While the Los Angeles City Council discusses banning oversized vehicles from parking overnight in different parts of town, unincorporated LA County is a different story.
With a lot of different authorities overlapping in places like East Gardena and West Rancho Dominguez, entire villages of people living in recreational vehicles mushroom alongside busy streets.
Homelessness outreach is hard work, but it can be particularly challenging when it comes to those living in RVs because sometimes these people don’t feel like they’re truly unhoused. There are even cases of people paying rent, so to speak, to live in a camper.
Frustration over this issue has sparked a grassroots response and a county-wide plan.
John Davis is the president of the Avalon Gardens Community Association, leading a neighborhood he’s lived in for many years. Seeing homelessness reach emergency status motivated him to join something called a collaborative outreach group. It’s a multi-agency coalition organized recently by the Harbor Gateway Chamber of Commerce. They meet every other Wednesday morning to help those living on the streets.
“When I go back to my community, I can honestly say that, ‘Hey, I’m there. I’m there working with them and I see the progress that’s going on,’” Davis said.
Another team member — lead outreach case manager Audrey Pearson — is with the Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care System, or HOPICS. She hikes hidden trails to reach encampments and speaks with parents raising kids in RVs.
Convincing someone to leave behind a roof and walls for the unknown is a hard sell.
“Why would I leave my RV and go into a shelter? That makes no sense. I would rather go from an RV into my apartment, and I think that that’s the type of resources our clients already living in RVs they want and if they can’t get it, they’re going to stay right here,” Pearson said.
She’s got a new fire under her because in June, the RV Encampment Pilot will launch. This started as a motion introduced last year by LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who oversees the 2nd District. The goal is to remove 1,500 RVs across LA County over three years.
One of the biggest problems is figuring out where these people are supposed to go.
“The critical element: if we don’t keep pace with building housing that’s affordable, accessible and appropriate to meet the needs of our current unhoused population, all of this will be for naught,” Mitchell said.
This pilot program has a lot of pieces partly because they can’t just go in and indiscriminately destroy RVs. Some of the vehicles might be repaired and moved into a designated safe parking space. Others will be disabled and dismantled if the proper permissions can be secured. They also want to fix up the empty places left over once the RVs leave so that the problem doesn’t pop back up again.