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The State of RVing, Part 2: City governments playing hardball against homeless RVers

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Read part 1 of this series here

The RV news heavily focuses on homeless persons using RVs for shelter, often in urban encampments. Most major cities have reported efforts to clear out the encampments and move the RVs and other vehicles used for shelter.

“I would be an idiot to sit here and tell you that things are better today than they were five years ago with regard to homelessness,” Portland [OR] Mayor Ted Wheeler told the Associated Press. “People in this city aren’t stupid. They can open their eyes.”

Wheeler’s statement is representative of what large city mayors across the country are now saying: Political pressures have caused a shift from turning a blind eye to homeless encampments and to the overall issue of homelessness in their precincts. Wheeler has invoked the emergency authority of the mayor’s office to make camping illegal along certain highways and high-traffic urban roadways. Homelessness is the “most important issue facing our community, bar none,” Wheeler said.

What to do about homeless RVers in urban cities?

Some cities just want to be rid of the camps. Officials use executive orders, enhanced enforcement of parking and vagrancy ordinances, and physically move vehicles from the streets.

In Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser launched an effort to clear homeless RVer camps from the nation’s capital last summer.

The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) says 65 U.S. cities are criminalizing or sweeping encampments. Donald H. Whitehead Jr., executive director of the NCH, says, “Everywhere that there is a high population of homeless people; we started to see this as their response.”

Seattle, however, is a city that seeks to provide a “safe camp” for its homeless citizens, near its heart, in the International District known as Chinatown. Residents are marching and demonstrating. They say they have not been allowed to provide input on the Seattle City Council’s plan to build an encampment for approximately 500 homeless persons, including an RV park. The shelter would include a behavioral health facility, a sobering center, and as many as fifty tiny homes. The residents of Chinatown do not want a large homeless shelter and RV park in their neighborhood. Neither do any of the other Seattle neighborhoods.

California is home to more than 160,000 homeless people. Attitudes and responses to the crisis are changing. The Los Angeles City Council imposed new laws last year to ban camping in 54 locations, according to the LA Times.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency last year for the city’s Tenderloin district. The neighborhood has a long history of crime, including drug trafficking, drug overdose deaths, and homelessness. Breed said, “It’s time to be less tolerant of all the bull that has destroyed our city.”

One could be forgiven for thinking that the issue of homelessness in general and “RV homeless camping” are primarily urban problems. They’re not. But urban settings make the problems more visible, making them more acute for more people, and invite the attention of the news media. Even the national data seems incongruous. Various sources place the number of homeless people in America at around 550,000, or one in every 588 persons. The reality is that there are persons experiencing some degree of homelessness in every state and likely in every county in America. The problem with accounting for homelessness is that not all homeless people live on the streets or in encampments.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development states that the homeless are divided into four categories

  • Transitional Homelessness
  • Episodic Homelessness
  • Chronic Homelessness
  • Hidden Homelessness

The first category could include anyone who vacates a physical “stick and brick” home to live in an RV out of economic necessity. The fourth category almost certainly includes thousands of persons living in RVs out of economic necessity but who do not invite or attract the attention of authorities and are thus uncounted. In any event, the problem of “homeless RVers” is an urban problem, but it is most definitely a much bigger problem than that being grappled with by city officials, and therein lies a hint to a possible solution: Get the problem out of the urban environment.

Using public lands to help homeless RVers

The U.S. federal government owns and controls 640 million acres—more than 28 percent of all the land in the USA. A very high percentage of this total land area is utterly vacant. Most of it is in the Western U.S. Not all public lands are accessible or habitable, but much of it is. Much of the land gets no productive use whatsoever. Why not use some of this land to address the nation’s homeless crisis? Increased availability of public lands for RV use would be a good, immediate, and low-cost start.

Of the aforementioned total, more than 606 million acres of land are operated by four U.S. administrative agencies, The U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Park Service. Of all the things the American government has undertaken in the last 170 years, this would seem well within reach and worth accomplishing.

