Ron Fick, Andriana Goodell and their baby, Ginger, have been living in an RV for a year to try to make ends meet. (Melinda Burns)

When Home Is Where You Can Park It

Continued from the previous page

More people are living out of their vehicles, but the streets are becoming less welcoming.

By

R

on Fick and his partner, Andriana Goodell, are sitting in their RV in a commercial parking lot on upper State Street, playing with their baby, Ginger, who was born in the vehicle last July and is learning to walk. It’s 10 a.m. on a beautiful day, but they’re staying inside to avoid drawing the attention of passersby.

Fick, 34, and Goodell, 22, have been living in their aging RV in Santa Barbara for a year, trying to make ends meet. They bought it with student loans and grants while they were enrolled at City College. After Goodell got pregnant, Fick quit his classes to look for work. They chose to deliver their baby themselves, with Goodell’s mother on hand.

“It was a lot longer than I expected, but I was daring myself to do it,” Goodell says. “It went really well.”

This winter, Fick and Goodell had a permit to park in a church lot, obtained through the city and county’s Safe Parking program. But the church asked them to leave after a month. Fick says he plugged the RV into an outlet on the building to heat some water; a church member yanked out the plug, and an argument ensued, leading to eviction.

“We don’t have anywhere to go,” Fick says. “I can’t believe people from a church would act like that.”

During the day, Fick parks in a commercial lot, hoping the security guard won’t ask the family to leave. If they need to drive somewhere to charge their batteries, dump their waste tanks or fix the transmission on their truck, which is parked nearby, they are careful to avoid the more than 100 city blocks where RV parking is banned. Even on the blocks where it’s allowed, two hours is the city’s limit for staying in one place in an RV. Fick and Goodell fear that if they park for too long, a guard, a resident or the police will order them to “move on.”

“People automatically have a whole lot of advice,” says Fick, who came here three years ago and has part-time work installing solar hot water and electric systems for $10 an hour. It hasn’t been easy “in the midst of all this craziness” trying to find another job.

“People just have no idea what it’s like to be on this side of it, and there’s no way of getting through to them,” he says. “They tell us, ‘This isn’t the place for you to live.’ I work hard to live in this town. This is my place. I’m not asking for a handout. I just need some rest.”

But rest, as in sleeping in a home of one’s own, is seemingly years away for most of Santa Barbara’s homeless—there are just too many with too few housing options. The second biennial homeless count, a national “point-in-time” survey conducted here on two mornings in January by the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness, identified 946 homeless people in the city of Santa Barbara, including 51 heads of families, and 1,466 in the county. Single homeless people in Santa Barbara County have been homeless for more than six years on average, according to the count, and families for more than three years. (The Public Health Department has much higher numbers, estimating that there are 6,250 folks experiencing homelessness in the county.)

As a result, the average wait for one of Santa Barbara’s 2,186 rent-subsidized apartments, through the federally funded Section 8 voucher program, is five years. If that weren’t bad enough, Congressional sequester cuts may soon eliminate vouchers for an estimated 300,000 families nationally, meaning that 46 needy families in Santa Barbara won’t get vouchers this year, city officials say.

It’s even harder to get into one of the 500 low-rent apartments the city owns. On April 1, Santa Barbara’s housing authority closed the waiting list because there are more than 5,000 names on it. The average wait is eight years.

City officials say only about 350 subsidized apartments open up in Santa Barbara yearly. Of those, 75 are reserved for the homeless. First dibs on these go to names drawn from the homeless Vulnerability Index, ranking the 100 most in danger of dying on the street.

During the past two years, officials say 53 individuals and 39 families from the 2011 Vulnerability Index were placed in subsidized housing countywide. Yet more than 1,300 homeless who were counted two years ago did not get housed. Most of the city’s housing assistance goes to low-income people who have been living in overcrowded and substandard apartments for a long time.

