SANTA CRUZ — Pamela Bright has been homeless from time to time, “a lot” since she returned to her hometown of Santa Cruz from Boise, Idaho to care for her ailing mother in 2014.
“I never wanted to come back,” Bright said of his return to Santa Cruz. “Because if I wanted to be homeless, I would have stayed here to begin with.”
More recently, when Bright’s mother died in 2018, Bright said she was once again left homeless.
To navigate the change, Bright started living in her RV, doing her best to keep the area around her vehicle clear of debris and moving regularly, she said. Despite his efforts, Bright said people associate his RV with homelessness, inviting strangers to throw eggs, a bottle of frozen water and even oranges at his vehicle. Bright thinks she got away with it easily, even though people make quick decisions without knowing her story, she said.
“I packed everything every day. Some people just like to stay there,” Bright said. “I’m not one to like doing that. I try to move every three days and if I can’t I try to keep the place where I am clean and not have a lot of people coming and going – things that attract the attention I don’t need.
The motorhome was a step up from her days when she rode a bike and attached trailer — or two — with her dog in tow. Especially when Bright sometimes needed to provide a safe living space for his grandson.
New program launches
Beginning last month, Bright was among the first participants in the City of Santa Cruz-sponsored secure recreational vehicle parking program, considered the highest “level 3” effort spelled out in its vehicle ordinance. 2021 oversize vehicles. As of last week, 13 of 14 large vehicle parking spaces have been filled in the parking lot outside the National Guard Armory in DeLaveaga Park. Another 37 “households” living in recreational vehicles or smaller vehicles were on the waiting list. Nonprofit service provider The Free Guide operates the program, with information available by emailing [email protected] or calling 831-515-8665.
The secure parking program differs from the Salvation Army-run Overlook tent camp and nearby Armory covered shelter. It also draws inspiration from the Association of Faith Communities’ SafeSpaces parking program, an effort that officially launched in 2019 that attracts faith-based institutions across the county to offer their lots for overnight vehicle parking.
The RV Safe Parking program is still a work in progress, launching Aug. 25, according to program manager Maile Earnest and The Free Guide executive director Evan Morrison.
“There are people who, even in the last two weeks, are starting to get job interviews, dealing with some of their legal history that they need to rectify,” Earnest said. “A lady, she was notified by the Housing Authority to get her voucher. It gives her a place to print out her voucher application and fill it out. It’s what it does for people. I’ve spoken to some people who have never been in this situation and I ask them, what does your house do for you?”
Street level impacts
Westside resident Peter Cook said he supported a campervan parking scheme with site security, waste disposal facilities and a focus on housing assistance. He was among members of the Westside Neighbors group who have spoken to the Santa Cruz City Council in recent years with concerns about the impacts of long-term overnight parking on city streets. When asked this week if he had seen an improvement in conditions in his neighborhood, Cook attributed a small improvement to street cleaning that took place in time for last weekend’s Ironman triathlon.
“There was a very marginal improvement, but nothing substantial, unfortunately,” Cook said. “It’s the same people in the same vehicles parked in the same places.”
The enforcement aspect of the city’s nighttime vehicle ordinance was halted this year, as an appeal to the California Coastal Commission went through several stages. The city ordinance remains pending before the commission.
Prior to joining the new parking program at the Armory, Bright participated in overnight-only secure parking programs. She said her biggest anxieties of living in a vehicle were the daily efforts to locate bathrooms and showers, as well as avoiding traffic tickets.
“I’ve been trying to find a place where I can park, where I don’t always have to drive around,” Bright said. “That way I can be less stressed.”
Participants in the RV Safe Parking program have access to on-site and off-site privileges, but may remain in the parking lot at all times. They do not benefit from meal deliveries, wifi, electrical hookups, waste water or sewage, but have access to portable toilets, hand washing stations, charging stations for electrical devices, a filtered water supply and waste collection. A new city-owned shower trailer is expected to arrive for shared use at the Armory in the coming weeks, Morrison said.
“People are understanding. They’re used to solving problems outside of this program, and that continues,” said Earnest, who previously worked for service provider Encompass Community Services.
Morrison said his outreach team is helping create a clearer picture of the city’s population of people living in their vehicles, counting 50 RVs so far and “not even scratching the surface.” Morrison and Earnest said the number of people living in their RVs, let alone their vehicles, is a poorly documented statistic forcing observers to differentiate between vacationers and those with no other housing options. .
“I really wanted something that was as low as possible and where we could really partner with people to house them,” Morrison said. “Everything is kind of structured around those two goals, in this program.”