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If you live in an RV, can you still be “homeless”?

by Deanna Tolliver
What makes an “RV community”? Ten years ago, you might have said meeting fellow RVers, impromptu happy hour get-togethers with the new neighbors, maybe potlucks and outside games. Really, it seems like an RV community evolves anywhere a group of RVers share the same general space and common interests.

These days, an “RV community” is no longer comprised of one group of people. It’s no longer just the new retirees who sell their homes and take off to see America. Or the 50-somethings who take their RV out as often as they can, sometimes for months in the winter. Or even the young family who takes a break from their hectic week by going “camping” at a nearby state park on the weekends.

An RV community can now be:

— Worker “bees” moving to where the jobs are, all around the country
— Millennials living fulltime in their RVs with online jobs
— Families who have learned that an RV can be an inexpensive first home
— College students who find RV living cheaper than a dorm or apartment
— Retirees who can’t afford a “sticks n’ bricks” home
— Homeless people, still on the street, but with a roof over their heads

The group getting the most press these days is the homeless, which begs the question: If you live in an RV, are you really homeless? If people are living in structures which they regard as their “homes,” then why do we refer to them as “homeless”?

I think the fine line here is crossed when the “RVer” can’t afford to pay for electricity, water or sewer at an RV campground, or doesn’t have the means to dry camp. These are the people paying a few thousand dollars for a motorhome that has seen much better days. It’s cheaper to buy a worn-out Class C than a towable because a trailer requires a vehicle. Besides, a motorhome has a higher “stealth” factor: Cover all the windows and no one knows if you’re “home.”

A battle is being waged in many parts of the U.S. today and the battleground is your neighborhood, or one very like it. The homeless RVers must have places to park. Oftentimes a quiet neighborhood in suburbia is an enticing place. Homeowners in that neighborhood strongly disagree. There are stories of sewage being dumped curbside and garbage accumulating in yards. Often the police are called. If there is a municipal ordinance forbidding RVs on streets, the RVer will be given either a warning or a ticket or both and told to get out of the neighborhood. Many just move a few blocks away until they are told, again, to move on.

Seems straightforward enough. But when there are hundreds, if not thousands, of these homeless RVers, where do they all go? A recent headline in the Los Angeles Times said: “Faced with complaints of filth and blight, L.A. cracks down on overnight RV parking. Now, the homeless are scrambling”. (Click here for the full story.) The 2017 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count reports 4,545 “campers and RVs” on the streets that serve as makeshift homes.

Seattle has been dealing with this issue since at least 2008, when the city earmarked a $10,000 grant for a program to set up a “safe-lot” program for homeless people living in RVs and cars. The program didn’t start until 2011, and then, only one lot was available, with only ten spots. It still is the only safe-lot, and may be closed in July this year.

The idea was to get the homeless in a safe place and put on a list for affordable housing. Trouble was, only the car and van dwellers seemed interested. The homeless RVers, for the most part, just wanted a safe place to park. A recent headline in The Seattle Times reads: “Seattle still doesn’t know what to do with thousands of people living in vehicles.” RVs can park in industrial areas for up to 72 hours. Then, time to move on and find another place to park.

The Seattle City Council is looking into a proposal to fund more services for the homeless, one that would include RVs. It would cost roughly $1.15 million per year…or almost $12,000 per vehicle in the program.

Like other cities up and down the West Coast, home prices and rents are not affordable for many people. San Diego also has a homeless RVer issue. That city has tackled the problem by operating three safe-lots, with 150 sites each, but RVs are not allowed; only people living in cars, trucks, or vans are given permits to stay, and then, only until they move into affordable housing. The RVers are still on the streets. And a city ordinance bans them from parking on any public street from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m.

A spokesperson for the San Diego program said they don’t allow RVs in their safe-lots because “a different population lives in them, people generally more resistant to leaving their vehicles for housing.”

Don’t think this is only an issue on the West Coast.

In Colorado Springs, Colorado, the RV homeless are called “RV squatters.” Many have tried to take up residence in grocery store parking lots. In Longmont, the homeless in RVs are told to “move along.” So they ask, to where? No answer has been given.

Homeless RVers can no longer spend the night in Walmart parking lots in the mid-Willamette Valley, Oregon, with the threat of being towed away if they do.

