On El Camino Real this year, right alongside Stanford University, RVs and trailers have been parked bumper to bumper.

Some recreational vehicles look worn down; others are set on blocks. This is in Palo Alto, where the median home value is $2.5 million.

“Be careful. Watch your step coming in,” said Angela Anderson-Williams, as she showed me around her RV. “This door is messed up, so you have to climb in this way.”

She is 50 years old and works two jobs: one at a restaurant and another doing home care for an elderly man. She’s also back in college two days a week to try to get into real estate.

Anderson-Williams raised her kids in nearby Burlingame, but last year she had a falling out with her landlord and couldn’t find anyone willing to take a Section 8 voucher. So now she lives in an RV. Her adult son, Malik, lives in the one next door, and her two daughters are living with their godparents in Burlingame until they finish school.

In San Francisco and Oakland, tents are a symbol of the homeless problem. But in the Peninsula and South Bay, from Palo Alto to Mountain View to Gilroy, RVs have become that symbol.

“It’s kind of really sad that those people who work to keep the Silicon Valley going can’t even afford to live here,” Anderson-Williams said.

There were about 50 RVs on El Camino when I started talking to people there last month. Anderson-Williams said she liked the location because it felt safe and the cops left you alone, which is rare for South Bay cities. And she said it’s inspiring to look out at Stanford.

Angela Anderson-Williams works two jobs: one at a restaurant and another doing home care for a senior citizen. She’s with her son, Malik. (Peter Maroulis)

“How could you not want greatness being here, you know?” she said.

There’s an ‘in-betweenness’ about living in RVs. You’re not quite homeless but your living situation is insecure, said Brian Greenberg, a homeless advocate and psychologist at the local group LifeMoves.

“We see it in our client population. Most of the folks we serve are employed,” Greenberg said.

According to Greenberg, about 85 percent of the heads of household of the homeless families he sees are employed. And there’s another problem.

“You know, we used to call NIMBYism or ‘not in my backyard,’” he said. “Now we call BANANA or ‘build absolutely nothing anywhere near anybody.’”

And that makes the homeless crisis especially acute in Palo Alto. When local groups tried to build affordable housing in 2013, they were shut down by Palo Alto voters. There are no permanent homeless shelters, although a few churches offer about 20 spots to sleep per night.

“When you have large geographic areas that don’t provide shelter, you’re going to have an outsize number of people living in vehicles,” Greenberg said.

Palo Alto isn’t ready to agree that the RVs are a symptom of an affordable housing problem, said Liz Kniss, the city’s vice mayor. Instead, Kniss was focused on parking rules. While living in your car isn’t illegal in Palo Alto, parking for long periods of time is.

“So one of the problems at this point is we haven’t indicated that you will be either ticketed or towed after 72 hours,” she said.

Back on El Camino Real, a parking crackdown on RVs occurred just before the Fourth of July weekend.

“A cop car came swooping up and I’m like, ‘Oh boy,'” Anderson-Williams said. “And he gets out of the car and asks, ‘Hi, how are you this evening?’”

Then she noticed the police putting letters about parking rules on everyone’s RV, including hers. A couple of days later, about half the RVs were gone.

Anderson-Williams and her son, Malik, moved their RVs to a parking lot in Redwood City. She said security guards had already come by to complain and that going back to the grind of moving every few days was a hassle. But she remained hopeful. As long as she has the RV, she doesn’t have to pay rent.

“That’s the plus of it all, because we do get to save money,” she said. “So I know that this is not a permanent situation for us.”

Anderson-Williams feels like she’s moving forward.

Liz Gannes is a reporter with our partner 60db, a personalized audio service and app.

On Peninsula and in South Bay, RVs Have Become Symbol of Homelessness 21 July,2017Queena Sook Kim

  • William A. Ferguson

    And this is the best we can do?

    • e mckay

      I think we could do a lot better. It would help if people were able to look outside of their narrow lives to see the realities that others live. And to actually care. It would help if people weren’t so afraid to live near people of lesser means. People with money don’t want to see people with less money living near them. They don’t know or care where people who serve them in restaurants and work in other service jobs live. As long as they go away at the end of the workday where they can’t see them. Our society would be so much healthier if people were willing to live in mixed income communities.

      • Curious

        Communism doesn’t work.

