EXCLUSIVE: America’s ‘working homeless’ who live in RV encampments lining streets across the nation: Small business owners, prison guards and Amazon workers among people opting to live off the grid – but locals say they’re a blight on their communities
- Amid affordable housing shortages, the number of homeless people in the US continues to climb
- Many have taken to living in RVs, largely off the grid, in cities from California to New England
- Most cite the affordability and flexibility as their reasons for choosing live in their vehicles – but residents and businesses say the RVs are unsightly and leave mountains of trash
The owner of a party bus company, Rikers Island prison guards and an Amazon worker are just some of the eclectic bunch who have formed a community of ‘working homeless’ people living out of RVs in the Astoria section of Queens, New York.
Similar communities have formed across the US from New England to California where people have chosen a nomadic lifestyle amid a national cost of living crisis.
Rising costs across all sectors have caused pain for Americans in every state, particularly those living in rural areas, over the past 12 months. Rental prices continue have risen eight percent compared against the same time last year. In New York, they’ve reached record highs with a median cost of $3,410 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. Mortgage rates have more than doubled since the Federal Reserve’s key interest rate hike in March 2022, and last week hit 6.52%.
‘Compared to an apartment it’s better because it’s my space, nobody’s going to bother me,’ Luis Quintero, 30, a party bus owner, told DailyMail.com.
Locals and businesses, including a Verizon repair hub and a Dollar car rental have complained about the presence of the campers on the street and residents say that RV dwellers leave mountains of trash strewn across the street, something Quintero denied.
The area around Quintero’s home was immaculate, there were even two bottles of ammonia by his front door. DailyMail.com did see garbage as well as discarded furniture and a TV just left by the side of the street. A college student who attends school in the area said the street is often filled with trash because sanitation workers avoid the street because there are no homes or storefronts on it.
QUEENS, NEW YORK: Luis Quintero, 30, stands outside of the RV that he has owned for the last three months
QUEENS, NEW YORK: RVs have been lining the block in the Astoria neighborhood in Queens since the Covid-19 pandemic
QUEENS, NEW YORK: A reason that many have chosen these streets, 45th and 46th along 20th Avenue, close to LaGuardia Airport and Rikers Island prison, is that there is no street cleaning
Quintero lives with his wife, their five-month-old daughter and their cat, Chloe, in the RV. He’s been in the mobile home for three months after buying it used for $30,000, having previously rented an apartment in Flushing, five miles or so east of where’s he now lives.
He migrated from Venezuela 10 years ago following the death of his father. His mother lives in an apartment in Queens.
His brother, who works for Amazon, lives in the RV parked right beside his. He has a wife and two kids. It’s smaller than Quintero’s 250-square-foot home.
Quintero is the owner of a party bus business. He owns two buses, has two drivers working for him and often does shifts himself.
For business purposes and for his brother’s kids’ school, they use their mother’s address.
Quintero told DailyMail.com that he’s known among his neighbors for being good with his hands and that he often gets called on to help others with electrical or plumbing problems.
Two of his neighbors work at Rikers Island, one is a corrections officer, the other is a driver. Quintero said that the police never bother them when they come around.
Quintero said his wife, who is from Colombia, told him start a TikTok profile detailing his life in the RV.
He is living there by choice, and was considering moving to Florida. ‘I just gotta get gas, start my engine and I’m gone.’ His mother and brother used to live in West Palm Beach where he says there is a large RV community.
Quintero said many of the Venezuelan community in New York City live in shelters and, other than his brother, there are none of his countrymen in the area.
‘My country now is crazy… a lot of people are coming across the border now. It’s crazy. They’re asking for apartments, the want money. It’s crazy, you gotta work, bro. How you gonna come to another country and you don’t want to do nothing?’
QUEENS, NEW YORK: The area is largely industrial, a Verizon maintenance hub and a Dollar car rental as well as a metal works shop surround the RVs
QUEENS, NEW YORK: An employee of the Dollar car rental told DailyMail.com that the RV dwellers don’t bother him
QUEENS, NEW YORK: An abandoned RV on the streets in Astoria, the tires of the vehicle were slashed
Quintero went on to say that the NYPD regularly knock on his door and tell him to move. Like others DailyMail.com spoke to, they say that they will oblige but never do. Quintero said that when we knocked on his door he thought we were cops or sanitation workers.
A reason that many have chosen these streets, 45th and 46th along 20th Avenue, close to LaGuardia Airport and Rikers Island prison, is that there is no street cleaning, meaning that there is no need to move your car to allow access for city workers.
The area is largely industrial, in addition to the Verizon maintenance hub and a Dollar car rental there is also a metal works shop surrounding the RVs. A worker at the Dollar said the RVs don’t bother him and a student, John, who attends college in the area said the same. Their only gripe was that parking can be difficult, and that on some days garbage was piled up along the streets.
