UPDATE: San Jose looks to count RV dwellers
More than 60 vehicles—some immobile—are parked in close vicinity at the baseball field at the corner of Asbury and Irene streets. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    San Jose is closer to counting how many residents living in RVs are lining city streets and creeks.

    A proposal to tally the city’s RV dwellers passed unanimously at Wednesday’s Rules and Open Government committee meeting. The timeline and cost for the RV count will go back to the committee in three to four weeks before going to the full San Jose City Council.

    Despite Santa Clara County’s biannual point in time count which tallied more than 6,700 homeless residents in San Jose, up 11% from 2019, the number of RV dwellers is still largely unknown.

    “We haven’t done that kind of analysis to know true numbers or even true demographics,” Vice Mayor Chappie Jones told San José Spotlight. “How many are families? How many are single adults? What are some of the issues they’re facing and other specifics we would need to know, in order to come up with a program that’s going to meet not only the needs of the people living in RVs, but also the needs of our residents.”

    Jones said the need to do a count became clear after receiving dozens of complaints from residents about RVs parking in their neighborhoods.

    Councilmember David Cohen directed the city to create a program to financially support maintenance and repairs for those living in their RVs—a pilot program the city is creating. He said he received complaints from businesses because RVs park in front of their stores.

    “They can’t invite their clients and customers to their site,” Cohen said. “Vehicles that are pulling out of these parking lots are unable to see what’s coming down the street.”

    Initially, those living in RVs would park in industrial parts of San Jose where police wouldn’t bother them. But as the price of living continued to increase and more people fell into homelessness, more people turned to RVs for shelter and started living in other neighborhoods and side streets, homeless advocate Scott Largent said. He’s lived in an RV for years after falling into homelessness. He said San Jose ignores and brushes off RV dwellers.

    “Over the years I have seen how the time limits have changed from 10-hour parking, to two hours, to one hour and that is a deliberate move to restrict RV parking,” Largent told San José Spotlight. “The thing is (people living in RVs are) not going to go away. People are going to keep purchasing these things because it’s the easiest way to get housed.”

    Largent said the city also posted size restrictions for parking on some city streets. Mountain View tried to do the same until a group of RV residents sued the city, claiming it was designed to target the city’s low-income populations. The parties recently reached a settlement.

    For Largent and other homeless advocates, the best service the city could offer people living in RVs is safe parking sites. One is in the works at the Santa Teresa VTA station parking lot for 45-60 vehicles.

    San Jose first explored safe parking programs in 2019 at the Seven Trees Community Center parking lot. The program was shut down in less than a year due to concerns of safety and lack of participation. The city also funded two more locations at Roosevelt and Southside community centers, which did not see similar concerns and closed last year when the contract with site manager LifeMoves expired. Last November, a temporary safe parking program in North San Jose ended earlier than expected because the few residents who utilized the site moved to transitional housing.

    Plans for safe parking sites will come to the full City Council in November.

    Largent said it’s a good thing the city is considering counting RV dwellers, but is surprised it wasn’t done before, especially as the city has recently swept camps with scores of RVs. This month, San Jose swept the large homeless encampment near Columbus Park—forcing more than 150 RVs to find a new place to park. Dozens have moved into a baseball field across the street.

    “The city (has) mapped out every single encampment, even a single tent on a sidewalk… kind of weird they did not include RVs and cars into this work,” Largent said. “(These counts) make the general public think the city is really looking into the problem when they really are coming in at the ninth inning.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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