselves out before police take action.

Officials mystified about removal of rigs

The city manager and the police chief in Vallejo, California, are mystified. Last weekend police and tow trucks showed up at a homeless encampment there and began towing away disadvantaged RVers’ rigs without any notice. Rig owners said the police first walked the street, looking at license plates for expiration dates, several tow trucks arrived, and rigs were towed out. The city manager said the action was “outside of our protocol.” The police chief said he knew nothing about the action. When told at least eight uniformed officers were involved, the city manager was baffled, saying that at the time of the action, there were only three officers on shift.

Los Angeles, California, officials say 2022 saw a 40% jump in RV street dwellers when compared to 2018. That translated to 4,000 RVs on the streets. Adding to the numbers is the work of so-called “van lords” who rent out RVs to people who can’t afford traditional housing. To counter van lords, a newly proposed ordinance would tighten a loophole in existing LA law. The proposal would specifically include RVs in an ordinance that prohibits the parking of rental vehicles in streets or alleys “during the conduct of such business.” If the proposal is passed into law, just what will happen to existing customers of van lords—estimated to be about 85% of all LA RV street-dwellers—is unclear.

Bullhorns play classical at Home Depot. CBS News photo

Home Depot “blasts” disadvantaged RVers out

A big-box home improvement store in Oakland, California, has set area residents on edge in an apparent attempt to discourage disadvantaged RVers and others. Management at the Home Depot store recently mounted bullhorns on top of tall masts, playing classical music 24/7. The apparent target of the company concerto is an encampment on the outfit’s borders. However, the music is so loud, it reaches a gas station nearly two blocks away.

Local residents say their own sleep has been disturbed by the musical warfare. Home Depot wouldn’t comment to local media on their concerts. However, last fall a Home Depot corporate official asked Oakland municipal officials to clear the camp. “Out of our 2,200 stores throughout the country, Oakland is our biggest pressure when it comes to malicious thefts, along with other incidents as well,” declared Adriana Martins-Gregus. Interestingly, last April, Home Depot pushed a media release touting the corporation’s support for “veterans facing homelessness” by putting out over $10 million in grants to non-profit groups to build and renovate housing for at-risk veterans.

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.



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UPRIG (@guest_254716)
2 months ago

Why ‘homeless’ is now big business… elections matter… 2018 U.S. Federal Ninth Circuit Court ruling in Martin v. City of Boise.

Neal Davis (@guest_254428)
2 months ago

Thank you, Russ and Tina.

John the road again (@guest_254277)
2 months ago

Advocates for the homeless try to make the case that these are people just like you or I, enduring hard times or just one paycheck away from oblivion. And certainly there is some of that. But the vast majority is due to drugs.

“A month after opening, the [drugs not allowed] 55-site lot held just nine RVs.”

My town is experiencing this phenomenon. Some local officials want drug use permitted in shelters, because too many would rather camp in tents outside in sub-freezing winter than not use, which will make us an even bigger homeless magnet than we already are. We’ll be selling and moving out if and when that happens. I don’t want to see and experience what happens to my formerly pleasant small city after that.

The “War on Drugs” was certainly a disaster. Unfortunately, the non-war on drugs isn’t going any better.

Split Shaft (@guest_254244)
2 months ago

I suppose by owning an RV, that now makes every RV owner part of the homeless problem too.

James (@guest_254209)
2 months ago

Everywhere I go I see “Help wanted” signs so there is no shortage on jobs, but most of these homeless seem to just want to sit around and do drugs instead of working. Back in the 50’s and 60’s these people would have been arrested because of vagrancy laws.

Larry L (@guest_254165)
2 months ago

I don’t understand this new coverage. Used to be ESPN just covered sports news but then added social justice causes to it’s coverage and thus started to add politics to the mix. Can’t we just please cover RV use as it is originally intended and leave the politics out? Just look at the comments to see what comes to the peoples minds; it’s not about camping.

Mike Willoughby (@guest_254180)
2 months ago
Reply to  Larry L

I agree. It seems as if this newsletter is degenerating along the same path as other “news” organizations. No longer just a good source of RV tips etc, but we have to endure articles with obvious political slants under the guise of “RVing”.