At a meeting in Missoula, Montana, a Ward 4 Councilman said, “If they are living in an RV, they are one step from probably being homeless. They shouldn’t be (parked) on the street.” To which a homeless RVer replied: “Why don’t you help us find a place to park…?”

Indeed…Why don’t we find them a place to park? An empty mall parking lot. Porta-potties. Maybe a honey wagon once a week. Water hydrants to fill holding tanks. Maybe even a program offering solar panels to keep batteries charged.

I can already hear some comments: “Tell them to get a job!” “Why should I support them? I don’t have enough money either.”

Many of the RV homeless are families with children. (Click here to read one family’s story.) Some are disabled military veterans. Others have mental disabilities and are not employable.

What do YOU think? Please leave a comment.

##RVT851 ##RVDT1446

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Prepper Sam
1 month ago

We all had choices, some of us to chose to save our money for retirement and to plan ahead, to stop buying pricey coffee, spend $100 a week eating out at a nice restaurant, to buy fast food or buy a nice truck we couldn’t afford.

I chose to learn how to prep fby installing my own solar power, to learn to live in an RV full time after my autistic brother freaked during the pandemic shutdown and kick me out of his home. I worked during the shutdown and was able to save more money, I live on $1400 a month at 67 and live on family property, and I have a car.

I’m a survivor most of you are not, you still buy pricey coffee, fast food and stuff you can’t afford, live pay check to pay check, and pay high rent, good luck when you’re homeless, I warned you. Prep Sam

Prepper Sam
1 month ago

The homeless leave their trash behind, are drunk, on drugs or have mental problems, they give most RVers a bad rap, it doesn’t matter where they’re moved, they’ll do it there too. I live a much better life in my RV. I had a Plan B in case I needed to move into something affordable and I did, I don’t consider myself homeless. I have a working bathroom, shower, on solar power, and water, even though I’m on SSA, I still work a part time gig job to supplement my income, I’m able to save part of my income in case I decide to get a nicer RV in the future.

During the Covid 19 pandemic, many moved into RVs here in California after they were evicted, or just wanted a place to be away from infected family, many now work or live in RVs outside their homes.

Those living on Section 8 here in Central California are now getting evicted after their rent is going from $500 to $1200 a month or more, save your money and have a Plan B, don’t “B” homeless. Prep Sam

Greg A.
1 year ago

Using old RV’s for homeless people is a valid option to help folks at this level in our society. Recommend locations for them to park should have limits to the numbers at each location, perhaps no more than 50 at any location, otherwise the public may perceive them too intrusive. Localities could determine what level of basic services to provide with utilities and social services. Locating them close to mass transportation options and local job opportunities is important. This really is another great level to provide shelter for homeless. Appreciate you focusing on this. Successful examples need to be put forth.

John Koenig
1 year ago

“Homeless” people are a complex problem with NO easy answers and definitely NO “one size fits all” answer. Some municipalities have thrown LARGE amounts of money at said problem but, I’m not aware of ANY communities where such action has provided a long term solution. Personally, I believe it is FAR more of a drug problem that it is a homeless problem. Some time ago, KOMO (an NBC affiliate in Seattle) did an hour long program highlighting this problem. It was called “Seattle is Dying” and, the program contrasted how Seattle’s “solution” was working vs the way Rhode Island addressed the issue. The bottom line was that Seattle was just sinking deeper while Rhode Island’s actions had reduced recidivism dramatically. Here’s a link to the documentary:

https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/seattle-dying/

Bill Dornbush
1 year ago

I work with some homeless people who live in their cars. They seem to me of two types. There are those who are temporarily homeless due to job loss or medical problems and truly want to get back into a home. We have helped some get into apartments. The other type are those who are, uh, mentally challenged and will bounce between homes and being homeless. The only way to help this second group is to provide mental health services and permanent supportive housing. Some will say that we should not provide this service and pay for them to live in housing. But if we don’t, then this housing crisis will continue. As a nation, we certainly have the resources. I hope we have the political will to do this so we can reduce the crisis.

