All posts by Site Administrator

The Trouble with Using Parking Laws to Address Camping in the Streets

This premise is one that will strike most as common sense, and yet it’s a premise that many cities are having difficulty working into law: camping is not the same as parking. These are two different things.

If you’re in doubt about this, try driving into a National Park in the US, any National Park, and sleeping in your car or van or RV in a parking lot in that park, on any night of the year. You’re likely to be in for a rude awakening, oh, around midnight or so, when the park rangers come and shine a flashlight into your car, and wake you, and tell you that you’re camping, not parking, so you have to go. That’s what happened to this couple in the Grand Canyon Park.

Park Ranger

In many cities, though, this distinction between camping and parking has been lost. In part this is owing to the fact that the courts have clarified that people have to have a right to rest or even sleep in their vehicle, while traveling — (except, it would appear, not when in National Parks)— and so cities in California, at least cannot completely prohibit sleeping in vehicles, which for the homeless, is pretty much the same as “living in vehicles”. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, however, this does not imply that cities cannot regulate sleeping/living in vehicles, limit it to certain areas, prohibit it in others, set up lots just for vehicle dwellers, or restrict the period of time for which persons could live in a vehicle in that city, absent special dispensation such as a permit. After its ban on living in vehicles was struck down by the court, this is what the city of Los Angeles did, it regulated living in vehicles, so that this activity could not be done just anywhere, but only within designated zones.

Many cities, however, including Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco, have simply stopped enforcing laws prohibiting vehicle dwelling, and not created any regulations on vehicle dwelling. The result is that in effect they have turned camping into parking, and if you talk to police or city leaders in these cities, what you’ll hear is that they are unable to address vehicle dwelling with any enforcement tools other than parking laws. And what this generally means, is just one law — the 72 hr parking rule, which prohibits parking in one spot for more than 72 hrs. So people can live indefinitely in vehicles on public streets, as long as they move every 3 days. Even if they just move back and forth across the same street.

Try that in a national park, and you’re likely to have the rangers tow your vehicle and find yourself in jail.

Now I’m not saying living in a vehicle should be prohibited, since it’s clearly a good way to go for those who are homeless, in fact probably the best way. But having no regulation at all on this matter is a problem. Consider:

(1) No regulation on which streets or areas a person could live in their vehicle — they could do this in residential as well as commercial areas, in front of your home as well as under the freeway overpass.
(2) No regulation on how long they can park in basicallly the same spot, as long as they move back and forth every 3 days.
(3) No regulation on how many people can live in their vehicles on any one street or in any one area, which leads to some of the scenes we’ve witnessed of entire city blocks and streets filled with RVs and vehicle dwellers.
(4) No regulation on how many people can live in the RV or on their life activities associated with this — eg, setting up a grill or sofa on the sidewalk next to it, washing their laundry on the street, dumping garbage or sewage on the street.

Even though many cities now have only parking laws to apply to mitigate the nuisance caused by people living in their vehicles in cities, applying parking laws to such people can cause other sorts of problems. Those bothered by the nuisance caused by vehicle dwellers may be angry that parking laws are too weak to deal effectively with this problem, but for the vehicle dwellers themselves, keeping up with the parking laws could be beyond their means to contend with. If they accumulate many parking tickets that they are unable to pay, they are at risk of having their vehicle towed. If their vehicle breaks down and they can’t afford to get it fixed, they can’t move it every 3 days, and are at risk of having it towed. It’s one thing for an ordinary citizen to have our vehicle towed — likely costs a minimum of $1500 to get it back — but for a poor person living in their car, this barrier could be too high, and the loss of their vehicle is not just the loss of their car, but the loss of their home.

In fact, for a homeless person living in their vehicle to have that vehicle towed away by the city, is so onerous a problem, that this issue has been brought to court at least twice. In one case in Washington, a man living in an truck fought back when it was towed, and the court ruled that his vehicle was a “homestead”. In a San Francisco case, a man named Sean Kayode living in his car found it was towed, could not afford the fees to reclaim it, and is suing to get it back. His attorney declares the towing and seizure of his vehicle to be unconstitutional.

SEattle man living in truck

These cases reveal a problematic catch-22 type situation for cities, and demonstrate the need to cope with homelessness in a more thoughtful and pro-active way that by merely passively tolerating camping all over the city street, contenting themselves that excesses and problem situations will be abated by parking law enforcement.

For if Sean Kayode succeeds in court, this could set a precedent which demonstrates something that cities are disingenuously failing to concede, namely that camping is not the same as parking, that people who use their vehicle as a residence should not and cannot simply be regulated by parking laws. For on the one hand, as I’ve pointed out in other articles, camping in the streets creates problems that mere parking does not. But on the other hand, as these court cases show, if it can be demonstrated that even mere enforcement of parking laws (and the towing of vehicles that is associated with such enforcement) is excessively punitive or harsh for the vehicle dwellers, or “unconstitutional” in any way, with regard to the homeless, then this would weaken even further cities’ already diminished ability to have any means of curtailing nuisance or problems caused by vehicle dwellers in public streets. It would mean that cities could no longer rely on parking laws to abate nuisance caused by vehicle dwellers, because those vehicle dwellers could shout “I’m poor, the court says I dont’ have to follow parking laws becuase I can’t afford to pay the fines for violations.” Parking ticket

In essence, all these things bring us back to the point of this article: which is that camping in the street is not the same as parking in the street, and you will get into various kinds of trouble if you pretend these things are the same. Cities need to stop dealing with this matter passively by turning to parking laws to regulate large-scale camping in the streets. Instead they need to be pro-active and find ways to regulate vehicle dwelling in public places, so as to succeed both in mitigation of nuisance in neighborhoods and city streets, as well as in creating options for the homeless and places for people to rest or stay for a temporary period of time.


Homeless Camps and Bike Theft

Many have noted that there is a correlation between homeless camps and bike theft. Not that all homeless or all homeless camps are involved with bike theft — but that a significant proportion of homeless camps contain what may be euphemistically described as “bike carcasses”, and function as “chop shops”.