One consequence of the great recession and the foreclosure crisis, as documented by Rolling Stone last summer, is that an increasing number of working people are living in their cars or RVs in Santa Barbara. That influx into the ranks of the homeless means that it can now take months to get into one of the 108 spaces in the Safe Parking program, case managers say. A total of 90 to 95 people are enrolled and 53 more are on the waiting list. Many others living in vehicles here may not qualify for the program because they lack a driver’s license, insurance or up-to-date registration.

Since Safe Parking was launched in 2004, only 18 parking lot owners have stepped up to provide overnight spaces for vehicle dwellers. (Fearing complaints from neighbors, the program’s case managers have asked that most of the locations not be made public.) Participating lot owners are the City of Santa Barbara, with 15 spaces; County of Santa Barbara, with 25 spaces; City of Goleta, with 15 spaces; nine churches, with 48 spaces; three nonprofit agencies, with 12 spaces; and two businesses, each with one space. Goleta Community Covenant Church has been the most generous non-governmental provider, with 10 spaces.

“It all comes down to funding,” says Kristine Schwarz, the executive director of the New Beginnings Counseling Center, the nonprofit organization that raises funds from public and private sources to administer the Safe Parking program. It costs $167,000 yearly to run the program, she says. The money pays for two case managers, a data-entry clerk, two parking lot monitors, office expenses, Porta Potties, food distributions, and cash assistance for vehicle repairs and security deposits.

“We have long-timers in the program who are living on a fixed income and have nowhere else to go,” Schwarz says. “We need more staff and volunteers to talk to landlords. We’re trying to find more parking spaces.”

Further complicating matters, the city will sometimes offer housing units that don’t provide parking and vehicle dwellers will turn them down, not wanting to give up their RVs even if it means going to the bottom of the list.

When you pull into this spot, it’s a place you call home. Can you maybe relate to that? It’s our safe haven.
D

arcy Randall, 56, a loquacious army veteran who volunteers as a janitor at Casa Esperanza, the homeless shelter on Cacique Street, is crossing his fingers that he’ll get housing assistance and be able to hang onto the van he’s been living in for four years. Randall says he was a cavalry scout in the military and has been able to put those skills to use doing reconnaissance for good spots where he can park and sleep.

Randall receives a monthly Social Security disability check of $850, he says, for “something connected to the military—mind disorders or mental problems.” He shows off his military-design sleeping pad, which he says is like the ones they issue combat crews, and says he stays warm on cold nights with three sleeping bags. But he’d jump at the chance not to have to sleep in what he calls his “tent on wheels.”

Randall’s days of hopscotching around the city, though, may soon be over. He recently got into the Safe Parking program and says he’s been told he ranks high on the Vulnerability Index. “I’m so, like, happy,” Randall says. “Some elderly ladies came and talked to me. They had seen me on the streets. They must have spoken up about me with the Housing Authority. I just don’t know how long it takes. Sooner or later those ladies are going to get back to me, huh?”

Other Safe Parking participants may not be so lucky. One of the program’s first clients, an older man who lives in a dilapidated van, is not on any lists. He says he avoids survey volunteers and has never applied for housing assistance, even though he once had a heart attack in his lot and drove himself to the hospital. The man, who asks to remain anonymous because of what he calls “the stigma of homelessness,” says he does not trust government agencies.

“I’ve lived here nearly 40 years, but I don’t like it that much here anymore,” he says. “I’m a law-abiding citizen. Losing one’s home doesn’t suddenly make you an undesirable criminal. I’m not one of them. I’m one of you.”

James Frangella, 46, a four-year veteran of Safe Parking who volunteers with the program and homeless count, says the housing authority has told him he will likely not qualify for subsidized housing because he is not a veteran, a disabled person or the head of a family. But Frangella wants to stay in Santa Barbara. He calls it “a blessed city where I got my health back.” He says he came here from the Midwest after losing his home, his job and his marriage. He weighed 480 pounds when he arrived, he says.