Abe Loughin
1 year ago

This issue, to me, is a socio/political can of worms. On one hand I believe these people should take steps to improve their own situation. On the other hand, I realize that their situations may not be of their own making. I believe in the old adages, give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for life. A hand up is better than a hand out. So, instead of just moving this segment of rv dwellers from place to place, provide those capable of working with occupational training and and a spot to park while in the program. I’m not sure how to address the segment of this population that for whatever reason are incapable of taking care of themselves.

Rosy
1 year ago

Everybody get together; gotta help one another right now. Seems this plight is not new. Help the helpless. Do for those who can’t do for themselves. Somehow manage to live your own American Dream while helping a less fortunate somebody live theirs. Does my opinion count for anything besides using up space on a page? Does yours? Not so much! Too many people today want, even expect, something for nothing. When did those who have less become entitled? Everybody is not a winner! Everyone is not equal! Doing one’s best is not always good enough! There is no single answer that will end poverty or homeless conditions for a village, county, state, or country. Do your part whomever you are and whatever your part is. Find your niche. Contribute something. Expect nothing. Become a leader. Appreciate others as well as what you have, which may be nothing more than your own time and talents. Opinions are cheap and easy to find. The way out of anything or any place takes a bit of work.

Donald N Wright
1 year ago

I guess you have to build a community for the homeless RV’er, with water, electric, and sewage to each site. Everyone has to pay a fee based on their income. Squatters are evicted, a security officer, a small store/office/Post Office. Best on U.S. government property. Up near Seattle, a facility could be built inside the fence at Hanford.

Marty chambers
1 year ago

I think that it would be cheaper to set up camps in areas where the property is of little to no use. For example abandoned industrial areas, areas near railroad tracks, near dumps and recycling, and so on.

Dumping of wastes, water, and trash removal provided to keep minimum standards and to protect the environment. It’s cheaper than dealing with the alternatives.

Social services will be able to assist people and security can be provided.

But it comes down to people thinking this is a waste of tax money and whether we want to help the less fortunate. Affordable housing is the issue and people say NIMBY, not in my back yard. Well, it won’t be. America has so much wealth disparity it’s time for people with obscene wealth. Why can’t the rich help the poor?

Tommy Molnar
1 year ago
Reply to  Marty chambers

But, who determines what “obscene wealth” is, or who is considered “rich”. Then, who determines what constitutes being “poor”?

This is not as easy as it may sound.

Jay March
1 year ago

There are many people who are full time RV ers I’m in a 25 foot travel trailer since 12/2016 and also full time. I thought traveling would be fun. It might be if you have to wherewithal to do so. I got a job and stay in a membership RV resort campground for 3 weeks a month, one week a month in a mobile home park 12 miles away. It is a low cost lifestyle. I would love to own another home but find at my age 66 it would be difficult to get approved for a mortgage especially since my income is so low.
It was said that in California if you live in an RV the state considers you as homeless. I think 🤔 I’m one step above that as I have a home on wheels. Home is where I park it and I pay rent to stay in the parks. I went from $6,000 a month in expenses to less than $1,150 a month including a car payment insurance gas food laundry 🧺 and storage container rent. Loving the less stress life

blavard
1 year ago

The IRS considers RV’s a second home. You can mortgage one and write off the payments. So they are homes. And like any home, your’s can be declared unlivable if it does not meet codes. One of those tarp covered, dilapidated squalor shacks on wheels with no running water or functioning toilets could be judged the same way a house is, and condemned

Nancy K Michaels
1 year ago
Reply to  blavard

One correction, only the interest paid is deductible, not the entire mortgage payment.

Poly
2 years ago

Working sucks, and when you earn less than 3x local average income, you are forced to rent – which is just like burning your cash every month. Every citizen should be allotted home-ownership credits for renting so they don’t feel like they’re just a bunch of working schmucks getting scammed. If a person is unable to work for whatever reason, they should automatically be placed in a government program that houses them and helps them toward employment. Currently, as of 2019, there is no such housing-assistance-with-employment program offered at the federal or state level anywhere in the USA, but many other nations around the world have had these types of programs for decades. USA = Third World

WILLIAM YRIGOYEN
2 years ago

I have a job my dad passed not long ago my mom is disabled and gets SSI the rent is just to high for us to afford i wish we had a home but for now we are just trying to survive. We are not bad people just there isn’t any help when it boils down to it.