Some might see setting up homes for the homeless on public lands as a method of incarcerating them or misuse of the public lands. On the contrary, most cities have failed to establish adequate shelters for urban homeless populations. The sanctioned, city-run RV camps are an unmitigated disaster. The establishment of shelters and facilities to accommodate citizens who cannot obtain reasonable fixed housing is precisely what the “public lands” should be used for. It is essential to add that qualified personnel and sufficient facilities must be installed to ensure adequate sanitation, medical care, mental health care, and drug and alcohol abuse rehabilitation. These basic facilities and services are the sine qua non [i.e., are essential] for the success of any national wellness and welfare program for the homeless and, in all probability, would be far less costly than the unseen and unaccounted for costs associated with urban homeless encampments on public and private property in the cities, without adequate health care, sanitation or shelter.

History chimes in

It is worth remembering that during WWII, from 1942 to 1945, the U.S. government, under presidential executive order #9066, forcibly relocated more than 112,000 people of Japanese descent (70,000 of them U.S. citizens) to internment camps throughout the Western U.S. Creating homeless shelters on public land is not the same by any means, but if the U.S. government could unlawfully and unconstitutionally relocate and incarcerate certain people against their will in a malicious and maladroit reaction in wartime, surely it could facilitate a building and development program on unused and unproductive public lands for the benefit of some of its most disadvantaged citizens.

More on homeless RVers in weeks to come. 

##RVT1071b

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Heather Delaney
1 month ago

There’s a group of us starting to address this issue at a national level, at the first ever National Vehicle Residency Summit: https://vehicleresidency.org/. Check it out if you’re interested in participating…totally free and virtual.

Dennis G.
2 months ago

Recently went to San Francisco State (with our SUV) for college baseball coaches to look at our 16 year old. When we got to the campus I was amazed how many mid 90’s class-a RVs were parked on Lake Merced and Winston Dr., right outside of the campus. Even saw a ’96 class-A like ours. During a break between the exhibition games I walked the streets, looking at the RVs.
Sadly what I saw, is what the public sees. RVs dripping sewer juices, garbage, and rigs that are damaged in many different ways, that have not moved in weeks if not months. To most people, our vintage older RVs often look just like the homeless RVs, they see parked on their city streets.
I do not begrudge the homeless in RVs. They have a roof, they have a bed, and they have their possessions kept as safe as they possibly can make them. They are dry, and not in a tent, or sleeping on a public bench. It unfortunately taints the publics view of all RV owners.

Jim Prideaux
2 months ago

“A very high percentage of this total land area is utterly vacant.” With good reason-there is no support infrastructure. The homeless need homes, or transitional living quarters. This requires supporting infrastructure — water, sewer, electricity, roads, transportation, structures, shopping facilities for food and other necessities. It is more cost effective (and more convenient for the people, unless you want to treat them like Japanese prisoners) to build such infrastructure close to where it already is — towns and cities. Sheesh!

SLR
2 months ago

A one-size-fits-all solution won’t work. There are many reasons for homelessness. Some of the homeless are addicts/alcoholics who need treatment and support. Some are mentally ill who also need treatment and support. Some have fallen on hard times and have been unable to find jobs and are without resources to move to where jobs are available or receive job training. Some are employed but the local rents have risen above what they can afford to pay. Some are women with children who are fleeing abusive situations and have overstayed shelter housing stay limits. Some are elderly or disabled and no longer able to work and cannot afford anything else on their meager income. Some are veterans who feel more comfortable on the streets than living in housing. Some are human trafficking victims with nowhere else to go. And some wouldn’t fit into any of these categories. The solutions need to be as varied as these people are.

Janet
2 months ago
Reply to  SLR

Thank you, SLR. I have been singing this same song for several years to no avail. Not every homeless person is the same and you can’t treat them all the same.

KellyR
2 months ago
Reply to  SLR

You hit the nail on the head. Not all people are alike, not all RVers are alike, obviously. So why do we think all homeless people are alike. Did I read it right that one solution was to set up camps out on some Federal Land could be a solution? No access to groceries, sanitation, doctors, and any essential services??? So if we bring those services to them, we have just created another city. It amuses me how people escape the city by moving out to a “remote” gated community and in two years, there is a Home Depot, grocery stores, etc. and etc. and they are again in a crowded city. I will bet that other animals on this earth think that those stupid humans give animals a bad name – why can’t they just get along?