Frangella has slimmed down now and is looking for work. He’s thankful for what he’s got, despite having to put up with late-night noise from the slamming doors on the Porta Potties and the carousing drunks who wander through the downtown lot a block from State Street.

“When you pull into this spot, it’s a place you call home,” Frangella says. “Can you maybe relate to that? It’s our safe haven.”

As for Fick and Goodell, they applied for Section 8 housing a year ago and are still waiting, dreaming of a haven where no one will bother them. Lately, they say, they’ve been getting away with parking on the street at night, enjoying not having to be up and out by 7 a.m. Last summer, Fick says, even as Goodell was giving birth to Ginger in one of the Safe Parking church lots, one of the neighbors was complaining to the priest about the program.

Fick still wants to stay here. It’s better, he says, than dying of an overdose or winding up in prison for drug offenses, like the friends he left behind back East. It’s home, too, for Goodell, a Santa Barbara High School graduate. But from where she sits now, she can’t help but look back longingly to the time when she and Fick were living in a Santa Barbara canyon, sleeping on a mattress on a wooden pallet with a tent over their heads.

“It was really nice,” she says. “It was hidden from view. It’s much less stressful to be living out in the wilderness than in the RV.”

Move It Already!

Santa Barbarans run a gauntlet if they want to park and sleep.

A 'no RV parking' sign on Cabrillo Boulevard. (Melinda Burns)

Homeless people living in recreational vehicles in Santa Barbara face a gauntlet of obstacles if they’re looking for someplace to park and sleep at night—not the least of which is the many “no RV parking” signs concentrated in the downtown area. If a lucky RV dweller can find a place to park, though, chances are he or she can’t sleep there: It’s illegal to sleep overnight in a vehicle on any city street. And it’s not going to be easy catching up on missed sleep later, since it’s illegal to park an RV on most streets for more than two hours at a time during the day.

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In fact, mostly in response to complaints from businesses, the city has banned RV parking on one or both sides of the street, on more than 100 blocks, no matter what time of day it is.

“It’s not the entire city—it’s clustered in areas where we’re having problems,” says Browning Allen, the city’s transportation manager. Allen says he and the police department field the complaints, then the police investigate whether a sign is needed based on the number of RVs on the block, the occupants’ behaviors and where they might move to next.

Allen says that when “no RV parking” signs were posted along Cabrillo Boulevard last summer, it was in response to complaints from business owners on the waterfront and participants in the weekly Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show near Stearns Wharf.

“There were concerns that RVers were setting up drum sets and tents in the park, and that people couldn’t see around parked RVs as they attempted to cross Cabrillo,” says Allen. “People just felt unsafe and uncomfortable.”

More than 30 RVers currently sleep overnight in their vehicles in designated South Coast lots—including two city lots—that were made available under the Safe Parking program, a nonprofit initiative the Committee for Social Justice, a homeless advocacy group, helped launch in 2004. At the time, the committee was busy suing the city for prohibiting overnight RV parking on all Santa Barbara streets. The committee was also defending a number of RVers who had been ticketed for breaking the rules. In a settlement, the city agreed to limit prohibited RV parking to the ocean side of the 101 Freeway between Castillo Street and the Andree Clark Bird Refuge from midnight to 6 a.m.

But under the 2008 ordinance, committee members say, the city has effectively expanded that ban block by block with a proliferation of “no RV parking” signs. In the name of public health and safety, the ordinance allows the city to post these signs within 500 feet of a school, day-care center, park, public library, museum, community center, clinic, hospital, church, homeless shelter, city or nonprofit recreational building, or designated safe route to school.

“It represents the community attitude of hostility toward a class of people,” says Glen Mowrer, a committee co-founder and a retired Santa Barbara County public defender.

“It’s basic bigotry, that the vehicles are ugly and unaesthetic and shouldn’t be in places where they can be seen. What criteria is the city following? The State of California recognizes that recreational vehicles have the right to use the streets.”