I want to present some case stories and evidence about this problem, which, along with other problems associated with homeless camps, is too often swept under the rug both by city governments and homeless advocates, who want to portray the homeless as nothing but “economic victims” of gentrification and the economy, or as elderly or disabled or otherwise in need of nothing but compassion and help. The truth is more complicated — and there’s a need for a study about the amount of crime associated with homeless and homeless camps, as the degree of crime related to homeless camps is quite large.

Here are some stories about bike theft and homeless camps.

Begin with a situation in Seattle, reported here:

Seattle homeless camp chop shop

where a man living not too far from a homeless camp, had 3 of his bikes stolen. It outraged him that he could easily see dozens of “bike carcasses” at the nearby homeless camp, but though he called the city multiple times to have them check it out, they essentially refused to do so, citing procedural obstacles.

In Orange County in 2017, as reported in this blog and this article, and this one, over 1000 bicycles were found in a tunnel in the Santa Ana Homeless camp, a huge camp over a mile long that was finally cleared out in 2018.

Bikes in tunnel Santa Ana River trail

The blog article on this matter points out that another homeless camp is being “given sanctuary” from searches, which may well support criminal activity. Really BAD idea to keep law enforcement out of homeless camps!

OC Public Works crew members were performing clean-up maintenance on the flood control property (removing debris and trash). A crew member saw a pile of dirt and observed a small section of carpet on the ground. When the carpet was removed, the crew member discovered a small wood cover and, upon lifting the wood, discovered it led to wood steps to the underground compartment. Whomever built the compartment used wood for the steps and for support beams in the underground compartment. It’s approximately a 5-10 ft square area and about 6 ft high. It was discovered on flood control property on the back-side of the levee (opposite side from the cement channel).”

The discovery of the bunker and enormous cache of stolen bikes raises the question of what might be found in the much larger homeless encampment by Angel Stadium, which stretches for approximately two miles from Ball Road south to the I-5 freeway. Inhabitants of that encampment currently enjoy the sanctuary from enforcement actions thanks to the settlement agreement imposed by federal District Court Judge David O. Carter.

The discovery of this cache also, as stated, give the lie to the claim that the criminals are only a small number of the homeless: “the discovieries at the Fountain Valley encampment further erode claims by homeless advocates that criminals are only a small portion of the population of the SART homeless encampments. ”

Meanwhile, in Portland Oregon, as stated in this article, a drug arrest at a homeless camp led to the discovery of more than $5000 in stolen bike parts.

And in Olympia, WA, as stated in this article, stolen bikes and parts were found at a homeless camp.
Homeless camp bike Olympia 1 (2)

Detectives said they recovered numerous stolen bicycles and bike parts at one of the homeless encampments in the city – marking one of the latest trends in this crime spree.

This article explains that stolen bikes have been found in homeless camps on a consistent basis, meaning, it’s a regular feature of homeless camps. In that sense, many “homeless individuals” (who are more accurately described as criminals who happen to be homeless)  should be viewed as a blight on a community and indeed as social/criminal predators, not as vulnerable people in need of community services and support.

This sense of the inevitability of a connection between homeless camps and stolen bikes is also expressed in this article, where a Long Beach Councilwoman said  that ““Every time you go to an encampment, or a place where homeless gather, you are just inundated with bike parts,” she said. “It’s clear that the bike parts are being used as currency to purchase drugs.”  This councilwoman was smarter than most, and actually sought to create laws that would make it more difficult to engage in sales of stolen bikes:

Price’s proposal offers a possible method of getting around that problem by prohibiting activities that may go along with a bicycle theft. It may not be immediately provable that someone selling a cache of bicycles on a Long Beach sidewalk is trying to make a profit off of stolen goods, but Price’s request would make it illegal for someone to sell bicycles or bike parts—stolen or not—on public grounds.

“It deters bike theft for sure, because in order to have a chop shop, you need to steal bikes,” Price said.

Price is asking the City Attorney’s office to draft an ordinance that may eventually be voted into law.

Here’s what she would like to see the city’s legal team incorporate into a new law:

  • A ban on selling five or more bicycles on public property. Additional prohibitions would apply to such actions as putting together, taking apart, distributing or storing more than five bicycles in this manner.
  • Extending the above-prohibited activities to any bicycle frame missing its gears or cables, or with its brake cables cut. The ban would also apply to anyone with three or more bicycles that have missing parts, as well as anyone trying to deal, store or distribute five or more bicycle parts.
  • City support for legal bicycle repair spots.
  • Exemptions for people working for a bona fide business or who repairing a single bicycle while its owner is present.

In the Portland area, the Springwater Corridor in particular is reknowned for bike thefts and chop shops in homeless camps, as described here. On one random day, police took a ride along the 21 mile bike path, and found multiple stolen bikes and bike stashes during their ride.

In Honolulu Hawaii, police seized many stolen bikes from homeless camps, as reported here.  

A homeless camp in Vancouver is full of bike parts, and a local cyclist accused camp members of stealing bikes.

IN Fairview near Anchorage, homeless camps are typically full of bike parts, as reported here.

IN San Diego, CA, a major cleanup of a homeless camp led to the discovery of bike thieves stripping bicycles, as reported here.

A major cleanup of a trash-filled, one-acre homeless encampment began Wednesday morning along the San Diego River, where thieves were stripping hundreds of stolen bicycles for recycling…..Police estimated there were parts to 500 bicycles stacked and strewn throughout the site.

Homeless camp San Diego bikes

In Calgary, Canada, as described here

Homeless camp Calgary stolen bike (2), irate residents had had quite enough when they discovered their own stolen bikes in a nearby homeless camp, and when police would not respond to their calls for enforcement on this issue. SO they took matters into their own hands and went and retrieved their own property which had been stolen by the homeless campers.

Journalists in San Francisco went to investigate about where stolen bikes end up. They discovered multiple homeless camps under freeways that were processing these stolen bikes, as reported here. See the video about it here:

Under the freeway, there are dozens of chop shops and homeless encampments where bikes and parts are piled up….During the investigation, the I-Team watched people rifle through bags, fumble with piles of cellphones and witnessed people buying, selling and doing drugs right out in the open.