Mandee
2 years ago

We’re one of these families. Luckily we live in a part of Oregon where we’ve made a community and we get the help we need to stay warm, and we can park in forest land. But we’re just waiting on housing… thanks for bringing attention to this. We’re not all bad or resistant to housing. Who would want their children cold at night? ?

Poly
2 years ago
Reply to  Mandee

“Housing” sucks, in general, and “low-income housing” sucks horribly, every time. People shouldn’t be forced to choose between living in their vehicle in peaceful, natural surroundings or living in a cramped apartment in a noisy, polluted urban setting. Many who are resistant to housing are really resistant to the low-quality housing being offered (to those who can afford it – it’s still not truly affordable for most who need it). Residential construction standards are getting worse, and “low-income housing” is becoming less affordable, but government leaders seem clueless or like they just don’t care.

Ianto Jones
3 years ago

I’ve typed this before, but – Some of us truly are just poor.
My wife and I worked for decades, before becoming severely disabled (I worked for decades *while* severely disabled, but my condition is progressive).
I have a small pension, and we both earned SSDI by regularly paying in over the course of our careers.

She has MS, and requires a mild climate.

Our apartment raised our rent by triple digits, annually, for seven years (doubling our original rent); this was unsustainable on a fixed income.

We have been very fortunate. We were able to use Craigslist to trade my wheelchair minivan straight -across for a 30yo 23ft Class C (fully maintained, and decent-looking with its fibreglass hull).
It is four feet longer than the minivan.

We were additionally fortunate to find a long-term space in a “mixed” RV park (daily/weekly tourists in front, ‘permanent residents’ in back).

We were lower-middle Class white collar workers.

In two to three years, we will have paid off our medical debts, and be able to upgrade our rig to something from this century.

We endure seeing people on the RV forums refer to undesirable Permanent Residents in their “unsightly” older rigs.

We endure seeing ourselves lumped in with the mentally ill and addicted.

Truth is, if we hadn’t found a park that was willing to overlook our older rig (it’s presentable, and maintained), *we* would be street or Walmart parking while we get this debt cleared (paying 65% of our income to it, done in 2020).

At that point we will be fine, but – the judgment and condescension *hurts*.

There but for a major illness go most of you.

I was never a “deadbeat”. When my mom had a stroke, with no savings, I paid her hospital bills and rent for a few years. On a nonprofit grunt’s salary.

I had my first paid job at nine, my first W-2 job at 14, and worked steadily and well despite several severe handicaps.

When I lost my ability to work, my savings were quickly depleted by my COBRA payments (which were four digits and twice my rent at the time).

All this shortly before the ACA would have allowed me guaranteed coverage, I couldn’t risk a gap due to pre-existing conditions.

And recent medical care/history is required for disability approval.

Finally got caught up with that debt, (during which time I married my amazing wife), and two years later her MS progressed severely (bringing intractable epilepsy to the party as well). Several hospital stays and a severe stroke later, we again had heavy debt.

After being priced out of our 500sft apartment home of nearly a decade, we were fortunate enough to end up with our 1990 treasure of a sanctuary.

We (neatly and considerately, leaving no trace) spent a month and a half trading every few nights between grocery stores and a friendly mechanic’s, before we found an RV park willing to make an exception to their “2000 or newer” policy. We patronized the grocery store, and the mechanic.

We make enough to pay rent, but not first/last/security, and our credit is slowly improving due to “high debt-to-income” that we are steadily paying down.

This park is roughly half our apartment rent, allowing us to pay the majority of our income to the debt. (Payoff date in 2020.)

After all payments including rent, utilities and phone, we have between $140-$170 to eat on and cover any unexpected expenses each month.

We don’t have cable or wired internet. Our cell plan is a grandfathered T-Mobile family plan split with four friends (total of seven lines, less than $25/line unlimited but slow). We don’t eat out or go to the cinema.

We are extremely lucky to *not* be homeless. But many of you would judge us.

We never did anything extravagant (our largest splurge before she got sick, was occasionally going to the RenFaire).

We paid into SSDI, and claimed it when needed. I earned my pension as well, through many years of 17hr days/7-day weeks.

Empathy to those in this thread with similar stories, and gratitude to those expressing compassion.

To the others:
What would you have done differently?