Lorelei (@guest_254160)
2 months ago

Luckily, I don’t live in a city. But 30 miles away, every place the old, trashy RVs are parked, it looks like a garbage dump. It costs the city big money to clean up and replant the grass when they do move them. The inhabitants must be druggies (with children not in school). Some of the RVs are probably stolen. I don’t think it has a lot to do with covid. Many of the license plates are California. Oregon has enough problems without others making it worse. Where I live in a densely forested area, they try to move in. People on this old gravel road pitch a fit and get them moved out. There is much fire danger, and people don’t want to get burned out. I can’t afford to replace my log home. They try to move in with old tires, multiple gas cans, generators, and trashy trailers in dry grass and brush. Some are thieves and trespassers. It doesn’t look like they ever had jobs. Millions of migrants can’t be helping the situation. Back in town, long lines of RVs were in a once nice park along the river. I had no idea it was a mess, but needed to get my dog out for a bit before heading home, so drove through there. All over were groups of dirty looking people and teenagers. I was afraid to leave my car, so I quickly got the dog out and back in and out of there. As long as drugs are legal, it will not improve.

Jewel (@guest_254142)
2 months ago

I am like all the other commenters – drawn to respond to the term “disadvantaged RVers” – WTH?! They are no more RVers than a snail with a shell on its back. These people are homeless – they just found shelter. Without going into whether they are drug addicts or veterans or just down on their luck, do not lump this group into the RV lifestyle.
Whether fulltime RV living or vacation/weekend RV camping, nothing could be further from homelessness. The problem needs to be addressed as that, not anything to do with RV – they should not move to RV parks or even parking lots. They should be moved out of these old decrepit RVs and helped – in hospitals, shelters or housing (there are thankfully more of these going up – in Dallas, there is a highrise former hotel that was converted to homeless housing as a halfway house to help people get back on track with work and life).
Just stop making this an RV story!!

Chuck Woodbury
2 months ago
Reply to  Jewel

Jewel, they live in RVs. So this is, in fact, an RV story. It will continue to grow as a story. The RV industry is doing nothing to help deal with the situation. It just ignores it. We will continue to report on this new and growing way that RVs are being used. Nobody else in the RV media is or will. They are too busy writing generic, sugarcoated articles designed to please Google and advertisers, not you and other RVers. You have a lot of ideas of what SHOULD be done with these mostly unfortunate RV people on the streets, and they all have merit. But what are you doing to help these ideas become realities? At least we are promoting dialog about what’s happening. And, mark my words, you will see a lot more of these “RV homeless” in the months and years ahead. And you will see an RV industry that won’t say a word about it because everything is perfect out there with RVers, right?

Patti Panuccio (@guest_254157)
2 months ago
Reply to  Chuck Woodbury


Jules (@guest_254176)
2 months ago
Reply to  Chuck Woodbury

I won’t argue the facts – but to say they are RVers, is not accurate.
By your standard, homeless encampments with Coleman tents should be addressed and remedied by Coleman or at least the camping supply industry.
Or how about homeless people living in a Nissan? Should Nissan step up and do something about it? Or the automotive industry as a whole should take that responsibility?

I’m not trying to be argumentative but it just isn’t representative of people who choose to use a recreational vehicle as their mode of recreational travel nor is it representative of the RV industry.

This is not an RV industry issue. It is a humanitarian issue.

Mike Willoughby (@guest_254185)
2 months ago
Reply to  Jules

This ^^^

Cancelproof (@guest_254196)
2 months ago
Reply to  Chuck Woodbury

No offense Chuck, but Jewel pointing out the problem and potential solutions is what’s needed. Are you saying that only people that choose to get involved get a say? Don’t chime in unless your willing to volunteer and actively participate in housing the HoboRVers. Pay your taxes and be quiet Jewel!!!

I agree the article and conversation is needed and am greatful that RVtravel takes on these tough topics so thank you Chuck and Emily, Russ and Tina.

The greater issue I see is the “New-Speak” in journalism used to shape a narrative.
Jeffery Dahmer was not an “Alternative Protein Enthusiast”. “Disadvantaged RVers” in most cases are actually “homeless junkies sheltering in dilapidated campers”. The word “Disadvantaged” implies it was an outside circumstance beyond any personal choice, put them there. Choosing drugs is not like loosing your house in an earthquake. 99% of the Hobo-RVers and Vagrant-Campers had exactly the same “advantage” in life as you, me and every other RVtravel reader. Making them a victim does nothing to help. Not Disadvantaged and not victims. Saying it doesn’t make it so.

Bill Byerly (@guest_254211)
2 months ago
Reply to  Cancelproof

I echo your thoughts Cancelproof…

Jewel (@guest_254217)
2 months ago
Reply to  Cancelproof

You said it well, Cancelproof. I am not against shedding light on a sore subject but journalism is not supposed to be the judge or the accuser, but the messenger.

And as long as we live in a free country, we should all exercise our rights to free speech, and dang it if the taxes don’t go where they should…speak up! It’s a problem that goes far beyond the type of dwelling chosen.

Pat (@guest_254228)
2 months ago
Reply to  Chuck Woodbury

These articles continue to show how the whole idea behind RVs has changed. They are no longer for vacations or retirement years. They are often all people can afford to buy and live in. Unfortunately they are all too often the broken down ones they buy. Then finding a park they can afford is near impossible.