To see how easy it is to get a bike from one of these camps, the I-Team took hidden cameras to the scene to buy a bike at a good deal. Within minutes the I-Team got an offer.

One of the men at the chop shop told us we could take the bike for a ride. After we returned, the man tried to close the deal by asking how much we felt like paying. We offered the man $60 and walked away with a bike worth nearly $500….one homeless man said, “We’re hustling to survive out there because obviously we’re homeless and we try to make it on the streets.”

Pulouoleola told the I-Team he turns 15 bikes a day and will sell a $200 wheel for $40. He knows most of the bikes he buys and sells are stolen.

Another article reported a bike thief living at a homeless camp in Northampton MA.

Back across the country again, police in Venice Beach CA continually find homeless camps full of stolen bikes and bike parts, as reported here. You can see some of the stolen bikes in this photo:
Homeless venice bike theft

And Police in Petaluma, CA are overwhelmed by the homeless camps full of stolen bikes in that city, as reported here.

Petaluma police say homeless encampments have become a bigger problem in the small city than they have been in 20 years.

In a recent police survey, officers found 34 active illegal encampments in the city, and police said these encampments pose a threat to public health and safety and the environment.

Police said the encampments are a haven for illegal activity, including violations related to narcotics, alcohol, weapons, stolen property, sexual assault, theft and vandalism.Officers arrested 28-year-old Ervin Osman from Spokane, Washington, on active warrants and found him to be in the possession of a stolen bicycle.

The $1,300 Cannondale bike had been stolen from a store on English Street in Petaluma. Police reunited the bike with its owner and Osman was booked into the county jail.

In Oakland, CA, a bike theft was the motive in a homeless camp killing, as described here.

A bike chop shop was discovered at a Culver City homeless camp, as described here. Culver city homeless camp bikes

IN another story, a stolen bike was located at a SEattle area homeless camp.

This article describes how Santa Cruz officials recovered stolen bikes at homeless camps in that city.

Unsanctioned camps are often dangerous places, quite full of crime, even dangerous for area residents to bicycle through, as one Santa Rosa resident discovered, when he was beat up by homeless campers as he tried to bike along a city bike path. In the article about this, it’s stated that police made 15 to 20 arrests at that camp in a period of just 1.5 weeks. This makes it abundantly clear that this camp, and doubtless many like it, are more accurately described as camps of criminals, rather than as camps of “homeless” persons.

In this article about homeless people in Anchorage, which pointedly questions whether these people are homeless or homesteaders, it’s pointed out that these homeless/homesteaders tend to consider the public property where they are located as their private property, and make a living from theft:

There is a belligerence in the folks that are living here. If you walk into a camp, the general response is ‘What are you doing on my property?'” Rhoades said.

In addition to living in the park illegally, “they steal bikes from surrounding areas and chop them up or sell the components, or they make one bike that’s resalable for a good amount. Clothing, coffee makers, computers – there’s just an endless supply of things people have gotten from other people’s homes,” Rhoades said.

This article takes a more in-depth look at how homeless camps function as bicycle chop shops. It includes this video which shows people chopping up bikes in broad daylight:

Note in that video, that the men processing the stolen bikes demand that the man making the video go away, and they say “we do not want to be recorded.”  In other words, they are basically saying, “Just let us commit crimes here and do our illegal stuff and go away and leave us alone.”  Well if you don’t want to be recorded, then f-ing quit engaging in criminal activities and stealing bikes, you dimwit dolts!   My only regret is that it wasn’t an undercover police officer recording them, but only an ordinary citizen.

Kingpin of BIke thieves:

Kingpin of bike thieves

People arrested and numerous stolen items found in a Carpinteria homeless camp:

Here’s a blog about where stolen bikes go…conclusion…they go to homeless camps, like one at 7th and Market, or one in the bushes at Golden Gate Park.

After striking out at Seventh and Market, I figured it was time to investigate the chop shops Veysey mentioned. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) reports bicycle chop shops operate all over the city. Thieves strip bikes because the parts (unlike the frames) don’t have serial numbers and can’t be traced as stolen once they are removed from a bike. The parts can be sold individually or put on another stolen bike to disguise it, hence the Frankenstein bikes that show up at the Bike Hut.

When Veysey told me about bicycle chop shops, I pictured something from a ’70s cop movie — a warehouse in an industrial district populated with burly men wielding blowtorches. But the trail led me somewhere else entirely: Golden Gate Park.

SFBC officials said they had received reports from a gardener about chop shops in the park. When I called Maggie Cleveland, a Recreation and Park Department employee responsible for cleaning up the park, she said they do exist and would show me what she thought was one if I threw on a pair of gloves, grabbed a trash bag, and joined one of her cleanup crews. I agreed.

Shortly before 8 a.m. on a foggy, chilly morning, the crew and I picked up mechanical grabbers and industrial-size trash bags and then climbed a steep hill near 25th Avenue and Fulton Street on the Richmond District side of the park. We plunged into a large camp in the middle of a hollowed-out grove of acacia bushes.

The camp looked like a sidewalk after an eviction. Books and papers vomited from the mouth of a tent. Rain-soaked junk littered the camp, including a golf bag filled with oars, an algebra textbook, a telescope, and a portable toilet. A hypodermic needle stuck in a stump like a dart and a gaudy brass chandelier swung from a branch. Amid the clutter was one constant: bicycles and their parts.

A half dozen bikes leaned against bushes in various states of repair. There were piles of tires and gears scattered around. The noise of the crew had awoken the residents of the camp. A man and two women sprung up and immediately tried to grab things as the crew stuffed the contents of the camp into trash bags. They grew more and more agitated as two dozen bags were filled.

The former GIlman St Underpass homeless camp in Berkeley was full of bike parts, likely stolen….as reported here. Bike parts Gilman st camp

Sometimes it’s even possible to see the bike chop shops just by sitting at your home computer, driving along on Google Earth,as I did when I found this bike chop shop homeless camp at 6th and Alice streets in downtown Oakland. The evidence had been preserved by the Google Earth drive by! Google Earth homeless chop shop Oakland 2 (2)Google Earth homeless chop shop Oakland 3 (2)


In conclusion, instead of blindly lumping all those who happen to be homeless into the same category of people who we view as “economic refugees” from a heartless campitalist system, I think a much better and more accurate way of looking at homelessness involves recognizing the sharp differences between types of homeless people and reasons why people end up in this circumstance.

