Number of homeless living in cars, RVs in LA grows

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Mid-morning is a hot time in San Pedro — the fog from the port has burned off, and the ocean winds don't usually pick up before noon. The sun is beating down on Kevin McManus's beat-up RV, up a steep cliff from the water.

Stepping outside for some air, McManus says this has been his home for two years, since getting laid off from a graphic design job.

"When you get over 50 and you apply for that kind of job, they’re shocked when you walk in the door," he says. "They look at you and you’re not hip and cool and don’t have nose rings and tattoos.”

Unable to pay the rent, McManus bought an old RV for $3,500 and moved into it with his cats, which he said was preferable to "the normal sort of homeless."

McManus is one of the approximately 9,500 homeless who've made homes out of their vehicles in Los Angeles, according to the latest homeless census conducted in January. That number has grown from 8,200 in 2013 and 4,200 in 2011.

A 2014 ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals put a hold on an L.A. city ban on sleeping in cars. And the City Council hasn't yet discussed what to replace it with.

In the meantime, McManus said a growing crop of "no oversized vehicle" parking signs seems to trail him wherever he goes.

"They're playing musical signs," he said. "They’re not saying it’s illegal to live in your vehicle, they’re saying it’s illegal to park them here."

A 2007 ordinance authored by then-Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who represented San Pedro, allows neighbors to petition the City Council for restrictions on large vehicles parking in their neighborhoods.

San Pedro's streets are dotted with these signs. Venice is practically coated in them, and new neighborhood petitions seem to crop up on the council's agenda every month.

Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents Venice, said the ordinance — which passed before he took office — was not necessarily aimed at the homeless, but that doesn't really matter.

"It has the effect of moving people around, which really isn’t the smartest solution," Bonin says. "The real solution is to get people into housing who need housing.”

But Los Angeles isn't really sure how to accomplish that.

Its Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which finances projects, is down to $41 million. Mayor Eric Garcetti has said he wants to replenish it with $5 million in general fund revenue and $5 million from a proposed tax on AirBnB rentals. As of yet, that remains an idea rather than concrete plan.

Garcetti declined to comment and Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents San Pedro, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In the short term, City Attorney Mike Feuer has drafted two ordinances for consideration by the City Council. The first is a rewrite of the old ban on sleeping in cars that Feuer believes will pass legal muster. The second would provide for some sort of regulated parking for homeless. 

Bonin said he supports that general sentiment — something along the lines of Santa Barbara's homeless parking program, which gives permits to those who engage in services to park in designated places. Bonin said he'd support allowing people living in their cars to park in municipal parking lots, church parking lots and even some business parking lots. He wants them to have access to a bathroom.

The City Council's homeless committee is expected to take up that discussion sometime in the coming months; nothing has been scheduled yet.

A Los Angeles Native, McManus said the city is making it so hard for him to live in his RV, he's ready to put up stakes. He's saving up money for a big move. He doesn't see any other option.

“When I first got this, I thought I’d check out an RV or trailer park," he said. "But you can’t get in an RV park with an RV that’s more than 15 years old. So you have to live on the street.”

Down in San Pedro, residents are mixed on what should become of the land flotilla of RVs, pick-ups, and minivans that serve as home to thousands of Angelenos. 

A few blocks off San Pedro's waterfront, and just around the corner from where McManus is parked, neighbor Jeremy Robinson said he's sympathetic to the homeless.

"They have no place to go, so they’re standing in front of businesses, they’re harassing people," Robinson said. "It just baffles people. They’re just everywhere at this point.”

And he thinks they have a right to be. It's public space, after all. 

Around the corner from Robinson, Zack Morton stood  who's on his front porch one recent afternoon, smoking a cigarette. He pointed out an RV across the street.

"It’s been parked there for months on end and it takes up all the parking spots," Morton said.

He opposes allowing homeless to live in vehicles on city streets. He said they bring "drugs, unsanitary conditions, lots of noise" to the neighborhood.

Morton wants the parking restrictions extended to his street, but no luck so far.

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