Quintero said that Verizon have complained multiple times about the RVs over parking concerns. He said that he would be willing to meet with a representative of the company over the issue, Verizon has yet to respond.
He showed DailyMail.com his air conditioning, gas stove, TV, coffee maker and shower, powered by solar panels. ‘I like it because I can say I have a home.’
‘People say, “Oh, you can get benefits from the city,” I don’t want that. I spend my money, I work for my s***.’
QUEENS, NEW YORK: As we left Quintero’s home, he told us that other residents in the area were unlikely to want to talk to us
QUEENS, NEW YORK: RV living is common across the United States, there are two known communities in New York City, the other is also in Queens, in the Maspeth neighborhood
QUEENS, NEW YORK: A college student who attends school in the area said sometimes the RV dwellers leave garbage strewn across the street
QUEENS, NEW YORK: Quintero told DailyMail.com that all of the RV residents that he knew in the area had jobs
As we left Quintero’s home, he told us that other residents in the area were unlikely to want to talk to us.
The operator a mobile brick oven pizza stand said that residents of the RVs are regular customers.
RV living is common across the United States, there are two known communities in New York City, the other is also in Queens, in the Maspeth neighborhood.
The license plates parked along 45th and 46th street showed that the RVs were from a variety of places including Texas, Vermont, Florida and Pennsylvania. At least one was completely abandoned.
Another resident, Victor, who works nights in a deli, told the same story about NYPD officers regularly knocking his door and telling him to leave but never following up.
Victor said that he could no longer afford rent – he paid $1,300 for his RV, his neighbor paid $2,900.
LOS ANGELES: Many cities in California enforced an RV ban in 2016, with many coming to blows when residents refused to move
LOS ANGELES: For decades, major cities across California have been grappling with homelessness, a problem that has only worsened in recent years
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA: Housing shortages and increased rents have made it difficult for many in the US to find an affordable place to live
Resident Paul Reevers described himself as ‘working homeless.’ He said that he has a job but the rent went up too high and he could not longer to afford a an apartment.
Reevers, who works for a New York City hospital, said that he took out a loan and bought his RV.
He said that he was the first person to be living in an RV on the block, the was four years ago.
The RV camps with America’s ‘working homeless’ are spread out across the country. Earlier this month, shocking photos emerged showing an ever-growing line of trucks and other vehicles along 101 Highway in California – which now stretches over two miles in one of the largest encampments in the country.
Cities in Marin County, where on average homes cost $1.4million, are pushing for the line along the highway to end after the number of residents living in their cars ballooned during the pandemic.
Photos and video taken by DailyMail.com show families living in tents and using portable barbeques as their belongings spill out of the RVs and trucks.
Some appeared to use flags to mark the area of road that they use for their home, with many pulling tarpaulin over their cars to protect their possessions.
Officials say that there were at least 135 vehicles along Binford Road, on the outskirts of Novato in the Bay Area, as the number who call it home has expanded.
NOVATO, CALIFORNIA: Earlier this month, shocking photos emerged showing an ever-growing line of trucks and other vehicles along 101 Highway in California
NOVATO, CALIFORNIA: California now has nearly a third of the nation’s homeless population, according to federal data
NOVATO, CALIFORNIA: Cities in Marin County, where on average homes cost $1.4million, are pushing for the line along the highway to end
NOVATO, CALIFORNIA: The average household income in the county is $131,000 – which has left those with lower incomes nowhere to turn
The average household income in the county is $131,000 – which has left those with lower incomes nowhere to turn.
Residents of the surrounding area are now coming together to try to help bring the encampment to an end by helping people find services they need.
Every month they are given free groceries, assistance with their housing case management, medical assistance and much more.
There will be a push for the services to be expanded after state funding was awarded to Novato, Sausalito and San Rafael and to Marin County for unincorporated areas like Binford Road.
Each city, and Marin County, received $500,000 to address their encampment issues – with the county bringing in $1million in resources to help each of the regions.
Gary Naja-Riese, director of homelessness for Marin County said that their ‘first and immediate priority is Binford.’
They are also planning on hiring a full time social worker to support the encampment residents with their issues directly.
NOVATO, CALIFORNIA: Residents of the surrounding area are now coming together to try to help bring the encampment to an end by helping people find services they need
NOVATO, CALIFORNIA: Every month they are given free groceries, assistance with their housing case management, medical assistance and much more
NOVATO, CALIFORNIA: The county estimates that there are around 80 residents permanently staying in Binford, with others abandoning their vehicles at the side of the road
NOVATO, CALIFORNIA: In March, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state would build of these small homes across the state
The county estimates that there are around 80 residents permanently staying in Binford, with others abandoning their vehicles at the side of the road.