We also should begin being more outspoken about the fact that a significant number of those we call “homeless” are simply criminals, who are quite likely homeless as a result of their criminal activity, and/or have become criminals to support a serious substance abuse problem. To refer to these as “homeless” is really missing the point — it would be like referring to those engaging in child sex abuse as part of the group of “people with unusual hobbies.” That people are criminals is a far more pertinent issue and concern than the fact that they dont’ have a standard residence, and in fact having criminals living in the bushes in the local city park is quite possibly a much bigger problem than if those same criminals lived in a house in that city.

As well, often it seems that we collectively have forgotten that criminals often tend to live on the outskirts of society, as individuals or in roaming bands.

This YouTube video makes the excellent point that quite a number of people living in RVs and “off the grid” around the nation, are doing that mainly because they are criminals and have been rejected by mainstream society. These people make life dangerous for the ordinary folk (like the creator of this video) who are wanting to go nomadic and live an RV life to experience the freedom associated with that lifestyle. The woman who made this video had such serious problems with criminals and people harassing her and making her feel unsafe when she “went nomadic”, that she gave up the RV life because of this, and made this video to articulate just this point and these dangers.

News articles: Stolen bikes and homeless camps

Videos of homeless people, camps in Berkeley and Oakland

I thought it would be helpful to compile videos that others have done of homeless people and homeless camps in the East Bay, primarily Berkeley and Oakland. Many of these include interviews with homeless persons.


Drive by of 2nd street homeless camp Jan 2018:

Here is one where some people interview homeless who formerly lived at the 2nd Street camp in Berkeley:

INterview of one 4th street homeless camper:

This is a video where a man interviews several homeless in Berkeley:

Homeless living on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley:

Some on Telegraph:

HOmeless in Berkeley in 2011:

Various homeless in Berkeley in 2013:

Student homeless:

Homeless in Berkeley:

Panel discussion:

MIke Zint

People’s Park

There are also a lot of videos of parts of Berkeley City Council meetings on Homeless issues.


Berkeley SEeks to evict RV dwellers from Marina:

Berkeley celebrates opening of Navigation Center:

Berkeley homeless camp sues BART over eviction plans:

Kindra Martin, houseless in West BErkeley:

Investigative report BErkeley Homeless Shelters:


Woman goes to interview various homeless in Oakland:

Short video about Oakland homeless:

Interview with one homeless man in Oakland

Summary of statistics on Oakland homeless:

Drone view of homeless camp

SEventh St Oakland

Oakland Tuff Shed camps, Mayor Schaaf speaks:

News stories:

Oakland Homeless Camps no longer hidden 2016:

Neighbors grow weary after latest fire at Oakland Homeless camp:

At issue: sheltering Oakland’s homeless December 2017:

Oakland transforms homeless camps into shelters:

Oakland shuts down “The Village” homeless camp Feb 2017:

Dozens booted from Oakland homeless camp Aug 2017:

Trash from homeless camp piles up next to high school Jan 2018:

Oakland Homeless family August 2017:

Massive West Oakland encampment spills into streets: March 2017:

Why Won’t the Homeless Pick up their trash?

Oakland wrangles with solution to dumping problem at homeless camps:


Bay Area Homeless, Concern or Crisis, Part 1,

In this video, they say that there are 30,000 homeless people in the Bay Area. THey say that half of the homeless in Alameda County, are in Oakland.

Bay Area Homeless, Concern or Crisis, Part 2

Guaranteed Shelter for All? All Will Come…

I would like to see us collectively get to the point where no one need be homeless, except by choice. I would like to see us get to a point where everyone who needs shelter, is given shelter. This shelter that homeless individuals are offered need not be elaborate, it could be rudimentary. But this is something that we CAN do collectively — if not in buildings, we can set up large circus tents with cots. We can create the equivalent of migrant or refugee camps that existed during the Depression Era in the United States. We CAN do something.

But at the same time as I believe that we can and should provide basic shelter for everyone who needs it, I also believe that this must be done at a state or national level, preferably national. I would like to see a federally organized network of homeless shelters set up across the country, and anyone who becomes homeless at any time, could sign up online or at the nearest homeless services office, and be directed immediately to the shelter nearest their location which had space.

As well, I believe that there is a problem with over-dependency on government in our nation, and this needs to be considered in connection with the providing of shelter, and certainly in terms of providing housing or housing subsidies.  One way of addressing the level of entitlement and over-dependency in our nation, while simultaneously attempting to help people, is to help them without making them too comfortable with the free help they are receiving.  Being kept from dire suffering is important, but being given too much is a problem.  Homeless services and advocates often do not have this ethical issue in their mindset.  This is a problem.  Ways to provide help to the homeless or poor, without making them overly dependent, could include providing shelter, but only rudimentary shelter.  Providing shelter, or housing, but not in the place the individual prefers to live.  Providing shelter, but requiring that individuals receiving this give back for what they have received, by doing some type of work, to the extent they are able, in exchange for what they have been given.  Providing subsidized housing, but only for a limited duration of time, after which point, if the individual hasn’t been able to get a job and provide for themselves, they will be returned to much less comfortable rudimentary shelter, and thus taught that if you dont’t start making efforts to stand on your own two feet, you won’t get much support from government.  All these kinds of things can build dignity and help mitigate against excessive dependency.  This is not freedom

Currently,  most all homeless services and shelter services in the nation are organized and provided by individual cities, or counties, and this can easily lead to problems when one city or county takes a more generous approach, offers better or more services, or more shelter, than neighboring cities/counties, or even states.

