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Legality of homeless "car camping"

Original post made by Homeowner, Ventura, on Apr 11, 2007

What is the legality of homeless car camping in Palo Alto?

I live in the Ventura neighboorhood and there are at least
8-10 such long-term campers that I've noticed. Some live
in delapidated RVs or campers, some in cars. One guy has
a truck and a van. Most are in the commercial area between
the railroad tracks and Frys, but some also venture into
the residential area south from there.

There's at least one family; many of the rest are scary-looking

They seem only to fear the 3-day parking rule*. The truck/van guy
has been rotating in and out of the area by the phone company
bulding on Lambert for years and years.

I see them in the parks also, especially Mitchell Park by the

I feel sorry for these people, but I also feel there's
a safety issue involved. Some, but not all, are messy
and probably cause public hygiene issues.

And I have a funny feeling that this would *never* be allowed
by the police in PA's "ritzier" neighborhoods.

Any other neighboorhoods (other than Downtown, obviously)
plagued by this issue?

Ventura homeowner

* PA's enforcement of the 3-day parking rule is also a joke
in Ventura. My understanding is that after being served with a
towaway notice, the owner must relocate the vehicle some
minimum distance. There's an old VW van with broken windows
and full of junk that has been parked within a 100-200 ft
radius on Park Ave for close to 10 years. I've seen warning
notices from the police posted time and again, but the owner
only pushes it a short distance and there it stays.

Comments (15)

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 11, 2007 at 3:37 pm

cars for sale parked on El Camino Real are a real eyesore for all of us, too.

Like this comment
Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 11, 2007 at 5:18 pm

Homeless sleep on the grounds of the Main Library, particulary around the Gardens and under bushes. They use the Main Library by day. There are no outdoor public restrooms at the Main Library, and this could be/probably is/ a problem. The City had to repair the outdoor lighting at the Main Library last year when a homeless person/s unhooked the wiring because it disturbed sleep. The 'problem' is not confined to one neighborhood.

Like this comment
Posted by Phil Lanthrop
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 11, 2007 at 8:05 pm

Attention all homeless people: You need to fly low...Under the radar....Keep out of sight, lest you scare some of are citizens with homes... meanwhile, the likes of Fasotw and Lay, all the CEOs out there, defense contractors, et's all guys don't look so scary, but if they only's amazing what a clean shave can in america, homeless people elicit fear, while the fat cats (who really should be feared) keep getting fatter...

Like this comment
Posted by Homeowner
a resident of Ventura
on Apr 11, 2007 at 8:51 pm


You obviously are a compassionate and caring person, but your
response doesn't make sense.

Yes, our world has plenty of evil rich people. Not "all the CEOs",
but certainly some of of them. And especially the Enron scum
and defense contractor types you mentioned. Income inequality in our
society is scandalously bad and getting worse.

I'm not a CEO, I don't manufacture weapons, and I'm not
particularly clean-shaven.

But I do feel uncomfortable having people that seem to have
serious untreated psychological and/or substance abuse issues
living desperate lives without benefit of sanitation/hygeine
in the midst of residental neighborhoods. Human excreta is
a major disease vector and shouldn't be discarded in the weeds
in a densely populated area.

And I never said clean=virtuous. By "scary looking" I
meant obviously hostile and resentful. The Lambert Ave
guy spends most of his time standing outside his van
staring with almost homicidal-looking rage at all passersby.

Don't attack me (by implication, if not directly) for caring
about the physical and medical safety of my family.

Like this comment
Posted by Phil Lanthrop
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 11, 2007 at 9:45 pm

Homeowner, no offense intended. I simply wanted platform to pontificate.
Honestly, I live in the neighborhood you speak of, and am slightly familiar with
the issues you discuss, and I do actually empathize with yourself. I was actually wondering
what the laws were as well, because of the situation addressed above....I hope you can
forgive me...I certainly would not want you and your family to live in fear....please don't take me too seriously all the time..I really do's just that many people seem to be afraid of the downtrodden and oppressed, while the fat cats (milken, hurwitz,...) keep getting fatter...and they don't seem to scare anyone....if you think about it, white collar criminals get off fairly easily....even though their crimes have a much greater impact....they keep it relatively out of sight....if that makes any sense....

