Fullerton, a ‘Haven for RV Parking,’ Struggles With Homelessness

January 5, 2021 Updated: January 5, 2021

FULLERTON, Calif.—As surrounding cities have banned RV parking in recent years, people living in their RVs have congregated in Fullerton, California. The city decided to ban RV parking in November 2020, but it has lifted the ban until the end of stay-at-home orders.

William Abercrombie is among those living in his recreational vehicle (RV) on the streets of Fullerton, and he doesn’t know what he’ll do when the ban takes effect. He currently moves his RV all over the city to avoid altercations with businesses and locals.

“I’m just here in a parking spot. I just want to sleep for the night,” he told The Epoch Times.

“[People think] every homeless person that lives at an RV is a piece of [trash],” he said. “Not all of us are dirty, and that’s what it all comes down to, that they see a homeless person. You don’t know me. Don’t judge me. God is the only one that can judge.”

He said many do leave trash lying around, but he has always cleaned up after himself and even cleaned up others’ messes.

Epoch Times Photo
William Abercrombie, who lives in his RV, sits with his sister, Ann Gray, who also used to live in her vehicle, in Fullerton, Calif., on Dec. 10, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Joel Kraft, a sergeant at the Fullerton Police Department, described the ban ordinance and the reasons behind it at the Nov. 2 city council meeting where it was first introduced.

He said many RV inhabitants dump waste water (including human excrement) and trash on the streets. They have generators that are noisy and drip oil and gas that end up in streams.

The RVs reduce desirability and business in commercial areas. They obstruct rights of way and reduce sight distance at driveways and intersections. They reduce the availability of parking spaces in the city.

He showed pictures of piles of trash built up around some RVs. Some RVs have been in the same spot for years.

He said businesses have called in to complain about them.

With surrounding cities Buena Park, La Mirada, Placentia, Anaheim, and Orange having restricted RV parking, Kraft said, “this has created quite the haven for RV parking in our city.”

The ban requires any RVs parked in Fullerton to have a city-issued permit, which is available free of charge.

Newly elected City Councilmember Fred Jung told The Epoch Times, “We need to protect those in our community that are in need, and do so without criminalizing being homeless.”

He said a Safe Parking program will be extended throughout the stay-at-home order, and the ban will not be enforced until the order lifts.

Fullerton’s Safe Parking program was launched in 2019 as a temporary initiative to combat homelessness and give people living in cars a safe place to sleep for the night.

Nonprofit Pathways of Hope began managing the program in May, which gives nightly access to prescreened applicants from 6:30 p.m to 6:30 a.m.

Its parking areas include restroom facilities, safety lighting, on-site security guards, and social service resources that assist homeless people into other programs and permanent housing.

Since the launch of the program, the parking areas have never reached full capacity, with 30 available spaces for nightly refuge.

The program was initially set to end in 2020. “I am looking forward to getting the Safe Parking program on the agenda in the new year,” Jung said.

Abercrombie’s sister, Ann Gray, used to live in her vehicle as well, though she now lives in a stable home. She said of the program, “I have no idea where a Safe Parking area is, and I don’t think people living out their RVs do either.”

Gray and her husband lived out of an SUV for two years in Fullerton before getting back on their feet.

Epoch Times Photo
Ann Gray, who used to live in her vehicle, stands near her brother’s RV where he lives, in a parking lot in Fullerton, Calif., on Dec. 10, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

“It was rough living in my car, especially with two people, but we got through it,” Gray said. “We stayed in the Lowe’s parking lot for the most part every night, along with a few others that were homeless and living out of their cars.

“We had to do what we had to do. We’d get up around six, go to the gym, shower, and then go sit [and] wait for the library to open. [We’d] spend the whole day there until it was time to go to a church to have dinner.”

After receiving help from Pathways of Hope, Gray and her husband were able to transition into housing. It’s been six years since they got the keys to their home. She now sells handmade crafts at a local farmers market.

“The people that live in their RVs, they need to take responsibility for what they’re doing,” she said. “You can easily find a dumpster. … If it’s not a lot of trash, throw it in a trash can. It’s not that hard.”

She reiterated the point that Abercrombie is clean, and there are others like him who suffer as they try to get back on their feet.

Abercrombie said: “A lot of people don’t really know how much it means to just say ‘hi’ to somebody that looks homeless. It cheers them up and gives them a smile. That’s just part of being a kindhearted person.”

He focuses a lot of his energy on keeping his RV safe. “I sleep more during the day than I do at night, because I want to be awake if somebody comes around to my RV.”

Kraft said the city already has laws against overnight parking, but the city’s police force doesn’t have the manpower to enforce it strongly overnight. He called for the all-day ban to allow officers more time to identify the RVs and have them moved.

The city started putting out notices of the coming ban on Nov. 10, stating that it would be effective as of Dec. 17 and urging people to move before towing starts.

At the Nov. 17 city council meeting where the ban was approved, City Manager Antonia Castro-Graham said: “The notice, which was also handed out, provided telephone numbers for shelter and services, and we assisted in providing the necessary storage for belongings, providing clearance for entering the shelters and coordinating transportation.

“During this time period, over 125 homeless residents were placed into shelters.”

On a Facebook group for residents called Fullerton Buzz, comments expressed mixed feelings of sympathy for the homeless but concerns about the trash left on the streets.

“Has anyone noticed that some of the homeless people are gone but their stuff is left behind? … I feel sorry for the homeless folks but I hate seeing all the decay all around,” Facebook user Star Angela wrote.

A total of 473 individuals were labeled as homeless in the city of Fullerton in 2019, with 308 living unsheltered.