        • e mckay

          Communism? Your comment makes no sense. Irrelevant.

        • dldrucker

          Curious, please go live up to your screen name and spend some time in the library and learn what communism is. Oh, wait, libraries are paid through taxes. My bad.

  • Nicole Boyle

    Yep, pretty much it would seem. California housing units are investments, not human shelter…..now it makes more sense, right?

  • Angela Anderson-Williams

    Thank you Liz for your interest in our plight and for wanting to share our story with others!

    • e mckay

      Angela – I have great admiration for you! You are obviously resourceful and a hard worker. Good luck with your pursuit of a real estate career! Best wishes to you.

      • Curious

        Irresponsible and entitled is a more accurate description.

        • e mckay

          You are a troll. You are a plain mean person who constantly lurks on the internet waiting to make nasty comments. I guess that makes you feel good. I’ve known people like you. Your type is a drain on society. I think: yuck. I’m glad I don’t live inside your miserable shell. Seems to me that Angela makes a much better contribution to society than you do.

          • Angela Anderson-Williams

            He/she isn’t worth another response.You’re absolutely right about the character of this person. People of this nature purposely exude negativity to illicit negative responses in order to somehow validate their own miserable existence!

          • Curious

            And you beg for money from other people and live off others. Great that you have spare time to sit on the internet all day!

          • West Bkly Res

            Hey, talk about having spare time to sit and troll on the internet all day — CURIOUS — I see that you’ve made 2313 comments! Think about doing something useful for society like Ms. Anderson-Williams and her family … I wish them a
            brighter future and one that includes a house.

          • Curious

            I don’t live on the taxpayer. I pay my way.

          • e mckay

            BS, Curious. We all live on the taxes that other people pay. You paid for those roads and schools and safety services all by yourself? I don’t even think you work. Not very hard, if you do. Seems you spend all your time on the internet.

          • Curious

            Where do you think the money comes from if “we all live on it” ? Why are libs so ignorant?

          • e mckay

            You’re living on the taxes I pay, cheapskate. Show some gratitude.

          • Curious

            You need a basic education. And manners.

          • e mckay

            I need manners? Ha Ha that’s rich.
            Almost everyone pays taxes. But most people, unlike you, don’t constantly brag or whine about it.
            As Angela pointed out, she’s been a taxpayer for years. Yet you’ve chosen to ignore that fact and insult her.

          • Curious

            49% of employees pay no federal income tax. Low income workers, like Angela, pay none. I have not insulted her at all. I merely question why she chose to have children that she cannot support, that she makes me support, parks her RV in a neighborhood where residents pay property taxes, and creates third world conditions.

          • e mckay

            She pays payroll taxes and she pays sales tax. You don’t know what jobs she’s done in the past and may have paid federal and state income tax at the time. You have repeatedly insulted her. You make assumptions about a person that you know very little about. You have know idea what her path has been and how she arrived at the place where she is now. All I know is that she is working hard to get herself into a better situation, and In my book she deserves admiration and respect, not scorn.

          • Curious

            Let her park in your driveway. Put your money where your mouth is.

        • Michtou
      • Angela Anderson-Williams

        Thank you e mckay. It’s not always easy but it always worth it!

  • Curious

    The downward spiral continues. Let’s import more illiterate, illegal, unskilled laborers!

    • Angela Anderson-Williams

      God Bless you!

  • Curious

    Where is the father/husband???

    • e mckay

      Not relevant. The problem is lack of affordable housing.

      • Curious

        It is very relevant. Don’t have 4 kids you cannot afford and make me pay for them.

        • e mckay

          You think you are better than other people. I don’t see any evidence of that.

        • Angela Anderson-Williams

          We’ve always taken care of our children and never thank you very ‘Curious’ or should I said ‘Critical’?????

          • Curious

            Section 8????

          • Angela Anderson-Williams

            As a means to housing in this inflated rental environment! And why not I’ve been a taxpayer for years!

          • Curious

            Guaranteed that whatever you might have paid in taxes comes nowhere near – nowhere near – what you have claimed in benefits.

          • e mckay

            You think you know everything about everyone. But the more you say, the more people realize that you know nothing.

          • Curious

            Why just you? What about me?

