Enforcement of a ban on street parking oversized vehicles, including RVs, began this week in Anaheim after the City Council created new fines for violating the ban, sparking fears among homeless people living in recreational vehicles about whether they can remain in the city.
In March, the City Council approved a number of new rules for parking on city streets, including an outright ban on oversized vehicles, meaning vehicles that are longer than 22 feet and wider and taller than seven feet.
Although the ban has been in place, until Tuesday no fines or penalties had been approved and the city has largely issued warnings to RV dwellers. Fines for violating the parking laws can cost up to $79.
Oversized vehicles parked on city streets now can be ticketed and possibly towed. City spokesman Mike Lyster said towing would only occur in cases where “safety is a concern or in persistent cases where all other efforts have proven unsuccessful.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, council members said they were sympathetic to the concerns of people living in RVs, but because the item was about the approval of fees and fines, they did not discuss issues related to homelessness at length.
At the request of multiple council members, city staff currently is preparing a staff report on the feasibility of creating a safe parking program or other options to address homeless people living in cars and RVs. It’s unclear when that will come before the city council.
At least a dozen people who live in RVs have spoken at city council meetings in recent months asking the council to either suspend enforcement or locate public properties where people can live in cars or RVs, or allow RV parking on commercial and industrial streets.
Many of those people say they rely on disability payments or work full-time or part-time jobs but still cannot afford to rent.
Bruce Johnstone and his wife Linda Harding were homeless for several years before saving enough to buy a used motor home.
“We finally scraped enough to save and purchase a reasonable motor home, and now that we have a home, everybody says get out or lose it,” said Johnstone, who parks on west Medical Center Drive.
Shawndra Schmitz, who was born and raised in Anaheim, is 45 and has a terminal diagnosis of stage four cancer. She said she receives $640 a month in disability payments, and because of her illness, is not allowed to work. Schmitz also parks her RV on Medical Center Drive so she can receive her chemotherapy across the street.
“I don’t understand because I’m not bothering nobody. I’m just here to survive and live until it’s time for me to go,” Schmitz said.
A number of homeowners and residents near Medical Center Drive, however, told the City Council Tuesday they experience regular issues as a result of the RVs, from visibility issues on the road to public defecation.
“I walk for exercise and witness, regularly, empty liquor bottles, men working on their cars, dumping of sewage, bicycles being sanded and repainted,” said GraceAnn Frederick, who lives in the nearby Lakeview Town Homes.
Frederick said she has seen people wandering through her townhome complex at night and climbing the wall into the complex to use the pool to swim and wash their clothes.
Several of the people living in RVs along Medical Center Drive disputed those issues, saying they personally pick up their trash and dump their sewage at dedicated facilities where they also refuel and purchase propane.
“I don’t have a problem with homeless people – the problem in our neighborhood happens to be these RVs, and these people aren’t interested in programs or assistance or anything like that,” said Marcus Blackstone. “They’re not homeless – they’re campers as far as I’m concerned.”
Some people in favor of the ban said they would be supportive of a “safe parking” program where the city would allow people to park in designated parking lots overnight.
Lyster, the city spokesman, said the city will focus enforcement on areas where there is limited parking or where oversized vehicles are causing a safety hazard.
“We understand there’s a difference between a big truck that’s been left out on a street and creating a hazard and somebody who may be in a vehicle who doesn’t have a permanent address,” said Lyster.
CityNet, the city’s contractor that provides outreach to homeless people, also is conducting outreach to people living in RVs.
The city has generally viewed citations for camping or parking as a means to incentivize homeless individuals to accept resources offered by the city. Several people living in RVs said, however, that they are not interested in moving to a shelter because they already own a home, just one on wheels.
“We are very sympathetic to the stories we’ve heard – our challenge is to strike this balance where we have a situation that is unsustainable,” said Lyster. “The streets weren’t made to be places for people to live in vehicles.”
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