Terry
2 months ago
Reply to  SLR

Very well stated and I agree totally.

Spike
2 months ago

“Much of the land gets no productive use whatsoever.”

I always get a kick out of people that think unburdened nature is somehow “unproductive.” I’m pretty sure the current natural residents don’t think so! Nor do the hikers, hunters, backpackers and other occasional users.

Current sanctioned metro encampments are not a failure because of the location! In fact, urban areas should, if anything, be the best location for success due to the plethora of “human services” available in these locations.

I won’t pretend to have all the answers to this very real issue, but simply moving the homeless population onto “unproductive” public lands will only create the same “unmitigated disaster” the urban camps have been.

Last edited 2 months ago by Spike
Bart Woodcock
2 months ago
Reply to  Spike

Spike- excellent response!
Saved me the trouble.

Janet
2 months ago
Reply to  Spike

Perfectly said, Spike.

Marc Stauffer
2 months ago

Instead of looking at the negativity of the Japanese camps, look at the positivity of the CCC camps and model the solution after them. They provided housing, work on public projects, educational opportunities, job training, counseling, and the opportunity to be a productive member of society in a structured environment.

Spike
2 months ago
Reply to  Marc Stauffer

Great response! My father was in the CCC in the 30’s. It taught discipline (OMG…imagine that!), hard but very productive work, and provided much needed income.

Janet
2 months ago
Reply to  Marc Stauffer

Thanks, Marc. I was having a terrible time equating what the US did to the Japanese in WWII to the current homeless situation.

Tom
2 months ago
Reply to  Marc Stauffer

The CCC program only allowed one year stays. You developed skills, experience, and moved on
My father did his year. Developed skills as a truck driver, became a “learned man”, stayed until WWII.

Rosalie Magistro
2 months ago

Come to Arizona, there are a lot of homeless living in RV’S that are not fit for a cat to live in.
Look in any parking lot and see at least 3 or 4 .
If the government would stop paying for people NOT to work things might change.
BLM land all along the Apache Trail is full of tents, dilapidated RV’s and TRASH,
It make me sick to see the land being destroyed !

KellyR
2 months ago

I sort of agree with the land being “destroyed?” I don’t think “DESTROYED”, but what about the people that have been destroyed thru no fault of their own. Right now there is a hurricane bearing down on us. I very well could be homeless in just a couple of days. Every homeless person is: “there but for the grace of God go I.” I don’t have the answer, but I don’t have the right to judge.

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
2 months ago
Reply to  KellyR

Good luck, Kelly! I’m glad I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Usually not quite so much drama weather-wise as lots of other places. Take care. 😀 –Diane

KellyR
2 months ago
Reply to  RV Staff

Well, I’m glad I live in warm sunny Florida. I don’t have to put up with winter, wildfires and landslides, or being from the mid-west, with the tornados. I guess that when it comes to Mother Nature, you just pick your poison. Hang on to your hat! Here comes Ian. If you find a windmill, horse drawn plows and other farm antiques in your yard when this is over, give me a call and I will come get them.

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
2 months ago
Reply to  KellyR

We usually have very boring weather here, compared to most places. But I’m not gonna complain about “boring” – that’s for sure. Have a good evening, Kelly. 😀 –Diane

Outbackpat
2 months ago
Reply to  KellyR

Words of truth pure truth I feel for you I became homeless due to a California fire after all the insurance and all that other crap paid I had just enough to stay homeless I’m The advocate for Grass valley county they need to change the laws because there’s no law that says I can’t live outside that I’m forced to live in a home the banks made homes to steal our money. I wish you the best and it should you become free of the burden of the bank and find yourself one of the major yet but you advocate in lieu of the people against the law

Randy D
2 months ago

These cities mentioned are all getting what they bargained for. Seattle, a pit allowing riots and crime. Portland, allowed riots continuously for hundreds of days. People fled the city! San Francisco: wow, need I say anything? Everyplace one walks in the downtown district smells like urine and human fecal matter. Hell, the city doesn’t even respond to clean it up anymore.

