The League forum “Campers and RVs in Our City” featured three speakers from the community, followed by a question-and-answer session with the audience.
Tom Myers, Executive Director of Community Services Agency (CSA), indicated that the distance between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in our community is getting wider. A few years ago, CSA would typically serve 3000 people/year and now they are on track to serve 10,000 people/year. CSA serves anyone who is living in poverty, not just the homeless.
Our local housing crisis is getting national attention as evidenced by recent coverage by CBS This Morning and the PBS Newshour.
When people lose their apartment or home, they have three choices: become homeless, move away or “get creative.” There are now more than 300 vehicles
(RVs, campers, trailers, cars) serving as residences on the streets of Mountain View.
In 2017, CSA added a full time staff member to reach out to vehicle dwellers. Over 20 people are now getting help through CSA.
Sgt. Wahed Magee, Neighborhood Officer at Mountain View Police Department (MVPD), said the MVPD received daily calls/emails with concerns about RVs. 90% of “neighborhood and event services” time is now focused on homelessness. Public safety is always the police department’s top priority.
The MVPD balances compassion and enforcement. If the MVPD can see that a person is getting help, then the person will not be arrested for minor infractions of the city code. Officers are conscious of the fact that these vehicles are people’s homes. The MVPD collaborates closely with CSA to connect people in need with community services. A close relationship with Palo Alto Review/Recovery (PAR) Court also helps direct offenders to help, rather than the criminal justice system.
That said, criminal activity does occur within these dwellings. Officer Magee related his own experience with finding drugs in two RV homes.
Kimberly Thomas, Assistant o the Mountain View City Manager, spoke about the city’s approach to vehicle dwellers and the housing crisis.
The number of homeless people living in Mountain View has increased dramatically over the last several years — from 139 people in 2013 to 416 people in 2017.
The city has committed one million dollars to address the rise in homelessness. This money is funding a three-pronged approach:
- Short-term initiatives to help people currently living in vehicles and connect them to services
- Long-term strategies to address the housing crisis, with an emphasis on increasing extremely low income affordable housing
- A full-time community outreach police officer
More information on the city’s response can be found at http://www.mountainview.gov/homeless
The evening ended with questions from the audience.
Ms. Thomas fielded several questions about additional ordinances and permitting for RVs. She indicated this topic would be discussed again at the March 6, 2018 Mountain View City Council meeting as the city continues to explore options.
In response to a question about the role of “big tech” in the housing crisis, Mr. Myers said it’s tempting to point fingers but housing is a structural problem going back decades. In the last 20 years only two units of housing have been created for every five jobs created. Several local technology firms support CSA financially.
Finally, an audience member offered to share his perspective as someone who had lived in a vehicle on the streets of Mountain View for several years. While he appreciated the city of Mountain View for generally taking a hands-off approach to vehicle dwellers, he indicated many “good people” did suffer from harassment and judgment. He appealed to the audience’s common humanity in dealing with the issue of homelessness.
— Prepared by League member Beth Hondl