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2007 at 9:49 pm

I guess "flop house" and Gypsy camp" are bad words.
In the interest of sanitation Palo Alto and most other cities need a camp site with sanitary facilities and minimal interference with campers, and minimal solution hostel type shelters. Most of the homeless don't want to be saved.

Like this comment
Posted by Phil Lanthrop
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 12, 2007 at 10:02 pm

Don't be alarmed, walter, it's just the word police keeping the forum safe.
Does anybody now the answers to the questions raised by homeowner?

Like this comment
Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 12, 2007 at 10:18 pm

Sure, I think I know the answer based on my knowledge for other cities. Car camping in that area is probably illegal, but it is complaint driven. Unless someone complains to the police, they won't worry about it. I'm sure thats why they picked a loney street in a industrial area. The percentage chance of bothering anyone is lower there. I've riden past that spot on my bike on the way to Fry's and never observed anything I felt was an issue for me, but then I dont go to Fry's often enough to have a very large sample size.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2007 at 7:46 am

Does anyone have a euphemism for euphemism?

Like this comment
Posted by Bob Dole
a resident of Ventura
on May 6, 2007 at 4:38 am

There is one of these RV folks at the end of Wilton Ave. near El Camino. Every morning at 7AM, he moves one of his cars off of Wilton and puts his RV into the spot. Then in the evening, he either moves the RV into the Treasure Island parking lot or pulls it back into the construction company lot for which we works for down the alley. The guy always has some car parked on Wilton Ave. in order to save a spot on Wilton for when he does the 7AM swap. It is ridiculous and has been going on for more than a year! Can't the construction contractor pay this poor man and his woman a living wage? I might as well move out of my $1700 a month apartment, and just buy a junker RV and live for free in Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by ta2'd
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 4, 2010 at 9:40 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff]

who cares if someone is sleeping in their car,,in these tough economic times,just put yourself in their shoes.if they dont harm you or your family,then mind your own business.if their being respectful and cleaning up after themselves,then there shouldnt be an issue,,,,,try helping our brothers and sisters out for a change

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff]

Like this comment
Posted by Herb Borock
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 5, 2010 at 1:26 pm

There is no law against sleeping in vehicles in Palo Alto.

There is a law prohibiting and restricting parking of designated vehicles in residential and public facilities zones between 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., and there is a law against parking large vehicles in any "no large vehicle parking zone".

Prohibited or Restricted Parking, Chapter 10.44 of the Palo Alto Municipal Code: Web Link

Large Vehicle Parking, Chapter 10.47 of the Palo Alto Municipal Code: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Bob Hend
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 9, 2011 at 3:30 pm

I help feed the homeless every friday night at my church. I have yet to see a homeless person come into the kitchen to help cook. I am part of the solution, but I believe we will always have homeless people.

Like this comment
Posted by Cindy Mason
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 11, 2012 at 3:52 am

Today I accidentally discovered my retired neighbor has been drinking with some of these homeless people and has had them in his home. Its his business what he does, but he has substance abuse and mental issues, and does not know the names of the homeless people he has befriended. The person he was drinking with today, was 6'7" and seemed to have a dark expression and anger, possibly mentally ill? When we are all trying to connect more and help prevent robberies, how do we
cope with a situation like that? We can't force the retired neighbor to do anything.

But hopefully whoever reads this will know this is happening. There are young children and babies in our neighborhood.

The difference between homeless and folks with addresses is that we are accountable and known by our name, so our deeds are accountable. A homeless no name, no address, substance abusing person... should have to register somehow, at least with the city, so we know who they are and can look them up on Megan's Law DB.

Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 11, 2012 at 8:43 pm


Don't worry about it. The PA city council doesn't worry about it.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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