Yup, these cities all have one common political thread and they are ‘reaping what they sowed.’

ray e boochard
2 months ago
Reply to  Randy D

Ok Randy, what is your solution??
You spoke of cities allowing rioters etc.
What would you do if in charge, build concentration camps??
Just fill jails with people who have not asked for any of what happened to them, who have commited no crime but to be without a place to live, they have some money, but not enough to live in this time of gouging for rent.
Some multi home owners are now not just looking to charge the cost of a mortgage to rent, they now want the property to bring a large income because they themselves are unemployed and don’t want to work.
It’s a sad world out there and I don’t see it improving.
I have no answer except to stop criminalizing homelessness.
I have no doubt if given a real chance at a real job with a good wage most homeless would jump on it.
I say take the jobs from those who have and give them to those who dont and lets see if those, (get rid of homeless) people bring an answer.

Last edited 2 months ago by ray e boochard
Don H
2 months ago

The term “Homeless RV’ers” strikes me as misplaced. These folks sheltering in decrepit RVs as a way of staying out of the weather are no more RV’ers than their brethren who live in tents under the freeways are Backpackers. How about we ditch that term and call them what they are: “Homeless people in RVs”.

Rosalie Magistro
2 months ago
Reply to  Don H

I agree …

Janet
2 months ago
Reply to  Don H

Right on.

Jim
2 months ago

Just moving people “out of sight, out of mind” is foolhardy at best. In my opinion, you have to address the underlying issues at hand. Shut down the border with the target to stop/reduce the flow of drugs coming into the country. Use American tax dollars to finish the wall and hire 87,000 new border/drug agents instead of IRS agents and provide the resources needed to do the job. Enforce the drug laws. This will result in a forced rehab program, no “optional” rehab instead of prison. Hopefully some will remain sober when released after the counseling received in prison. National campaign on drug education including schools. Go back to the having people with mental health issues, where violent, being committed by the state. All the above could be done with American tax dollars for less than what was sent to Ukraine. I have seen many times what happens when encampments “happen” on public lands… it is destroyed and the entire area is shutdown…very bad idea.

Don H
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim

What % of these homeless folks in RVs are illegal immigrants? I’d bet that it’s virtually zero. You have some good points, but they have nothing to do with this problem…

Randy D
2 months ago
Reply to  Don H

He was talking about the flow of drugs through the borders, not the flow of illegal immigrants.

Dave
2 months ago
Reply to  Randy D

Stopping the flow of drugs has failed for decades. But if you like the definition of insanity and wasting money, cool. Demand for drugs exist because of other social problems. That needs to be addressed. Forcing two parents to work full time and not bring up their children properly because they can’t afford a house…that’s a problem.

Jay
2 months ago
Reply to  Dave

Right. Demand is the driver. Drugs are pretty popular where I live in rural Tennessee. Prison and rehab haven’t changed this.

MattD
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim

I SO agree with your statement, you are dead on. Cut off the drugs, Rehab in a facility or go to prison. But there has to be some sort of mandate to where companies can’t discriminate against those who have past records for drug crimes, so those who become clean can easily get back to work. This is the biggest problem homeless/addicts have when trying to re-enter society.

Outbackpat
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim

The very thing you just said Peggy to do your research to the 10 years leading up to Nazi Germany and you’ll see America and what you just said happening right here here and now in America and then just for a little extra oversight in the how drugs work and where they come from where they’re going and who’s bringing you into this country for on drugs is a sham. But watch a documentary called March of a thousand roses it’s about how the Chinese dealt with drug problem it’s kind of what you’re saying time and money are drugs the manufacturer notes didn’t mind consider that

Crowman
2 months ago

Everyone of these Mayors allowed and encouraged the lawless acts they’re complaining about. The problem started at the top.

Randy D
2 months ago
Reply to  Crowman

Exactly right!

