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.