Local organizations are on hand to help with social and medical issues, with the encampment mostly struggling with hypertension, diabetes and mental health issues.
But some are well enough to work full time – though none are able to afford a place to live in the county with skyrocketing costs.
Other cities in California enforced an RV ban in 2016, with many coming to blows when residents refused to move.
Officials have speculated that because Binford Road’s encampment gets support, it has a reputation as one of the last remaining areas where people sleeping in their cars won’t get hassled by law enforcement.
Zoe Neil, director of Marin County’s Downtown Streets Division told the San Francisco Chronicle: ‘Historically, in Marin, it has been tough to sleep safely in vehicles or campsites outside.
‘Binford is one of the only places that folks can go. But it’s not like it’s a safe haven.’
However some officials have pushed for an overnight parking ban, which has not been put into place.
NOVATO, CALIFORNIA: Homes that are as small as 120 square feet that have electricity but no running water
SEATTLE: Seattle’s plan to tackle the RV residents is ticketing. Timothy Barto, who has been living in his RV since 2017, told KING5 that his vehicle regularly gets impounded because of tickets
SEATTLE: Amid a growing homeless crisis in Seattle, Mayor Bruce Harrell allocated $250 million in the city’s budget to address the homeless problem
SEATTLE: Overall violent crime has remained persistently high in the city, with 2022 marking the deadliest year for the homeless population in King County, which encompasses Seattle
The county is also seeking an additional $1.5 million in state funding that would allow it to hire two more outreach staffers and a housing-based case manager who would work full-time at Binford.
On average, the county house an average of a dozen people a month across Marin County, primarily through landlord partnership programs at Marin Housing Authority.
Around 78 percent of people who are homeless in the area had residences in Marin County before becoming unhoused.
In April, city officials in Sacramento announced they had leased the land for free to Safe Ground Sacramento, a nonprofit group, for up to four months. People can park their cars or RVs on the property, and the city will provide up to 33 trailers for people to live in.
The city said the site will be self-governed by what it calls a ‘resident council,’ along with an operations plan that must be approved by the City Council in the next 30 days.
‘I am incredibly proud that through months of hard work and open communication we found an innovative solution for this site that benefits our entire community,’ Councilmember Sean Loloee, whose district includes the land, said in a city blog post.
For decades, major cities across California have been grappling with homelessness, a problem that has only worsened in recent years as a housing shortage has increased rents and made it difficult to find an affordable place to live.
California now has nearly a third of the nation’s homeless population, according to federal data.
SEATTLE: 2022 saw 310 deaths in the homeless community, a 65 percent spike from 2021, including at least 18 homicides and 160 fentanyl-related overdoses in Seattle
SEATTLE: Retail vacancy in the heart of downtown Seattle sits at 13.5 percent, a significant spike from less than 2 percent in 2019
SEATTLE: As of November 2022, police reported 285 rapes, 1,654 robberies and 3,258 aggravated assaults in the city
SEATTLE: Murder, however, was the only figure that surpassed 2021’s year-end-count, with 48 reported before 2022 was done, a 12.5 percent increase
In March, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state would build of these small homes across the state — homes that are as small as 120 square feet that have electricity but no running water.
Sacramento is scheduled to get 350 of those homes, most of which will likely be at the state fairgrounds, according to Mayor Darrell Steinberg.
The homeless encampment in Sacramento, known as ‘Camp Resolution,’ is not meant to be permanent. The city said the initial lease will run for four months. But the lease can be renewed until ‘all the residents obtain permanent housing.’
‘We are anxious to assist Camp Resolution residents to demonstrate that homeless people can self-govern and assist each other to obtain permanent housing,’ said Mark Merin, executive director for Safe Ground Sacramento.
Seattle’s plan to tackle the RV residents is ticketing. Timothy Barto, who has been living in his RV since 2017, told KING5 that his vehicle regularly gets impounded because of tickets.
Amid a growing homeless crisis in Seattle, Mayor Bruce Harrell allocated $250 million in the city’s budget to address the homeless problem.
A couple in Arizona told AZ Central in January that they had been ‘outpriced’ of the rental market in the Phoenix suburb where they lived. The report noted that rents in the state had increased by as much as 40 percent since 2020.
Officials in the national park where Morgan Rice and his girlfriend live refer to those in RVs as ‘nonrecreational campers.’
The notion of living in an RV is nothing new. In 1992, the National Forest Service set up a camp in Oregon homeless people living out of their vehicles.
A remote tech worker told the newspaper that he lives out of his RV because ‘homes are terrible. They cost too much. Might as well live in a trailer.’
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