By Bob Difley
RVers who frequently spend the night in Walmart parking lots while on road trips are in danger of losing the privilege, according to an article Wednesday in the Salem, Oregon, Statesman Journal, part of the USA Today network. What is happening at these stores may very well indicate a trend that could force more stores to post “no overnight parking” signs. The reason: Too many homeless people holing up in the parking lots.
The problem becomes, then, what will happen to the thousands of RVers who currently stay on any given night at Walmart?
“Homeless people can no longer stay overnight in RVs, vans and cars at Walmart parking lots in the Mid-Willamette Valley after stores threatened to tow vehicles lingering past business hours,” wrote Jonathon Bach in the Statesman article.
Traditionally, Walmart stores have been a friendly and safe overnight stop for RVers, who also spend freely in the stores for supplies and food. In fact, a Walmart store policy officially welcomes RVers, though individual store managers are given the option to follow that policy depending on their location and local ordinances.
But now, stores in the towns of Salem and Woodburn in Oregon’s Willamette Valley have posted signs stating, “No Overnight RV Parking” – indicating a change of policy. However, this policy change appears to have resulted because of a “homeless” problem, not from animosity toward RVers.
Never spent a night in a Walmart parking lot?
Here are the rules as outlined by RVtravel.com editor in a short video.
“Living in cars is usually ‘the first step into homelessness,’ and for the hundreds of people that do so in Salem, not having a place to park safely ‘makes things more desperate,'” said homeless advocate Jimmy Jones, director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency ARCHES project.
The changing policies of Oregon’s Walmarts trying to deal with the homeless problem, however, are part of a larger looming problem, the availability of overnight parking spaces for on-the-road RVers that are being lumped into the larger “homeless” category – a threat to fulltime as well as occasional RVers across the country.
As previously reported in RV Travel articles, manufacturers are pumping out more RVs than ever before, yet the number of new campgrounds and RV park sites are not matching the increase in RVs. Most RVers know the difficulty in securing a place to sleep overnight without a reservation – often necessary months in advance. In recent years, stopping at night at Walmart has been a solution. But is that privilege in jeopardy?
To add to the crisis, housing prices and sky-high rents force many younger people, even those employed fulltime, into other means of living, which include cars, vans, station wagons and, yes, RVs.
Without enough additional campsites in the pipeline to meet demand, the struggle for sleeping places can only make the problem continually worse. And that could lead to Walmart changing their overnight policy not just in Oregon but nationally.