Peter Marin, a committee co-founder who has written about homelessness for national publications, notes that many people living in RVs are disabled. “How can you post signs on 2 miles of beachfront on Cabrillo so that disabled people have no access?” he asks. “They don’t exempt handicapped placards. It’s pretty clear to me that this violates the Americans With Disabilities Act.”

In 2011, committee attorneys went back to court, alleging that the city had violated the terms of the settlement on RV parking, but they were unable to reopen the case.

Allen says he thinks most RVers have been able to find other places to park in Santa Barbara, but he advises them, “don’t all park in the same area, because then you draw attention to yourselves and people start complaining.” At the same time, he says, residents should realize that not every complaint results in “no RV parking” signs.

“If they’re not bothering you, they’re probably not going to harm anybody,” Allen says.

Some cities in the tri-counties have enacted more restrictive RV parking bans than Santa Barbara’s. “There aren’t lawyers around to contest them,” explains Marin.

In Goleta and Ventura, parking “large” and “oversized” vehicles is prohibited in all residential and commercial areas during most working hours, Monday to Friday. Permits must be obtained for loading and unloading. Carpinteria bans vehicles and trailers over 8,000 pounds or 30 feet in length from parking on all city streets, except for emergency repairs or for loading and unloading.

As in Santa Barbara, it’s illegal to sleep overnight in a vehicle parked on the street in Carpinteria, Goleta and Ventura. Carpinteria allows people to park overnight at City Hall for one night if he or she is caught breaking the overnight law.

San Luis Obispo allows RV parking on city streets during the day, but bans sleeping in a vehicle at night. A local homeless day center provides five overnight parking spaces for vehicle dwellers: The city wants to expand the program and model it on the Safe Parking initiative in Santa Barbara.

– Melinda Burns

Locations of “no RV parking” signs on Santa Barbara streets, on one or both sides of the block:

