Living in Parking Lots: Good Option for the Homeless?

When you’re homeless, in many ways you are better off if you have a vehicle to live in. You have more privacy, you have more security, and you have access to electricity through the car’s battery, you have more mobility and options, than you would if you lived a tent on the sidewalk or in a homeless shelter. .
THere are more places you can “park” or camp.

In fact, in the US, Walmart in particular is well known for having a policy of allowing people to “camp” in its parking lots, as described in this news story:

And this one in the New York Times:

There’s even a Reddit thread about camping in Walmart Parking lots, which includes general advice for camping in vans across the US, written by someone who had travelled around the US for a year and stayed in Walmart lots much of the time.

Some people have been able to live for years in Walmart lots, as this video indicates about a man living in a Walmart lot in Flagstaff AZ for 7 years:

However, even though Walmart mostly welcomes campers, there are about 900 Walmart stores where parking lot camping is not allowed, or about 23% of all US Walmarts:

Particularly given the “explosion” of homelessness in the US, and on the West Coast of the US in particular, one might guess that there may be limits to Walmart’s generosity, as well as limits to what can be accomplished when people who are truly homeless exploit a system more oriented to travelers, vacationers and retirees. As the number of truly homeless increase compared to the number of “grey nomads” using Walmart lots as stops on a retirement journey, Walmart may need to rethink its parking lot policies, particularly in some areas. In some cases they are in fact less welcoming, as was demonstrated here:

There is a difference between allowing people to temporarily stay in store parking lot on their way from one place to another, verus allowing people to live in that parking lot for months and years on end.

People who essentially take up permanent residence in shopping center parking lots are pushing the envelope on what is acceptable or what is reasonable, and are likely to end up being asked to leave when they overstay their welcome, particularly if the number of people permanently living on Walmart property increases. Michael Stankovic found this out after being forced to move on after spending 2 years living in his truck in a Coles Store parking lot in Australia.

Given that the population of homeless, as a whole, has a much higher rate of substance abuse and serious mental illness, than the population at large, there are different phenomena associated with homeless camps as opposed to standard campgrounds. As well, there are great mental and emotional stresses related to homelessness and joblessness, which can lead to social stresses. All of these point to a need for services and oversight and regulation of homeless camps. Hence, I believe that the idea of a “self-governing homeless camp” is not arealistic one, and can’t work on large scale. It may work in a few isolated situations, particularly for a short period of time, but at some point in most cases a community of squatters or homeless campers that exists out side the law, will become problematically lawless. For this reason I think that whereas the idea of using parking lots to allow homeless to live in vehicles there is a valid one, without adedquate oversight, rules/policies and security, these situations are likely to degenerate.

Here’s an example of police having to intervene in an out of control situation with a homeless family in a Walmart Parking lot:

Walmart may want to protect themselves from legal problems that could rise when homeless commit crimes, including violent crimes, in their parking lots:

Or this violent crime perpetrated by a homeless man in another Walmart lot:

In this case in Orange County, homeless were removed from a Walmart parking lot:

Here, homeless were asked to leave a Walmart lot in Lodi:

And this article states that as the number of truly homeless in Walmart lots is rising, the store is becoming less welcoming:

“Also, more and more — especially in California — there are people becoming homeless and staying longer term in the Wal-Mart parking lots, which is one reason stores prohibit it,”

In AUstin TX, store managers often have to ask homeless to leave Walmart parking lots due to customer complaints:

“…I was told I could no longer stay at Walmart,” she said. They had a security guard come over and tell Jim and I that we were no longer able to stay overnight and pretty much told us not to come back.”

One homeless woman had been staying for a while in a Walmart lot, only to return one day and find her car and trailer had been towed:

The need for more and better solutions for those reduced to living in vehicles is growing, as discussed in this article about the rise of people living in parking lots and forests in rural Arizona:

Here, a blogger has written a guide of sorts, to how to find a place to park when you are homeless:

This article explores finding ways to organize the use of parking lots for homeless people:


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