Portland is a case in point.  In this article in the Seattle Times, the author demonstrates how Portland, intending to solve the problem of homelessness in its city by offering shelter for all homeless, ended up trying “something that had never been tried”, and ended up making a big mistake, one that may plague that city for some time to come.  As a result of this very generous offer to shelter anyone in need, what Portland got was:

More people needed shelter than they expected, in part because data show that Portland’s no-turn-away shelters drew people from other counties, and even other states. Less than half the families who checked into the shelter said their last address was in Portland or Multnomah County. The policy ended in October with a blown budget, overflowing family shelters and nearly 100 families staying in motels, with the county footing the bill.

Washington D.C. and New York City also offer shelter to nearly all comers, though they were a bit more restrictive, and this helped prevent a flood of homeless from other areas pouring in.

Washington, D.C., has the closest thing to what Portland tried. The district has promised shelter during the winter for decades. But starting around the same time as Multnomah County, the district began sheltering families year-round.

District officials quickly recognized a problem, however. The surrounding suburbs didn’t have a right to shelter, and were only a quick subway ride away. From October 2016 to September 2017, 174 families came in from outside the district asking for assistance, so officials started requiring families to provide documentation showing they were district residents before becoming homeless.

Unlike D.C., Kafoury refused to turn anyone away in Portland.

New York City also houses all its homeless — now numbering over 60,000 — at great expense.  This program has its critics, such as the author of this article in the New York Post.  He points out that the city is spending enormous amounts of money, and handing over easy profits to developers, in an eagerness to plop down new, expensive homeless shelters and homeless housing in random areas of the city.  He points out that at least 10% of those being given not only free shelter, but free housing, are from out of town:

Lax admissions opened the floodgates to “homeless” families from far beyond the city itself. As Nicole Gelinas wrote in The Post, “New York is one of the only places in the country, by inclination and court order, that will give a free apartment to any family from anywhere in the world” if they try hard enough.

Of the 60,000 people in the homeless system, more than 6,600 are from out of town. That figure is certain to swell as word spreads that jobless, unstable drifters might luck into a room at a nice hotel or new apartment building.

As well, a great many — more than 10% of New York’s homeless — are being put up in hotels, at great expense to the city and its taxpayers.Homeless in a hotel

Meanwhile, Homeless Services has made an incredible 425,000 hotel bookings for homeless families costing taxpayers $72.9 million in a single year, city Comptroller Scott Stringer reported. Nearly 8,000 homeless now stay in hotels.

Not all seem grateful for it. Homeless residents at a DoubleTree in the Financial District had the chutzpah to complain that the neighborhood where they’re living for free is too expensive. “We live out of Burger King,” one told The Post.

I agree with the author, this approach seems too expensive and too simplistic. The assumption is being made that all these people, who happen to be present in New York City, should be sheltered there, even though it’s far more expensive to live in New York City than many other places. It makes more sense to build shelters — or indeed elaborate camps, serving as shelters — in places where land is more abundant and/or rent is less expensive. I would like to see a program that moved homeless people out of areas where housing is expensive and sheltered them in places where they can be sheltered at lower cost, preferably in areas like the Central Valley in California where agricultural jobs are available so that they can find work on farms.

Another problem in New York City is that it’s difficult for those being housed in shelters to find standard housing, because landlords (no surprise) prefer not to rent to people with poor credit scores, or who have no job, or who have been homeless or perhaps were evicted from their last apartment for nonpayment of rent. This article presents this issue as “landlord discrimination” which is a prejudicial and unfair way of discussing an issue which is better described as “reasonable business practice.” Given the costs and indeed serious problems which can be associated with bad tenants, landlords need to screen tenants and select carefully.

As housing for the homeless becomes a huge industry, corruption can occur. Some companies are moving in to create cozy relationships with the city to win lucrative contracts, and there may not be enough oversight about where the money is going, as this article suggests:

At the unit along Decatur Avenue owned by Eisenstein, for example, Apex and Childrens Community Services failed to pay more than $15,000 in rent, even though case files show the city issued thousands of dollars’ worth of checks to cover the cost. In another instance on East 190th Street, court documents indicate Childrens Community Services cashed $20,000 in city checks, but tenant attorneys say the money was not used to pay the landlord. At an apartment on Grand Avenue in the Bronx, another owner said it was owed $15,000 for nearly a year’s worth of back rent….”Essentially, the city will end up paying double,” said Lucy Newman, an attorney with Legal Aid who has been involved in several cases.

Another problem is where New York City puts its shelters….some neighborhoods like Blissville feel they are unfairly burdened with homeless shelters, and fear a transformation of their whole community with the influx of too many homeless.

Gavin Newsom, former mayor of San Francisco, who knows something about trying to work on the homeless problem, stated recently in a San Francisco Chronicle article that the solution to the homeless problem will not come from pouring more money into it. Gavin Newsom

His experience has demonstrated to him that, in fact, putting more money into the problem will make it worse, because the more you do for the homeless in any one particular city (above what is being done in neighboring cities) the more you attract homeless to that city to take advantage of those services and programs, shelter, etc:

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom told Bay Area business leaders on Tuesday that boosting the amount of money San Francisco spends on homeless programs by hundreds of millions of dollars would only exacerbate the problem.

“Put another $400 million into the homeless problem and I promise you this: Your problem is going to get a lot worse,” the Democratic candidate for governor said.

Newsom later explained that he was making a pitch for a regional approach to solving problems.

“You’re not going to solve this homeless problem in San Francisco,” he said. “It’s not a San Francisco issue; it’s a regional issue.” He said Tuesday that the “Care Not Cash” program that he sponsored while on the Board of Supervisors, which substituted housing and services for monthly case payments, provided “very relevant” examples of homeless people being lured to San Francisco “because San Francisco was doing something no one else was.”

There’s a profound need for a “big picture” look at the homeless problem in the nation, and a plan for providing shelter to those in need, without creating new problems for neighborhoods and cities. I think that in order to be successful in addressing the need for shelter, those working on this problem need to be realistic about the consequences of setting up shelters in places where those living in them too often cannot hope to be able to afford to live on their own, such as expensive New York City or the San Francisco Bay Area. The problem of providing something too nice, too easily to those in need, must be recognized as a way to create a dysfunctional dependency, a dependency of the kind that has been crippling our nation for several decades, since the start of the welfare program which rewarded women for having more children and no husband.Are we nanny enough

We’re quite comfortable in this nation doing “social engineering” in order to try to increase shallow forms of diversity in places of employment, for instance, (and we fixate quite pointlessly and even destructively on identity politics, as explored in this video ) but we can’t seem to engineer structures of service for the poor and homeless which place value on taking responsibility for one’s own life and moving away from government dependency.