Glenn Bradshaw
2 years ago
Reply to  Ianto Jones

I also I’m in a similar boat or RV.. live in Canada and I’m suffering debilitating arthritis luckily I have an employer who is willing to put up with things taking me a lot longer than normal.. but I have a small dog and I am being turned away from multiple RV sites despite my truck and RV being this… 2014 Dodge Ram Cummins turbo diesel … 2009 VR1 Keystone

Poly
2 years ago
Reply to  Glenn Bradshaw

Oh my gosh! Those are relatively modern rigs. I imagine there is so much demand for the spaces that these parks can turn away everyone who does not have a really modern vehicle. Shows how the RV parks situation is changing – those lots are being bought out by condo developers – while at the same time the income gap keeps getting wider, forcing more people into older vehicles. And I’m getting so sick of seeing all these huge condo complexes lining the roads – they are really depressing to look at, especially knowing that they’re replacing beautiful, older homes, and condo owners are paying through the nose to own (or rent) what are essentially just more dumpy apartments.

Curtis Dowds
3 years ago

I just ran across this encouraging thread. It’s so long and detailed that I don’t have time to read it in its entirety. Much of what I write might have already been said and said better. But at the risk of repeating what others have said, I want to support those who are saying that the “homeless” RV’ers need the intense political support of those of us who aren’t homeless but who do own RV’s for travel and, in my case, traveling and sometimes also work. I’ve been nothing short of aghast at the almost universal response of California cities to the homeless in RVs in their midst. Go away is the short of it. They don’t want you on their streets. And that includes those of us passing through for a day or two. No overnight parking or parking restrictions based on vehicle size is almost universal now.

My purpose in writing, besides expressing my dismay at the political cowardice of those among us who won’t confront the homeless issue, is to second those who are arguing that public RV campgrounds for which there is space in plain sight everywhere (think huge mall parking lots that are never filled and will be less and less filled as Amazon sweeps them away, think, as I’ve already read, abandoned military bases or even exurban farmland that didn’t make it). How much can it cost to level the land, put in drainage and electricity and water hookups and then community showers, laundries, and then charge some kind of minimally subsidized rent for poorer RV’ers who are trying to keep it together. Miscreants, of course, lose their privileges. Of course. And then leave the everyone else alone. The idea that this hasn’t been done already up and down California, the supposedly liberal state, strikes me as a statement about out own greed and fear of falling off the wagon, also as I’ve already said, need I repeat it, political cowardice

Admin
Chuck Woodbury (@chuck)
3 years ago
Reply to  Curtis Dowds

Curtis, good thought but there is whole lot more to it than what you sum up here. It costs a lot to put in hookups, showers, laundries, etc., and the homeless don’t want to be far away from services available in cities. Send them out to the farmland? How will they get back to town? These are not people who tow a vehicle behind their motorhomes. Oh, if they will form a co-op on that farmland and grow their own food, then great. But from what I have seen that just isn’t going to happen.

Poly
2 years ago
Reply to  Curtis Dowds

I agree, though I believe the best long-term solution would be to integrate these people into the main social order with housing and employment. Everyone complains about the high cost of programs like these, but most of these people have been paying into their government all their lives, and they deserve to have programs that prevent them from being forced to live like permanent urban campers when there is so much greed, corruption and wasteful government spending all around them. When a military-industrial project like the F-35 shows essentially zero net sum results after pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into the offshore bank accounts of just a few military-industrial CEOS…

Sidney Peters
3 years ago

Deanna,
Thank you so much for this detailed story. It is heartrending and all too true. Recently I did some research about the Civilian Conservation Corps. During the great depression there were millions out of work. Farmers had to walk away from their shattered lives during the Dust Bowl years, and families had to turn out their own young sons because they couldn’t afford to feed them. They became the “hobos”, jumping trains for transportation and living in camps alongside the tracks. The CCC was created as a program to put young men to work. Unfortunately women were not included in the program.

The CCC did much more than create jobs. It helped restore mid-America’s farmlands by building canals. It trained young men in trades that they later used to support their families. It educated the workers in trade and high school classes during the evenings. It fed emaciated young men healthy meals. It developed parks all over the country with facilities we are still using today. It taught a generation the importance of land stewardship and the delight of being in nature. Supervisors, teachers and other staff received jobs in their chosen profession. Participants had to meet low income requirements and were accustomed to being poor. The CCC gave them meaningful work to do and improved their self esteem. What a great example our history gives us!

