If you’re like me, traveling, living and sleeping in your vehicle, odds are you’ve woken up to a cop tapping on your window, shouting at you to exit the ride. Moments like these are fraught with anxiety, especially if you aren’t familiar with the ordinances of the city you’re in. Worse case scenario is you’ll be booked for trespassing, your vehicle towed and your bank account set back a few hundred bucks. If the cop has a heart, he’ll simply run your name then tell you to scram, as happened with a car camper in Steamboat Springs, CO, on Sept. 27.
Truth is, car campers, van dwellers and RV residents seldom get a break. In Venice, CA, this week, the city kick started a process to expedite the expulsion of some 250 RV and van dwellers the coastal zone of this L.A. suburb. Residents and businesses have long sought a way to banish car campers – many of whom are homeless – from Venice’s coastal zone. The new action was prompted by an incident in August where 100-gallons of human waste was illegally dumped on a public street.
The ordinance would create restricted parking zones throughout Venice prohibiting oversized vehicles from parking on city streets between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.
Residents in nearby Palo Alto, CA, similarly want to run car campers from town. A petition circulating among residents in the College Terrace section urges the city council to pass an anti-vehicle dwelling ordinance. Currently, Palo Alto is the only municipality in the area without such a law. Residents complain that car campers attract transients and drunks. While area business owners have complained about perceptions of safety, none are able to cite any instances of disorderly behavior.
Many cities have areas where people live out of their vehicles, but not everywhere are they so inhospitable. Where I’m from, in Madison, WI, there’s a street on the east side that has for as long as I can recall been home for several car campers. In Seattle, a local coalition is practicing decency by asking churches and ministries to provide homeless car campers a place to park their vehicles. Even in Venice, a program called Vehicles to Homes is being drawn up to soften the blow its new parking ordinance will have on the indigent, though judging from an early outline of the program, many won’t qualify.
On the upside, these car campers leave with their lives. Earlier this week, a federal grand jury indicted two escaped fugitives on capital murder and carjacking charges stemming from the deaths of a couple from Oklahoma. The couple was targeted for their RV at a rest area on I-40. According to court records, the fugitives “had grown weary of traveling and sleeping in a car.” The fugitives later shot the couple and set their camper on fire.
On a happier note, check out Alex, whose site Tiny House Talk, explores the small and simple. Here, he gives us a peek at what it’s like to live out of a very small car.
Do you have a car camping story or tip? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.