Creating programs that aid the homeless while simultaneously a sufficiently rudimentary level of service, as to discourage people from hoping to live for the rest of their lives on these handouts, would be smart in this regard. As would the creation of a network of shelters and sign up for shelters, which took away people’s ability to choose exactly where they would live, again helping to teach important moral lessons that would combat an entitlement mentality and over-dependency by showing that “beggars can’t be choosers” and that the benefit of working to stand on your own two feet in life, is that this, and this alone, gives you choice again.

Homeless Advocates in Outer Space

I want to bring attention to a few excellent articles on homelessness by Heather MacDonald, the brilliant writer and thinker, who is a senior fellow and contributor at the Manhattan Institute. She also has a lot of valuable things to say about identity politics, immigration, race relations, policing and higher education.


One is called “Homeless Advocates in Outer Space“, which, though it was written 20 years ago, is as true today as it was then.  I will quote some parts of this article here:

In eighteenth-century London, aristocratic elites visited the mad in Bedlam Hospital and called it entertainment. In twentieth-century New York, professional elites visit the mad in the streets and call it homeless outreach. The results in both cases are the same: the objects of attention are left to rot in their own filth, perhaps to lose a limb or two to gangrene, or to die. The intention, however, could not be more different: in modern times, such hands-off treatment shows “sensitivity” and “respect.”

As recounted in “To Reach the Homeless,” a typical day of outreach resembles a Dantean pilgrimage through the underworld. One day, for example, outreach workers stop by a coffin-sized box across from the New York Times building. “We know it’s a person,” reports Porter, “because we can discern a hand moving underneath some rags.” The workers knock on the box and say hello but get no response. Because the hand is still moving, though, the team concludes that whatever it is attached to must be okay, so they move on.

Nothing, however, compares to the difficulty of enticing the homeless into housing. Time after time, a client deemed “housing-ready” will balk at the threshold of his new abode and plunge back into the most squalid street life. Only a few vagrants even get that close; most keep themselves safely removed from the housing process.

When it gets cold, recounts a scraggly vagrant, “I smash a window with a brick and go to jail. I get along fine in jail.”

“To Reach the Homeless” proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the homeless are not on the street because they can’t find housing: desperate to give away subsidized apartments, the BID found almost no takers. Clearly, most vagrants prefer the streets to the responsibilities of a housed existence. Some may simply refuse to play by society’s rules, like many hoboes of old; for others, speculates the respite center’s director, housing may represent a scary reencounter with whatever psychological demons drove them to the streets in the first place.

Homeless Advocates in outer space

But although the homeless may prefer the streets, that is not why they are still there. They are there because the advocates need them to be there. Should society finally decide to end street vagrancy, it could go far in that direction by facilitating commitment to mental hospitals (see “Let’s Stop Being Nutty About the Mentally Ill,” Summer 1997) and enforcing existing laws against street living. Though the average householder would surely welcome such a change, the average householder has no say in these matters; a vocal minority purporting to represent the interests of the homeless governs homeless policy.

A sane homeless policy would acknowledge two basic realities. First, many people on the streets need treatment, not housing. For the sickest, legislators need to change rules against involuntary confinement, and states need to recommission mental hospitals emptied by deinstitutionalization. Second, for the rest of the homeless the best medicine is the expectation of responsible behavior—the expectation of work and of civil and lawful conduct in public spaces. (See “Who Says the Homeless Should Work?” Summer 1997.) Accordingly, opinion leaders, from politicians to ministers, should decry all types of no-strings-attached handouts, such as no-demand soup kitchens and indiscriminate alms-giving to beggars, which simply subsidize self-destructive behavior. They should oppose allowing the homeless to turn public spaces into hobo encampments. Effective charity asks for reciprocity from the recipient, building patterns of work and discipline; to exempt the homeless from the rules that everyone else lives by infantilizes them permanently.

Ms MacDonald wrote an article called “San Francisco Gets Tough with the Homeless” about San Francisco’s approach to homelessness at a point in the early 1990’s when it seemed, for a time, that the city’s policy was shifting. Ultimately the city failed to pursue a new tougher policy on homelessness that would have set healthy boundaries.

She also wrote another article about SF’s approach to the homeless in 2010, in the Wall STreet Journal, called San Franciscans try to Take Back THeir Streets.

Stroll down Haight Street these days, and chances are you’ll be accosted by aggressive young vagrants. “Can you spare some change?” asks Cory, a slender dark-haired young man from Ventura, Calif. “Dude, do you have any food?” His two female companions, Zombie and Eeyore, swig from a bottle of pricey Tejava tea and pass a smoke while lying on a blanket surrounded by a fortress of backpacks, bedrolls and scrawled signs asking for money. Vincent, a fourth “traveler,” as the Haight Street gutter punks call themselves, stares dully into space.

Such strapping young hobos see themselves as on a “mission,” though they’re hard-pressed to define it. In fact, they are defined by an oversized sense of entitlement.


Of all the destinations on the West Coast “traveler” circuit, the Haight carries a particular attraction to these panhandlers, thanks to the 1960s Summer of Love. Over the last several years, however, the vagrant population has grown more territorial and violent. “I don’t care if they ask for change,” says Arthur Evans, a self-described former hippie who has lived in the neighborhood for 35 years. “It’s okay if they loiter and make a bit of noise. But I don’t feel safe walking down the Haight at night any more.”

Read or listen to an interesting recent interview (June 2018) by Ben Weingarten with Heather MacDonald here:

The homeless with serious mental illness

What percentage of the “homeless” are people living with serious mental illness? This is an important question, particularly since many people are over-emphasizing that “the solution for homelessness is housing”.  But if people with serious mental illness are simply given housing, it’s very likely they will lose it again if their mental illness continues to be untreated.