          • e mckay

            “What about me, What about me?” Waaahhh

            You’re not the only one who pays taxes, a$$hole. You have a very high opinion of yourself, but nobody else here does.

        • Kelley Edwards

          Too bad your mother had kids.

          • Curious

            Great rebuttal. Classy too.

          • Johnny Hwang

            Just like your mom. She was a hella classy lady.

          • Curious

            Why can the left not conduct a debate? Why do you have to be insulting and violent?

          • Johnny Hwang

            I didn’t insult you, nor was I violent. I said you’re just like your mom, hella classy. I was complimenting you because you’re hella classy too.

          • Curious

            Got nothing, huh? No surprise.

          • Johnny Hwang

            Unlike you, My software startup company just IPO’d and I’m looking at a mansion next month. 😉 OK break time’s over.

          • Curious

            LOL!

          • Curious

            I hope Ken Klein enjoys your posts that I am sending him.

          • Johnny Hwang

            Send him my regards, thanks =). I haven’t chatted with him in a while.

          • Curious

            Say hi to your mom and dad when you get home tonight – their place.

          • Johnny Hwang

            Sorry friend, they’re not in the USA. But if you ever decide to stop taking unemployment checks, let me know. I might be able to refer you.

          • Curious

            Dwight tells me you are useless, Yin-Zen.

          • Johnny Hwang

            Sorry mate, I am useless in referring you because you’re not qualified enough for the job. I wish you luck in your job hunt.

          • Curious

            Hope you enjoy Seattle. Better than Fremont, Yin-Zen.

          • Curious

            BTW, do you like dogs. Yin-Zen?

          • e mckay

            Johnny Hwang – Curious is a yucky troll who gets his kicks out of putting other people
            down. Who enjoys trying to make people feel bad. This world would be better
            off without his like. I will feed that troll no more.

          • Johnny Hwang

            Thanks e mckay, I appreciate it, you’re a good man, though once in a while on a slow day like today, I find my guilty pleasure in feeding trolls like him. It’s sad I couldn’t feed him more… it seems like the only trick up his sleeve is to figure out my real life identity, and unfortunately there was simply no way to respond to his final incoherent message. Good luck out there!

          • Curious

            You are really ignorant, arrogant and aggressive.

          • Kelley exwards

            Your level, dude.
            You set the bar.

      • Angela Anderson-Williams

        Thank you

    • Angela Anderson-Williams

      Before you try and stereotype He is alive and well and also is staying in our RV.(He was working at time of article) We are diligently working together to improve our housing situation and are very grateful for what do have and continue to work for a better life for ourselves our children and for the lives of our children’s children.
      We want what everyone wants a piece of the ‘American Pie’ a large enough slice to share with our family!

      • Curious

        I cannot afford to support you and your kids. Sorry.

        • Angela Anderson-Williams

          Very well ….duly noted!!!! now please go away!

          • Curious

            And then who will support you and your family?

          • Angela Anderson-Williams

            Your IGNORANCE is very saddening!

          • Curious

            Your ingratitude, irresponsibility, selfishness and sense of entitlement is appalling.

          • Winter Mute

            She is entitled to affordable housing, Curious. Your lack of sense of entitlement is appalling.

          • Curious

            Please provide me with a citation to our entitlement to “affordable housing” (whatever that might be.)

          • Winter Mute

            It’s a philosophical stance about the way government may or may not be implemented, it isn’t in writing because it’s a belief. See, belief in entitlements is why new legal philosophies happen, it’s a stratum of philosophical values. What is this reductionist garbage you are peddling? Where can you cite that you are entitled to pay less taxes or in fact get to keep your money at all? See, if it wasn’t for philosophical views about new entitlements, you wouldn’t even have the right to bitch, you wouldn’t have a first amendment. You seem like you’re part of the camp of people with the idiotic view that “entitlements stop at the line where my own needs stop”. And ya know what, there is room for people like you, god knows there are plenty of morons that are on the other extreme to a destructive degree and you are a much needed counterbalance. But for God’s sake, you could be less stupid about the basis for your argument. An entitlement is not something that needs to be cited, it’s a collective belief that either does or does not gain traction, and then if found to become the norm, is then reinforced by the monopoly on force that government maintains. You don’t need it, hell I don’t need it. But ya know what? I think other people do. You don’t. We disagree mostly about civic engineering, is my takeaway from that. But entitlement is only a belief, the only true natural entitlement that stretches beyond belief is the right of might. Don’t you confuse your pretty little head with thinking that being in writing somehow validates truth and don’t selectively use that as the basis for argument as if you’re some kind of 5th century Chinese legalist.