I don’t have a solution to the nationwide issue of our growing homelessness population. During those years a person didn’t need a credit check to rent an apartment. They didn’t need a background check to get a job. I do know they were often dependent on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter and most were willing to work hard for very little money. A community for “homeless” RVers could include a food bank, physical and mental health clinic, training programs, and a temporary job agency. I don’t think of it as a handout. I think of it as an invitation to become a member of our society ………. with value and something important to offer. Healthier people with access to good nutrition and education make for better workers and happier citizens. Does anyone really believe that people wish to have devastating circumstances that lead them to homelessness? It’s a chaotic world out there and some of us just can’t cope with the demands of our society.

Nanci
3 years ago

I am so saddened by some of the mean and sometimes hateful comments above. What has happened to Empathy? Humanity? Caring and Concern? We are a nation that purposely established programs using our tax dollars to help and care for those who need our help. Who am I to find fault or worthiness of that help? Are we not our brother’s keeper?
My husband and I are currently camping in a state park in Minnesota and I met a couple that are also full-timers. They however were doing it in a very, very old trailer without a bathroom and had brought their dishes and clothes to wash in the park’s large dishwashing sinks. They were obviously struggling. We exchanged information on campgrounds, places we had been and where we go in the winter as I would with any other full timer. We left wishing each other safe travels.
I was aware that I could go to a laundromat or use the washer and dryer in our brand new motorhome when we had full hookups again and that I wouldn’t be at the dishwashing sink if I was using the dishwasher in the motorhome either.
Financial separation is a thin line and I am grateful for a job that didn’t end on the cusp of retirement, having had a home to voluntarily leave, health, and the ability to CHOOSE to live this dream.

Katalin Heymann
3 years ago

I’m one pf those homeless. I was living in my minivan until 2 months ago. I’m now in a 20 year old travel trailer with a leaky and disintegrating roof. I’m handicapped and living on Social Security and don’t have the financial resources to repair the roof along with all the other things constantly breaking. My sister bought the trailer for me to live in, but she doesn’t have the money to fix the roof. I’m really frightened that there will be a terrible rainstorm and the roof will fall in on me and damage all my belongings. Meanwhile, the lady I rent space from is constantly asking for more money for electricity, garbage and internet. I’m at the end of what I can pay her per month and don’t know what I will do if I can’t afford to live on her property. Where will I go if I have to leave. I can’t pull the trailer with my minivan. I have no credit, my creditors are constantly calling me and even the IRS wants money. Some days I’m filled with such despair, I can barely get out of bed.

Lorin
3 years ago

Understandably (and seemingly unrelated to RVing) it looks like everyone has an opinion on how we should combat homelessness and what’s wrong with how is handled from blaming the federal govt to the state. Personally I think local government needs to seriously get involved more too. It all starts at home.

Our local communities need to create subsidies for low-income people, especially those who are medically fragile and in need of affordable housing.

They also need to be recruiting landlords and apartment owners to work to place people in their units with these subsidies.

Further steps include the removal of housing barriers for people with criminal histories, the creation of more permanent supportive housing units, and the continued education of landlords.

Glenn Bradshaw
2 years ago
Reply to  Lorin

Educating landlords? Landlords have been around since the Industrial Revolution and they don’t need any education

Karen
1 year ago
Reply to  Lorin

Section 8 is a thing. I am a small landlord and would happily work with it and have. The program has lots of problems. They do not let the people on the list, years long list, know if there is an availability. There is no list that the landlords are put on nor a list given to the landlord of prospective tenants. I would guess that most landlords don’t take Section 8. There is a lot of paperwork, hoops to jump through and hit or miss if you get someone who is resposible or healthy enough to take care of the property and their part of the rent.

It is easy to say take away the barriers for people with criminal histories. Who should I allow in your neighborhood? Burglers? drug dealers? Rapists? Murderers? Pedophiles? I will consider a victimless crime. Minor possession or something stupid when someone was a young adult. But, if your a spousal or child abuser, or any of the other above nouns why should I be responsible for housing you?