Mobile home dwellers on LA’s strict parking rules

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A mobile home in Los Angeles. Photo credit: Britta Gustafson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Along a quiet section of Laurel Canyon Boulevard in North Hollywood, near a row of empty storefronts, about a half dozen motorhomes sat parked on a recent morning. Inside one of them, 67-year-old Edith Grays and her husband watched TV with the door open. Grays said they’d been there a few days, despite a two-hour parking limit. “Thank god they’re not bothering us right now,” she said.

Grays is one of nearly 10,000 people who live in vehicles inside LA city limits. Some take shelter in cars, others in vans or trucks, but campers and RVs are the most visible -- and the most difficult to park. 

Several neighborhoods ban oversize vehicle parking. On top of that, LA’s city council recently reinstated a ban on sleeping overnight in any vehicle in residential areas. The rules also forbid living in a vehicle within a block of a park, school or daycare. Tickets for violations cost between $25 and $75. 

Grays, who ran a window-washing business with her husband until he had a series of strokes and couldn’t work, said they moved into the motorhome after they couldn’t afford rent. Now she feels the strain of restrictive parking rules. When asked how much of her time is spent looking for parking, Grays replied: “All of it.”

“It’s very difficult,” she said. “It causes a lot of stress in my life.” 

Some people live in their RVs despite restrictive parking

Some homeowners in the area say vehicle encampments have caused parking shortages, trash accumulation and other sanitation issues. Walter Hall, who owns a home close to where Grays was parked, said that public urination by people living in campers has been a problem at a local park. “That’s the kind of thing we would prefer not to see,” he said. Hall supports the city’s rules but said the restrictions have mostly shuffled encampments from one street to another. “They disappear one place only to reappear someplace else,” he said.

One potential solution is for LA to open more so-called “safe parking” lots. Often located behind churches or nonprofits that contract with the city, these are lots specifically designated for overnight vehicle camping after hours, with security and bathroom access. Los Angeles currently has about 100 safe parking spots for more than 5,000 vehicles, a tiny fraction of the need. 

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti told KCRW this week that he expects to expand to 300 safe parking spaces by the end of the year. In the meantime, he said, the city has homeless outreach teams working on directing people in vehicles to places where they can park and connecting them with social services.

“Look, we want to make it easier” for people living in vehicles, Garcetti said. “But we also have to have that balance...making sure that it’s not going to just be chaos out there.”

LA’s restrictions around living in vehicles will come before the city council again early next year.

Credits

Host:
Steve Chiotakis

Producers:
Christian Bordal, Kathryn Barnes

Reporter:
Anna Scott