Policy Brief

The Long Road Home: Housing and Service Needs of People Who Inhabit Oversized Vehicles in Oakland's Public Parking

BHHI conducted in-depth interviews with 48 people living in their vehicles in Oakland. This report sheds light on the needs and challenges of vehicle residents and provides recommendations on how the city can better serve that population.

Executive Summary

We conducted in-depth interviews with residents of oversized vehicles (n=48) from across five sites of public parking in Oakland, CA during July 2021 to understand their housing and service needs. The interviews assessed resident’s views on the current Safe RV Parking Program and a proposed Rental Parking Program. Safe RV Parking Programs provide long-term parking spaces with security and access to water, electricity, mobile showers, toilets, laundry, and health and social services. The proposed Rental Parking Program model would provide long-term parking spaces with security, water, electricity, hygiene facilities and would adhere to California State Mobile home park laws, grant tenants’ rights to their occupants, and would not require that renters participate in social services or case management.

Overview of Findings 

Housing Preferences:

  • Participants preferred staying in oversized vehicles to other unsheltered settings or congregate shelters.
  • Participants were reluctant to accept non-permanent housing options (e.g., rapid rehousing or transitional housing) because they feared they would return to homelessness after the subsidies or temporary housing came to an end. They were not willing to give up their vehicles for a non-permanent exit from homelessness.
  • The majority would have preferred to live in permanent housing but noted that they could not afford to do so. A minority reported preferring living in their vehicles to housing.

Health and Social Service Engagement:

  • Participants had limited engagement with social services or health care.
  • Participants were unaware of eligibility requirements for the currently operating Safe RV Parking Program.
  • Participants concerns about the security of their vehicle when they were not in them (e.g., tickets, towing, loss of property) made them reluctant to seek social services or health care.

Benefits of Currently Operating Safe RV Parking and Proposed Rental Parking Program:

  • Participants expressed positive opinions of Safe RV Parking, noting the following potential benefits: security, hygiene infrastructure, a location other than public space.
  • Participants expressed positive opinions of the Proposed Rental Parking Program model noting the positive benefits: security, hygiene infrastructure, a location other than public space, and lease/tenancy rights and community building.
  • Study participants said they were willing to pay approximately one-third of their income for rent in the proposed Rental Parking Program model.

Key Study Recommendations:

  • Consider expanding Safe RV Parking as a form of non-congregate shelter.
  • Safe RV Parking residents should be offered housing-directed services, although they may lack of enthusiasm for programs that offer only short-term interventions.
  • Study the feasibility of implementing Rental Parking Programs and identify potential sites. Feasibility studies should explore cost, regulatory structures, and private property management.


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