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People Living In Vehicles Call New San Diego Law Prohibiting It Unfair

John Salerno (left) standing in front of his RV near Kearny Mesa and Paul Gra...

Photo by Matt Hoffman

Above: John Salerno (left) standing in front of his RV near Kearny Mesa and Paul Grasso (right) sitting inside of his van in Ocean Beach, May 21, 2019.

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Aired: June 3, 2019 | Transcript

In San Diego it is now illegal to live out of a vehicle. The law was passed with the idea that people can go to city funded "safe parking" lots to sleep overnight — but while some people are looking to get out of their vehicles, others are not.

Paul Grasso said he has been living out of his van for the last year in San Diego.

"It’s a lifestyle for some," Grasso said. "Some chose it, but I’m just traveling and I got kind of stuck in this for a little bit — I can’t afford rent."

Grasso sleeps in his car in Ocean Beach. He said he cannot afford renting a place on his disability income.

"You’re living off $1,000 a month, you can’t rent a one bedroom for $1,000 a month so — what are you to do?"

He said living out of a van is not easy.

"You’re trying to get by on everything," Grasso said. "You’re trying to cook in your vehicle."

After San Diego passed an ordinance barring people from sleeping in their vehicles overnight and anytime near homes or schools Grasso said residents in the area have been telling him to get out.

RELATED: San Diego Bans Homeless From Living, Sleeping In Vehicles

"You can’t camp in non-camping areas," said Ocean Beach Mainstreet Association executive director Denny Knox. "Just like you don’t want somebody in your driveway — for health, safety all kinds of reasons. It’s not a good model for the city."

The Ocean Beach Mainstreet Association represents more than 500 businesses in OB.

"We’re a generous community — we’re kind of laid back and I feel maybe we’ve been taken advantage of," Knox said.

There are many people living out of vehicles in Ocean Beach and Knox is supportive of the new law in hopes it will drive campers out of town.

"It brought a really rough element to town, which we didn’t appreciate and we’re just not a campground," she said.

The city council approved the law with the idea that the city would provide lots for people to park and sleep overnight. The lots are run by Jewish Family Service and have case managers working to get people into housing.

"You can target services for those spots," Knox said. "It makes perfect sense because when everyone spread out all over the place — how do you get services to all these people? It’s unmanageable, which we’ve seen."

Reported by Nicholas Mcvicker

Not everyone wants to leave their vehicles — some people are just looking for a place to park and sleep in their home on wheels.

"I like the fact that we’re free to roam — the country’s our living room," said John Salerno, standing in front of his 35-foot recreational vehicle.

Salerno lives out of his RV by choice.

"I just retired — I’m 65 — and we elect instead of paying rent to try and save some money," he said. "I had a house. I sold the house because I needed the equity money because I wasn’t getting as much as I thought I would in Social Security."

Normally parking Salerno's RV is not a problem. Salerno said he pays to sleep at an RV park but cannot stay there all the time.

"I do have a membership where we stay three weeks out of the month. But one week out of the month we have to move because of the rules of that membership," he said.

So one week out of every month Salerno has to find other places to park and sleep.

"I try to stay out of people’s way," Salerno said. "I don’t want to hinder anybody view of their ocean."

He feels the new law is not fair.

"They’ve isolated us and they’ve picked us out and it’s kind of discriminatory," Salerno said.

He thinks if people are following other laws they should be able to park and sleep on public streets.

"You got it (vehicle) registered, you’re not being a hindrance, you’re not being a nuisance — OK you have a right and a privilege you’ve earned," Salerno said.

Grasso in Ocean Beach agrees.

"There are people trying their best just to get by and it makes it much more difficult when you have to worry about someone clamping down on you or taking what little you have left," he said.

The San Diego Police Department said they have not started ticketing people under the new law but will soon.

Jewish Family Service is set to open its safe parking lot in Mission Valley within the next few weeks. There are two safe parking lots in the Kearny Mesa area that hold up to 120 cars but are at capacity.

The new lot will add some 200 spaces and will be able to accommodate both cars and RVs.

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Photo of Matt Hoffman

Matt Hoffman
Health Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI am a general assignment reporter for KPBS. In addition to covering the latest news and issues that are relevant to the San Diego community, I like to dig deeper to find the voices and perspectives that other media often miss.

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