Living in Cars Is Becoming Even More of a Thing in Los Angeles
Andrew P. Collins
Photo: David McNew (Getty) A photo from 2004, because the “Venice Beach gentrification” story is an old one.
Street-parked RVs, vans and just regular-ass cars being used as residences are common to see in Los Angeles. But as homelessness balloons along with the cost of housing, it seems like a new wave of people are turning to “van-life” out of necessity. And contrary to what it looks like on Instagram–it’s not all yoga pants and running cafe lights off a 12-volt adapter.
The Santa Monica Daily Press just did a story about this phenomenon, particularly focusing Gary Gallerie–dubbed a “Vanlord” because he maintains a fleet of vans he rents out to people to live in long-term–but also getting into the friction between legal residents of neighborhoods where these slums-on-wheels are posted up all the time.
“Van tenants have the keys to the back doors of the vehicles but do not have keys to the ignition and are unable to drive the vans. Gallerie moves the vans that run when necessary and pays to tow the non-operational vehicles to new locations,” wrote Madeleine Pauker in the Daily Press story.
It sounds like an unprecedented system, to be sure. Gallerie is apparently renting his rooms-on-wheels for $300 a month, and his fleet reportedly resides in the general vicinity of “between Venice Beach Boardwalk and Abbot Kinney.”
Since that happens to be a stomping ground of mine, I can add a little anecdotal color for folks who haven’t been out here: Venice Beach is the kind of place where it wouldn’t be unusual to see somebody sleeping on the sidewalk in front of a shop where eight ounces of coffee’s worth more than a gallon of gasoline. (Which, by the way, I just paid almost four bucks for this morning.)
And while it’s pretty easy to tell who’s rich and who’s poor, there’s also a weird blurring that’s a result of LA’s wealthy just generally dressing like slobs and sometimes “living the dream” of being surfer bums. Or, at least, what they think surfer bums are supposed to look like.
Put another way: in addition to homeless people camped out in nice neighborhoods, you’ve got destitute people living in clapped-out Eagle Visions parked near and folks hanging out in quarter-million dollar Mercedes Sprinter campers for fun. The actual houses are pretty much all in seven-figure territory.
I bring this up because Daily Press story ends with an answer to a question that’s bound to come to your mind: “why not just move somewhere cheaper?”
“Asking why I wouldn’t move somewhere cheaper is a totally valid question,” Teresa Spencer, who’s interviewed by the Daily Press as one of the Vanlord’s “tenants” said. “If something came up that I could afford, I would move in a heartbeat. But right now, there isn’t.”
Indeed homeless in LA, largely attributed to a huge demand and lean supply of housing, is something you can see commented on everywhere from Mother Jones to Fox to the LA Times. And that’s just what 0.63 seconds of Googling turned up.
But to bring us back to the focus here–more Angelenos moving into cars–the LAPD has just been told to stop fining people for sleeping in street parked vehicles, at least for now, as apparently the rules against it have officially lapsed.
“A proposed ordinance which would reinstate (the ordinance effectively banning car-living) and provide a new sunset date of Jan. 1, 2020, is currently pending in city council. However, this proposed ordinance has not been approved yet,” Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore Moore wrote in a memo cited by NBC.
Meanwhile, the Safe Parking LA program, which has been around since 2016, is working to establish sanctioned areas where people can park and sleep within the city limits, at least one night at a time.[cq]
Hypothetically faced with destitution myself, I’d certainly rather sleep in a vehicle than on a bench or in a tent. But it’s obviously not a life anyone would want to be forced into.
All this to say, it sure seems like living in a car out here is going through a moment of becoming more socially acceptable. Or at least, more accepted as a thing that happens. I don’t know what that means, but it doesn’t feel particularly good.