          • Curious

            Too bad you don’t abide by your handle.

  • e mckay

    The residents of Palo Alto voted down an opportunity to have affordable housing units for seniors.

    November 2013: “Measure D — which only needed a simple majority to pass — would have
    given the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing Corporation permission to build a
    60-unit apartment complex for seniors who make 30 to 60 percent of area
    median income as well as a dozen single-family houses at 567-595 Maybell
    Ave. The homes would have helped pay for the apartments.”

    Such fear of the other, and such selfishness. Where are people who work in service jobs supposed to live? Where are seniors supposed to live? I suppose it’s preferable if they live under a bridge or in an RV. Oh wait, now the police are chasing them away. I wish more people would look outside of their narrow lives to see the realities facing others. Even better if they cared about it.

    • Curious

      Angela herself doesn’t want to live in mixed areas! She wants to live in a rich area. She says in this interview that she fears others. See any hypocrisy??

      • Angela Anderson-Williams

        I don’t want to live in rich areas! I want to live in safe areas with good schools supermarkets , parks,street lights etc……Isn’t that what you’d want??? What makes me any different?

        • Curious

          What makes you different is that I don’t park my vehicle in someone else’s neighborhood and make it unsafe and dirty. I live in a far less wealthy area because I have to support myself and my family.

          • e mckay

            How does parking her vehicle in the neighborhood where she works make it either unsafe or dirty? It does not. She is doing her best to support herself and her family. I’m sure glad I don’t live next door to you, Curious. Angry, belligerant, mean, and lazy man who blames everyone else for his unhappiness.

          • Daniel

            How many hands is the horse you are riding on?

        • Anne C. Welch

          curious is a filthy troll. don’t feed it.

          • Curious

            You have a filthy mouth.

  • lulu178

    There are also many people living in RV’s in Berkeley for the same reasons.

  • //

    The RV can be moved right? Try a less expensive part of the country. There are jobs elsewhere.

    • mdr12372

      If everyone in the service industry quit and “moved elsewhere”, who would ring up your groceries? change your kid’s diaper? pick up your garbage? You can’t be serious with your remark. THINK.

      • //

        Did I say anything about “everyone”? no. That got made up out of your own head. You need to take your own advice…. Think. …or maybe not if your comment is the typical result.

        However, since you brought up “everyone in the service industry”…guess what… if there is a real need, then people will pay what is necessary to complete those job or it just won’t get done. There is no need for anyone to feel an obligation to the community to stay in a sucky job for sucky pay just so others who have homes can have their garbage picked up, etc… Live your own life for your own dreams.

        People throughout time have given up what they had to try to make a better life elsewhere.

        • e mckay

          Why wouldn’t the community allow the non-profit to build affordable housing – when it was on the ballot they voted it down, From what I read, it sounded like the affordable housing would have been paid for by the developer building more expensive units, thus little cost to residents. Where are the service workers supposed to live? People who earn those wages are never going to be able to afford housing at market rate it that area.

      • Curious

        So you are concerned about the wealthy? Got it.

    • The Doctor

      People shouldn’t have to move away from an area they’ve lived their entire lives because of entitled, wealthy, compassion-less scumbags like you.

      • //

        Hahaha.. you know nothing about me (and none of those words describe me), yet you attack me with baseless accusations.

        It’s a simple part of reality….. If your situation isn’t working out, change it. The world constantly changes and you have to adapt, not demand the world stop changing. Have a great day!

  • Borismcbin

    I don’t understand why these people are living in an area where the average house is worth 2.5 million dollars? Why don’t they drive their RVs East to another state where maybe they can actually afford a real house?