As the person in a park where a big corp came in evicting those who have been here often for years, work in the area or retired here – where will the people with older RVs go even though many worked to keep them looking nice? I know some that had to quit their jobs because they could find no park to move to in the area. Many found nice parks to move to, some bought newer RVs so they could stay, others found not so nice parks, some are unsafe and others are out on the roads. I am heading to AZ where many parks are not as expensive.

In this country if you are illegals you get free housing, free food, free cell phones, free medical, free schooling, etc. But be a homeless American you often get treated like trash left to fend for yourself.

Linda B (@guest_254283)
2 months ago
Reply to  Chuck Woodbury

Well said Chuck!

Bob M (@guest_254127)
2 months ago

Is the influx of illegal immigrants increasing the number of people living on the street. Maybe some states need to build low income housing. Our government and businesses are so greedy increasing fees and taxes, but not the minimum wage that people can’t afford to live anymore.

Tommy Molnar (@guest_254181)
2 months ago
Reply to  Bob M

Minimun wage was NEVER designed to be a family supporting wage.

Megan Edwards (@guest_254237)
2 months ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Was orginally designed to support the worker, his wife and one child. Meaning has changed over time.

Cancelproof (@guest_254212)
2 months ago
Reply to  Bob M

If someone’s life plan between 24 and 60 years old is minimum wage, not much of a plan. Minimum wage is/was intended for high schoolers to transition into the greater workforce. Also, it can be used as a good default wage for retired seniors to pick up a few bucks and keep busy in retirement.

Raise minimum wage, raise inflation. Just like UAW strikes, the demands for a 40% pay raise would do wonders for the price of an automobile and thus, inflation. If only we could have another Inflation Reduction Act that raises inflation. Now that was some good branding to sell a product. Like a water saving toilet that you have to flush 5 times…..

Kelly R (@guest_254271)
2 months ago
Reply to  Cancelproof

Cancelproof, I had to laugh at your water saving toilet comment. I had thousands of them in dormitories. If only they would be flushed 5 times, Our mechanic calls to unstop them markedly increased to the point of being nuts. That water saving idea was one that backfired big time.

Cancelproof (@guest_254287)
2 months ago
Reply to  Kelly R

Always happy to see your handle pop up in the comments KellyR. Hope you had a great summer. I didn’t want my wife’s baking today to be “Disadvantaged” with store bought butter so I made some fresh butter today. Split in 2 batches and salted half of it (lightly). Worth it, as I’m sure you know. Wish I could share more than just thoughts here with you. Peace and health my friend.

Lorelei (@guest_254280)
2 months ago
Reply to  Cancelproof

Exactly right with the brilliant government and water saving toilets. I flush mine four or five times to make sure it all gets to the septic tank because plumbers who have to drive to the country are not cheap, and they charge for mileage and travel time. The water savers backfired, but now the tanks are even smaller. The government doesn’t solve anything, so the druggies will continue as always, homeless.

Lorelei (@guest_254279)
2 months ago
Reply to  Bob M

In my state, there is a lot of low income housing plus little shelters with door locks and such. But it seems “if you build it, they will come.” And they just keep coming, more and more. One retired police chief tried to help get them jobs and get new starts, but most of them don’t want that kind of help. They just want their drugs. We are already taxed to death (property taxes). I sure can’t afford to support them.

Tom (@guest_254101)
2 months ago

Easy drugs are destroying our country. That is not a solution.
When you do the math, dividing the number “served’ into the amount of taxpayer’s money, how much is spent per person, and how little is accomplished.

Cancelproof (@guest_254084)
2 months ago

“Disadvantaged RVers”, Huh?

Thanks for the “New-speak”. It is so much more inclusive. A sensitive description of the Hobo-RVer from a bygone Era. Absolutely nothing new in that piece, the State Capital Dome has it’s view back, outa sight outa mind. Yup, they must have moved on….. to somewhere else….. that’s not a success im afraid but thanks for the sales pitch on the failed policy, they are still homeless, still heroin addicts and still a tremendous danger to the law abiding tax payers of some other city with a different group of fools running the show.

Dan (@guest_254113)
2 months ago
Reply to  Cancelproof

That description “Disadvantaged RVers” got my attention too. How about “Feral Campers”? We live just a couple miles outside the city limits and occasionally see one or two pushing shopping carts full of their stuff down the road, so I feel like it is spreading. Our local bus service had to completely remove a new glass walled bus stop because it turned into a favored out house that had to be cleaned several times a day. I’m all for giving people a hand up, but absolutely no hand outs. Barring psychological problems they had the same chances the rest of us had.

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