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Home sweet motorhome: City struggles with RVs as residences

A sign on this RV in the Home Depot parking lot says it's disabled and the owner will retrieve it soon, yet the vehicle has moved from parking lot to parking lot with the same note. (Warrenton Police Department)
By Cindy Yingst, Thursday, July 8, 2021

Homelessness isn’t a problem easily solved.

Yet Warrenton leaders are determined not to allow their city to become a haven for illegal camping as Portland has. You won’t find rows of ramshackle tents surrounded by mounds of trash, human waste and hypodermic needles.

Unless you look really hard …

Police and private citizens have spent the past few years clearing the woods and vacant spaces of “illegal campers” and removing tons of garbage.

But what to do about people living in campers and trailers on public and private property?

“We’re not the only community that’s facing this,” Warrenton Police Chief Matt Workman said.

His agency takes many calls about homeless people who are causing problems or making a home where they shouldn’t. “We’ve never been proactive on this; we’ve always been reactive,” he told city commissioners during a workshop on recreational vehicle issues.

During a quick survey before the meeting, Workman shot photos of RVs that were illegally parked or had people living in them outside of approved camping areas. Of the 256 RVs he counted, a fifth appeared to have people living in them and another nearly one-fifth possibly had people living in them.

It becomes an issue when people tie into water, sewer and electrical lines without benefit of inspection -- a potential health and safety problem -- and without paying fees for the connection or even the utility provided, which isn’t fair to other ratepayers.

Since RVs were not intended to be full-time residences, they are more susceptible to fire and abandonment – leaving the problem for others to clean up. The city recently had to pay to remove two RVs and a boat that had been abandoned on public property.

“As far as people blatantly living in their motorhome for years, they’re paying no property taxes or sewer fees and we need to look at that,” Commissioner Gerald Poe said. “If you have a couple hundred people out there using the sewer without paying, we’re losing.”

Yet state legislation seems to be headed in another direction, Workman said, as some argue RVs provide a solution for those on the verge of homelessness.

House Bill 3115, for instance, was signed into law June 23 and makes it legal for people to loiter on public sidewalks and in public places if they have nowhere else to go.

“I think it was very unnecessary for the state to do that,” Mayor Henry Balensifer said. “The state now has enabled it.”

All commissioners agreed the city needs to tighten up its ordinances dealing with recreational vehicles, particularly whether they should be allowed as permanent dwellings.

They asked to have the issue placed on their July 13 agenda.

Police Chief Matt Workman

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