Living in an RV in Palo Alto — as Ban Goes into Effect

Fred Smith lives in his RV in Palo Alto. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Fred Smith lives in his RV in Palo Alto. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Editor’s note: On Sept. 19, Palo Alto joins many other cities in Silicon Valley in preventing people from legally living in their vehicles. As part of our ongoing series of first-person health profiles called “What’s Your Story?” 69-year-old Fred Smith talks about living in his RV after being a software engineer in Silicon Valley for nearly thirty years. Smith gives us a tour of his home.

By Fred Smith

It’s an ’85 Winnebago, Chieftain. And there’s clothes and books, and those are pictures of my wife.

We’re in the bedroom right now and it’s a decent sized queen bed, I guess you’d call it. Actually, it’s a better bed than a lot of people have.

Back in 2003, I was doing well, getting $145,000 a year. Then I got caught in the tail end of the dot-com crash and never recovered from that. Unemployment had ran out and I realized that I couldn’t afford to keep the apartment I had. Actually, I ended up living in my car with my cat for a couple weeks here in the alley behind Happy Donuts. You know, you got these seats that fold down, and you’re half in the trunk and half in the back seat.

I took what money I had and borrowed some money from a friend and bought an old RV. But living in a RV, call it stressful, because you’re always alert. You know, every once in a while you get woken up in the middle of the night by cops. If they chase me away from here, I’ll go there, if they chase me away from there, I’ll go there, then I’ll come back to the original place. There’s no place to go. And you check into affording housing, there isn’t much of anything. And the waiting… I’m on waiting lists.

I really don’t want to leave the whole area because my wife is buried in this area too.

The one magic wand I would like is for the city to provide some place where we could park our vehicles in peace. We’re being very law abiding. But we don’t want trouble. We know we’re living on the edge.

Listen to Fred Smith tell his story:

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  • Mark

    This breaks my heart. My own father lives like in a small RV park in Southern California. It’s unfortunate that one of these doesn’t exist in Palo Alto. I don’t understand why they can’t live in their vehicles, especially if they aren’t hurting anyone. Let them park it in a public park after midnight or something. Just awful.

  • Mary Ellen McMuldren

    Not sure why he needs to stay in Palo Alto. I know people who retired and bought a home in Mississippi. There are affordable places to live in US and they can be quite nice.

    • Matt

      People who are homeless or housed unstably have friends and family, just like you. It’s often important to them to stay close to the places and people they care about; a place can offer emotional stability when it’s badly needed. While Mississippi might be cheaper, it’s not home.

      • Mary Ellen McMuldren

        Yes, my friends spent their adult lives in Marin, and might have been homeless eventually had they stayed. They moved to a childhood hometown where there were some cousins. It’s not Marin. But they bought a house for $60,000 which they could fix up and have a nice home with a low mortgage. Social security provides a reliable income and one can get a mortgage. Easier for a couple than for a single man. But one must adapt. I’ve moved upon divorce and death and had to make a new way – more than once in my life. New connections can be made. Attachment to a gravesite is not justifiable. I cannot afford to live where my late husband is buried. And the site does not provide emotional support.

    • Guest

      “I really don’t want to leave the whole area because my wife is buried in this area too.”

      Read the article before posting please

      • kris

        So what?? Because his wife’s buried there the laws don’t apply to him? For God sakes- I can’t afford the home where my first husband passed away- do I get the right to set up an RV near there just because of emotional reasons?? What about murder- if someone makes you emotionally upset enough does that give you a right to kill someone?? Ugh I am tired of these articles, they are nothing but emotionally driven, but completely lacking in logic.

  • kris

    Give me a break. He can’t live where ever he wants just because he WANTS to. Gee, I want to live in Palo Alto too- I DEMAND my right to live in a tent there, well gosh maybe Atherton Park instead? Why not? Because I demand it.

  • http://www.doityourselfrv.com/ DoItYourselfRV

    Add it to the list of unfriendly RV
    cities. If it weren’t for all the riff raff using RV’s for drug dens and a
    haven for undesirables cities wouldn’t be so tough on them.

  • tony

    the super rich feel icky when surrounded by the poorer. so thanks to ‘democracy’, they can legislate them out. simple. but not nice. philisteinistic.