A recent article in Mother Jones quoted a man who works with San Diego’s homeless in the tents provided for them there.

He estimates that about 80 to 90 percent of the tent’s residents are affected by some kind of mental illness.

This is a shockingly high number of individuals with mental illness, considering that in the population at large,  the US population as a whole has only 2% with serious substance abuse — see here

And the population as a whole has only 4% with serious mental illness

This means that  in San Diego, the estimated figures there imply that the rate of mental illness among homeless individuals there, is 20X or 2000% higher than the population at large.  This is such a stunningly high number that it would be simply negligent to fail to factor this into any strategies to work with the homeless there, or seek solutions for that city’s homelessness.  It also implies what many of us have suspected…that the “explosion of homelessness” is innately a failure of our mental health care system (or lack thereof) and that our streets and sidewalks are being appropriated by our cities and states as outdoor insane asylums, to the extent that these municipalities and governing entities simply allow the mentally ill to continue to wander there.  Homeless mentally ill banner

A study done in Berkeley found a different percentage of those with serious Mental illness — about half that of the number found in San Diego, but still extremely high.
The study done by the Homeless Task Force on Homelessness in Berkeley in 2009 :. Homeless Task Force study on Homelessness in Berkeley 2009

Note from page 3 of the study, 41% of homeless had serious mental illness and 40% were chronic substance abusers. Hence, those who are homeless have 10 to 20 times the rate of substance abuse as the general public as a whole, and 10 times the rate of serious mental illness as the general public as a whole.

A study done by the National Institute of Mental Health had lower numbers of homeless with serious mental illness.

The Treatment Advocacy Center reported that 1/3 of the homeless have serious mental illness.

This study had a lower figure, only 18.4% of homeless with serious mental illness.

A study done for Portland Oregon shows 20% of the homeless there with mental illlness.

This study shows 26% of homeless with a mental illness, 35% with substance abuse.

In another article, Mother Jones had a similar figure:

Mother Jones stats on homeless mentally ill

This study done in Canada shows a 50% rate of mental illness among homeless.

But again, the numbers on the ground in some areas are much higher.  In Oahu Hawaii, the Institute for Human Services found that 60% of the homeless suffer from serious mental illness.

Crazy eye and hand

A study in Whatcom County in Washington showed 38% of homeless with serious mental illness. Homeless in Whatcom Washington

It is really very unfortunate that it is taking us, collectively, so very long to realize that those with serious mental illness cannot take care of themselves.  I’ve personally been very concerned with this problem for about 4 decades now, which is about how long I’ve been seeing those with serious mental illness wandering the urban streets, living on sidewalks, left to rant and rave and talk to themselves while wearing rags and defecating and urinating on themselves.  It’s been incomprehensible to me that we (national, state and city governments) have just ignored this serious problem for so long. Why were we not addressing this very serious problem 30 or 40 years ago?

We are finally realizing that people with serious mental illness — surprise!– often dont’ realize that they can’t see reality as it is and dont’ realize they have a mental illness.  Duh!   They have “anosognosia” , which is a prominent symptom of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  It’s flatly evident that people out of their minds, do not realize they are out of their minds.   This is why giving those with untreated serious mental illness the “freedom” to do as they please is a form of cruelty — it’s like sending a 2 or 3 year old child out into the world and saying “take care! Hope you can get a job and some housing and take care of yourself!”  These people can’t care for themselves and it’s really abusive of us as a society to expect that they would be able to.

Homeless mentally ill end up on sidewalks
Here’s a good opinion piece on this issue from the LA Times.

A legal RV park…in Berkeley?

Arguably, if one is homeless or low-income, it’s far better for you to be able to live in a vehicle as opposed to a tent on the sidewalk.  This is a far more secure, comfortable, private and desirable way to live.  Particularly if the vehicle is large, and outfitted for long term residence — as with the RV or trailer home.  It’s also a way that many people of means have chosen to live, for significant amounts of time.

But the problem with this way of life,  is, that just as with tiny house dwelling, there are very few legal options for those seeking a “low rent” or free way of living in Berkeley or really anywhere in the Bay Area.

There are very few RV parks in the Bay Area, particularly any that have space available and also offer reasonably low rents.  And — it’s not an acceptable plan to allow people to simply live in vehicles, indefinitely — or in perpetuity, as their permanent, chosen lifestyle — on public streets.  As mentioned in another article here, most cities not only do not allow people to live in RVs on public streets, but they even prohibit the overnight parking of RVs on any city street.

The number of people illegally living in RVs and other vehicles at the Berkeley Marina has gotten way out of hand.  At the Berkeley City Council meeting this week, a park spokesperson estimated that there are 200 people living in RVs at the Berkeley Marina.

Berkeley Marina 200 vehicles (2)

Keep in mind that there is NO campground there, and Berkeley Marina laws explicitly and clearly state that overnight camping is prohibited everywhere at the Marina.  Nevertheless, the city has tolerated this illegal activity for over 2 years.

The result is predictable: the people living illegally in RVs and other vehicles at the Marina, having been permitted to stay there for so long, now feel like they have a claim on the area, and thus, the city of Berkeley is now looking at the possibility of setting up a designated lot or site for people to live in RVs in Berkeley or not too far away.  Berkeley Marina van dweller (2)

Berkeley Marina vehicle dwellers speak (2)

As written, this proposal is over-idealistic and not workable. Yes, it would be nice if there were places for all RV dwellers to live in the Bay Area, at low or no rent.  However, absent someone with a magic wand to wave and somehow magically create more and more low income housing opportunities, it’s not possible to accomodate the huge number of people who would just like to live in Berkeley or Oakland or SF and pay, say,  $100 to $300 a month in rent.  The number of people who would like that opportunity is huge, and even if it were possible to give 200 such people such an opportunity,  within a few months,  there would be 200 to 5000 more people wanting the same thing.