    • dldrucker

      A good question. I can’t speak for the folks in the article, but my guess is that it may be a combination of social connections (children are living with godparents nearby, etc.), the fact that they HAVE jobs (leaving for another state means becoming even LESS income secure than they are currently), and that the service jobs tend to be where the wealth is – in Ms. Anderson-William’s case, there has to BE a restaurant to work in and an elderly man who can afford to pay for homecare. (I live in NYC – it is a great place to find jobs cleaning houses or doing homecare or childcare, but an impossible one to find housing if you are doing these jobs.) One thing you learn when you study homelessness is that the percentage of people who are chronically homeless is really a very small percentage of the homeless population. For most, it is a transitional stage, so people may not want to completely uproot themselves for something that really is temporary. I would be willing to bet that Ms. Anderson-Williams and her family are going to have an apartment or house in the near future. And if you turn this question around, in an area where the average house is worth $2.5 million, where residents EXPECT to be able to hire people to clean those houses, take care of their children, ring up their groceries, etc., why is there no affordable housing? In fact, there should be affordable housing in ANY area, because you are always going to have people who make more money and people who make less, and in wealthy areas you see this divide even more, because the wealthy employ many service-industry workers. I’d also like to point out that taking care of elderly people who can’t care for themselves is going to become even more needed in the upcoming decades, and it is unconscionable that we aren’t finding ways for the people who do this difficult work to live on what they earn.

      • e mckay

        dldrucker – Great answer! Thank you for putting it so well!

    • Mark Jacobs

      Then who does all the lower paying jobs that allow the wealthy to live the lives they do? You can’t have cheap labor and not have cheap housing. Something has to give. Wealthy seldom realize that. They seem to think some kind of magic allows them to live their lives away from the workers that make it possible

      • Curious

        So, if a problem arises, let the “wealthy” deal with it. Don’t sponge off taxpayers.

      • e mckay

        Absolutely right, Mark Jacobs.

    • e mckay

      I would guess that one strong reason would be the presence of her children in the area. Also, I’ll bet there’s more opportunity in this area than in many other places. She has two jobs here. She could drive off to somewhere else and find there are no jobs, and no opportunity to advance herself. Here she is managing to go to school for a real estate license as well. She sounds smart to me.

      • Curious

        One assumes the kids are living with “godparents” because this woman cannot afford for them to live with her. She should move to a cheaper area, take responsibility for her kids and stop being a burden to society.

    • The Doctor

      Because they shouldn’t have to. No one should have to move away from their families/communities because of cost. You’re acting like PA was always this affluent- it wasn’t. Normal people were able to buy houses and raise their families there. The rich are the interlopers – why don’t they move somewhere there is already rich people??

  • Elena

    I passed that line of RVs every day while at Stanford. It’s such a shame that in this money-filled town people couldn’t care less about those who need help.

  • Josefina

    It is a sin to deny housing to people, specially when so much wealth is concentrated in the bay area.

  • dldrucker

    There is something odd about having people living in RV’s which were once the symbol of well-off retirees traveling the country have become a symbol of homelessness. But actually, it’s kind of an ingenious solution in an area where the wealthy are shirking their responsibility to provide affordable housing.

    • Curious

      The “wealthy” have no “responsibility” to provide “affordable housing.”

  • floridanative1203

    How can one be considered “homeless” if one is living in an RV? Homeless = without a home.
    You have a roof over your head, you aren’t homeless. RVs may, for some, mean a way to keep
    a roof over your head that is affordable while you get back on your feet. Silly headline.

    • e mckay

      They may have an RV to live in, but no permanent legal place to park it. So you’re literally right, the RV is a home, but they have to bounce from place to place, trying to find some stability. What word would you use instead of homeless?

      • Curious

        Moochers. Parasites.

        • e mckay

          Curious = yucky troll who gets his kicks out of putting other people down. Enjoys trying to make people feel bad. This world would be better off without his like. I will feed this troll no more.

          • Curious

            Look forward to you confirming that Angela has a home at your place.

  • John_Tangeraas

    Angela, I wish you the best. You are an intelligent, hard working person, and I am sure it will pay off eventually. Best of luck to you and your family!

  • Mary Kirwan

    I don’t live there but my family and I are those in betweeners we’re not quite homeless but we are staying in an extended stay motel because my income doesn’t rise to the levels of the apartment complexes and trailer parks where we do live and there aren’t many private rentals available. People need to show a bit more compassion it isn’t always all about property values some of us would just love to have that stability back again.

  • Michele

    I find it remarkable that Angela can look at Stanford and think only of being inspired. I would have thought she’d feel resentment. Admire and love her positive attitude and wish her great success in real estate.

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