Micheal Whelan
2 months ago

Wait! What happened to sanctuary cities? I thought these cities were supposed to welcome protect and give what was needed? California has 160,000 homeless, a fraction of what the boarder counties and cities have of illegal immigrants. Now they want to “dump” the homeless out into the wilds of nature, into our back yards, to get them away from where they live. Talk about cruel and heartless. The vacant lands of America do not have the police, food, water, medical and sanitation services to support the homeless.These cities need to quit complaining and help them as they said they were going to do. Statements and policies have consequences. The good people of California, Marthas Vineyard, New York, Chicago, Washington and the rest need to step up to the plate. These poor homeless were told they were welcome and safe so they flocked there. The sanctuary cities now need to do what they committed to doing. I will end my rant…. for now

Dan
2 months ago
Reply to  Micheal Whelan

Rant on, sir. I’m with you on every word.

Randy D
2 months ago
Reply to  Dan

Absolutely correct!

Bart Woodcock
2 months ago
Reply to  Randy D

Ditto!

Jake
2 months ago
Reply to  Micheal Whelan

Re: “The vacant lands of America do not have the police, food, water, medical and sanitation services to support the homeless.” Note that the article suggested that in the proposed solution of using public lands, those services would need to be established as part of that solution.

It seems like a valid solution, at least for some folks. Obviously it wouldn’t work for everyone. The issues are very complex, as I’m just now learning as I get involved with some volunteer efforts. For example, we often think that drug addicts/alcoholics become homeless because of their addiction. I’ve since learned that some people become homeless first, and while homeless turn to addiction because homeless/jobless life makes them crazy with boredom and discomfort! Everything is not what it seems…

Bill
2 months ago

The urban homeless encampments are almost entirely occupied by people who either have a drug addiction, mental health issues, or usually a combination of the two. As such, these people are not going to move to federal land, away from the urban setting, because there is no way they can beg or steal what they need to get the drugs or alcohol they need, and there are no mental health facilities there to help them with counseling and medicine. The working homeless won’t go there because there’s no work. Unless, or until, the mental health issues are positively addressed, most of these urban homeless are going to remain in the urban setting.

John Macatee
2 months ago
Reply to  Bill

Right on. Until the mentally ill and alcohol and or drug addicted are removed from public property and placed in a health care system and released when they can care for themselves this will only get worse. There is no homeless problem, just look at the 40 million illegal aliens here in the USA and darn near none are “homeless”.

Craig Seitz
2 months ago

Ted Wheeler didn’t seem to think homelessness was the biggest problem in Portland when he and his council allowed lawlessness to literally run his city. This included allowing a police department to be chained shut and set on fire.

Randy D
2 months ago
Reply to  Craig Seitz

Yes, they are no reaping what they sowed.’

We are the money earning, tax paying, working people who do NOT burden the system at all, who LEFT California because of how it is now run. We had been lifetime residents.

Wayne C
2 months ago
Reply to  Craig Seitz

When Ted Wheeler ran for re-election, he was the best candidate running. The other candidates were more liberal and socialistic than he was. We need more highly qualified candidates to run for office.

Fermor Black
2 months ago
Reply to  Wayne C

I don’t know anything about Randall Brink but I want to thank him for bringing the homeless problem to our attention. I’m somewhat surprised at the tone of many responses but the topic is important, should be discussed. I hope that it can be approached with open minds.
I urge RVTravel readers to appreciate that living temporarily on government land is legal (subject to rules adopted by the relevant agency) for everyone. NIMBYs, government land is not your “back yard”. As Most Colorado RVers are undoubtedly aware, a large number of Forest Service and State campgrounds are closed due to lack of funding and/or staffing. In addition there are vacant government-owned buildings all over this country that could be readily adapted to meet the needs of those we lump together under the label “homeless”.

suzanne Ferris
2 months ago
Reply to  Fermor Black

Case in point: the town of Diablo, WA. Filled with vacant homes maintained by City Light. Some even have heat pumps and waterfront vistas. Use what’s in place like scattered site housing and set up a lottery with more focus on families with kids that need shelter.

ray e boochard
2 months ago
Reply to  suzanne Ferris

Don’t like the idea that an older person such as myself would be left in the cold rain, but WINNER WINNER at least an idea that doesnt just say “get them out of my neighborhood”.
I would venture a guess there are plenty of gov buildings that stand empty could be repurposed into anything to do with homeless, creating lots of jobs, homes, generally purpose to those who have none.

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