There are many people living in RVs on streets all over the Bay Area, and they all would like to be given a $100-300 a month RV park spot.  For instance these in East Palo ALto:

Those who do actually have a spot in an RV park in a city where the cost of living is far higher than what they are paying, are very lucky.  And rare.

People argue that we need more low income housing in the Bay Area, we need RV parks.  Well we already have low income housing, we already have RV parks, and they are pretty much all full. There are opportunities to live at low rent on a liveaboard at the Berkeley Marina — those slots are taken.  There are a variety of low income apartments in the Bay Area — all taken.  There are RV parks in the Bay Area — most are not in the inner Bay Area, where land costs are very high, but in the outer Bay, for instance in Vacaville. Even those are mostly all full.  There is section 8 housing in the Bay Area…all full, with a long waiting list.

It’s just not possible to meet the demand for low income housing or RV park slots in the inner Bay Area in particular.

If any RV park or vehicle dwelling park is to be set up by the city, it makes far more sense to me that this would be done in the same spirit and with the same purpose as the new Pathways navigation center in Berkeley.  Namely, to offer ostensibly “homeless” people a place to stay for a limited period of time (say up to 3 to 6 months)  while they are provided services and directed to available shelter or housing, not necessarily in Berkeley (as there is little of either here) but somewhere in the state or in the nation.  Those who are not interested in receiving such services should not be given a spot in the vehicle campground/park.  The city should not be subsidizing one select group of vehicle dwellers (those at the BErkeley Marina) , any more than they should be subsidizing one particular group of homeless tent campers (FTCFTH).  Among other things, focusing only on one ostensibly “special” group of people is discriminatory.  But more to the point, governments need to come up with plans for the homeless that work with the big picture scenario.

Berkeley City Council members have indicated that those 200 (gasp) people living in RVs at the BErkeley Marina will “have to go”, and they are considering some type of RV park arrangement, but have recognized that this is not just a Berkeley issue, it is an issue for all the homeless (and low income persons) all over the Bay Area.

The state is finally stepping up and trying to get funding to build housing for some of the most needy homeless.

Instead of expecting the city to find places for them, RV and vehicle dwellers might take the initiative and find places for themselves.  A group called “BusPatch” has done that, and they band together and rent vacant lots in the Bay Area where they can live communally.

UPDATE: September 30 2018

The city of Berkeley, faced with a large increase in the number of complaints about RVs in the West Berkeley area, in District 1, is considering implementing regulations on RV parking in the city. See the Berkeleyside article about this issue.

On October 1 2018, East Bay Times reported that an RV caught fire on a road in the Oakland hills, and the fire spread to nearby brush.  RV burned out Oakland hillls

It’s not clear if this was an RV being used as a residence, but there have been many fires in RVs people are using as residences.  In Portland, this has become quite a problem, with many “zombie RVs” in that city, as explained in this article:

Rivera said Portland Fire & Rescue has responded to at least 25 RV fires just this year. One time, a burning RV torched power lines in a neighborhood. He also mentioned abandoned RVs can be a hub for criminal activity. The city had to hire additional parking staff to deal with abandoned RVs.

The task in total has earned quite the price tag.

“We expect to spend more than a million dollars this year, getting RV’s off the streets of Portland,” Rivera said.

As mentioned in this Reddit thread, there was an RV that caught fire at a grocery store parking lot in Portland, and the scene was caught on video…

THe next day, this sight —

Zombie RV Portland

Anyone with interest, can explore the RV park offerings in the Bay Area…I found this list on YELP.  Note that most all of the existing RV parks are in the outer Bay Area, places like Vacaville or Santa Rosa, or Half Moon Bay.

  • 2399 E 14th St
    San Leandro, CA 94577

    Phone number(510) 357-3235

    Robert J.

    This place is located in the heart of downtown San Leandro, and really an awesome trailer park. I stayed here in an RV and had a very good experience. Their monthly rate is $700 and… read more

  • 460 Wavecrest Rd
    Half Moon Bay, CA 94019

    Phone number(650) 726-7275

    Donna F.

    RV! All spots included a fire pit and table/chairs. There is no shade for days like we had during Labor weekend! We were just done the street from bike trails that lead to the state… read more

  • 700 Palmetto Ave
    Pacifica, CA 94044

    Phone number(888) 841-5636

    Marie L.

    would never stay here again, we woke up to our car keyed and someone trying to flatter our tires, our rv site was tore up, and our wheel stoppers removed from our tires and put on… read more

  • 4000 Cabrillo Hwy N
    Half Moon Bay, CA 94019

    Phone number(650) 712-9277

    Loretta S.

    from Sam’s Chowder House. So we walked there for lunch and dinner, which was great as there is never parking available at Sam’s Chowder; but it’s a great place to eat. Thanks again,… read more

  • 2140 Redwood Hwy
    Greenbrae, CA 94904

    Phone number(415) 461-5199

    Doris c.

    the dogs. How awful that these animals are locked in a camper that they are unfamiliar with. Worse part about this is I really like using this site. I have been here many times and… read more

  • 1080 San Miguel Rd
    Concord, CA 94518

    Phone number(925) 685-7048

    Dan N.

    I stayed here for right at a month because I had a short job down the road. This place is really nice. Lots and lots of mature beautiful trees. Reminds me of San Diego. Plenty of RV… read more

  • Trailer Villa

    7. Trailer Villa

    2.5 star rating

    8 reviews

    3401 E Bayshore Rd
    Redwood City, CA 94063

    Phone number(650) 366-7880

    Brian M.

    This is about the most convenient rv park and public dump station in the Bay area. Now that the rvpark in Pacifica closed it’s public dump station it’s one of about two local… read more

  • 339 Parker Ave
    Rodeo, CA 94572

    Phone number(510) 900-5920

    Stan L.

    This is a great place to stay. Just very difficult because it’s always full. Everything you need is right around the area. Restaurants, post office, grocery shopping. read more

  • 3356 Snug Harbor Dr
    Walnut Grove, CA 95690

    Phone number(916) 775-1455

    Phil B.

    traveled with other RV’s and this also included 1 pitbull (again, great dog). Shame on you Snug Harbor, obviously we (or any of our friends and family) won’t be returning anytime… read more