Locations

Alameda Padre Serra: 1900 block

North Alisos Street: 200 block

Anacapa Street: 100, 200, 1400 blocks

East Arrellaga Street: 200 block

South Ashley Road: 00 block

Cabrillo Boulevard from Castillo Street to the Clark Estate: 2 miles

South Calle Cesar Chavez: 00 block

North Calle Cesar Chavez: 00 block; 100, 200, 300 blocks

East Canon Perdido Street: 500, 600, 700, 800 blocks

West Canon Perdido Street: 300, 400 blocks

Castillo Street: 00, 100, 700, 800, 900 blocks

East Cota Street: 400, 500, 600 blocks

East De la Guerra Street: 200, 300, 500, 600, 700, 800 blocks

Edison Avenue: 300 block

Garden Street: 1400, 1500 blocks

Gray Avenue: 100. 200 blocks

Helena Street: 00, 200 blocks

South Hitchcock Way: Half a mile

South Hope Avenue: Half a mile

La Rada: Two blocks

Lawrence Street.: 700 block

East Mason Street: 700, 800, 1000, 1100 blocks

Meigs Road from Elise Way to Lighthouse Place: One block

East Micheltorena Street: 100, 200 blocks

East Montecito Street: 400, 500, 600, 700, 800, 900, 1000, 1100 blocks

Neil Park Avenue: 1000 block

North Nopal Street: 00, 100, 200, 300, 800, 900, 1000, 1100 blocks

North Olive Street: 300, 400 blocks

East Ortega Street: 500, 600 blocks

North Quarantina Street: 00, 100, 200, 300, 700, 800 blocks

Quinientos Street: 800 block

Reddick Street.: 800 block

North Salsipuedes Street: 600, 700, 800 blocks

Santa Barbara Street: 1400 block, 1500 block

East Sola Street: 100 block

North Soledad: 00, 100, 200 blocks

Union Avenue: 700 block

North Voluntario: 00, 200 blocks

Wilson Street: 200 block

East Yanonali Street: 700, 800, 1000, 1200 blocks

5 comments on “When Home Is Where You Can Park It

  1. Selfsufficient says:

    Totally agree with TNC.
    I’d also like to add that I see a total bias in the tone of the article in favor of Mr 34 yr old.
    I’m born and raised in SB and realized early on that I’m not entitled to any handouts, low subsidized rent, free healthcare, etc.
    I sacrificed, held 2 jobs at times in my 20′s and even into my 30′s. Finally after saving for more than a decade, I was able to buy my first home. For the record it doesn’t have wheels.
    All the complaining about being run off of property, calling a parking spot his ‘home’ makes me want to puke.
    Melinda Burns, your article does a disservice to Mr 34 yr old and so many like him. How about an article highlighting places that are hiring part time and full time? Oh wait, that would be asking one to take responsibility for their own lives.
    Oh well, I gotta go back to work……which will keep me busy today from 6am through probably 7pm.
    What’s Mr 34 yr old doing today?

    • Shawn Tilton says:

      Not everyone in this situation has the same story. I’ve worked hard all my life until Oct 5th 2006 when I was in a bad work related accident. I literally broke my back from a fall onto a full 5gal paint can. I did not walk for 8 months and was thought that I was permanently paralyzed from the waist down. I have spent the last 7 years trying to make my back strong so I can work again.
      I was screwed out of my workman’s comp and lost everything trying to pay rent and feed myself. I refused to be on welfare. Not because I thought I was too good. But because I thought it was for people in greater need than myself.
      I was forced into moving into my van and have been in it for two years now trying to get by on very little SSDI. If I live in my van I get $400=+ more than if I could get a place of my own. Most places charge $400 or more for rent. That would be my whole monthly income. It is cheaper to stay in my van and pay $100 a month for gas, $57 a month for insurance and all the extra maintenance cost for living in a vehicle.
      The only problem I ever seam to have is finding a place to park over night safely and not be bothered by the police because someone thinks I’m a terrorist, murderer or that I’m scoping out to rob something or someone.
      Don’t get me wrong, I think its great that people look out for their neighborhood. But when I park in the Walmart parking lot and I’m asked to leave because someone is bitching about cars, trucks and campers are there is a bunch of bullshit.
      It sounds to me that you feel those of us who are forced to live in our vehicles are just lazy. That makes you sound like an asshole. You’ve been lucky to have a good job family and friends who could help you if needed. I really hope that in your lifetime you’re not forced into living on the streets.

    • Ron says:

      I’m Mr 34 yr old, 35 now and a single dad. Still working for same solar company and my pay has been raised $10 an hour since I’ve started for my hard work and dedication to the solar industry. I am the lead installer there as well. My daughter is doing amazingly well and we rent a nice place with a yard. I just needed a little time to get it all right and I did even after becoming a single dad. Don’t think I’m after handouts all day either. Most of the things in that article I didn’t even say.

    • Peter Schick says:

      Spoken like a truly insensitive asshole. It is your ignorance to the fact that a person can work their whole life to secure housing, they could do EVERYTHING right and through no fault of their own, if the bottom falls out, there they are, homeless. Just because it hasn’t happened to you doesn’t put you in a place to judge the efforts of others. Maybe instead of ostracizing others for their possible shitty luck, maybe you should be thinking “their but for the grace of god go I” and thanking your lucky stars nothing has happened to you that would make you homeless. It’s interesting how the “haves” can find it so easy to shit on the “have-nots”. Ever heard of compassion or empathy? Clearly two words you’re NOT familiar with. Check yourself!

  2. TNC says:

    Dude, rather than diss this church, I can’t believe you, a 34 year-old, would expect us–society, the tax-payers–to support your bad decisions. Inseminating a 20-something chick you are not married to? Please. How about this…get married before you have kids. And don’t have kids that you are unable to support. Is that so difficult to understand?

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