March 22, 2019

Mountain View: Council declares housing emergency and acts on RVs


On Tuesday, March 19th, the Mountain View City Council held a discussion on city programs and policies to both prevent homelessness and provide permanent housing to people currently experiencing homelessness. The Council also considered specific policies related to unstably housed Mountain View residents living in vehicles, including RVs. As of the latest count, there are 290 vehicles in Mountain View that are being used for habitation. City staff reported that this is likely an undercount, though, as many people living in vehicles do not own large cars or RVs and are more difficult to identify. (Note: the official County of Santa Clara Point in Time Count, which will report findings from a comprehensive effort to identify the number of people who are homeless throughout the County, is not yet available. Therefore, an official count of the number of people living in vehicles in Mountain View is not readily available.)

Numerous speakers, including many people who currently or previously lived in vehicles themselves, urged the Council to refrain from placing restrictions on the parking of RVs across the city or otherwise making it more difficult for people experiencing homelessness to sleep overnight in a vehicle. There was a chorus of requests for the Council to expand its Safe Parking program, which provides stable spaces with basic services to people referred by service agencies. At the same time, speakers also praised the efforts of service organizations, particularly the Community Services Agency of Mountain View (CSA), and the faith community who are providing emergency services to people experiencing homelessness and those teetering on the brink.

During their deliberations, councilmembers raised several concerns about the policy options before them. Notably, Councilmember Chris Clark expressed concern that any restrictions placed on RV dwellers would only push unstably housed people elsewhere without actually addressing the challenge. This, he stated, would be no different from what other cities around the Bay Area have been doing to avoid tackling the problem head on. Councilmember Alison Hicks agreed, noting that Mountain View could not solve this challenge alone and calling for further discussion of regional cooperation to help people living in vehicles access the emergency services that they need.

The Council ultimately decided to move forward with a full package of responses, asking staff to prepare ordinances that would ban the parking of over-sized vehicles throughout the city, with some exceptions, and expand Safe Parking by making it easier for private organizations to donate their space while also identifying additional city-controlled sites. The Council also approved continued funding for emergency homelessness assistance and prevention services and declared a shelter crisis, which is the mechanism that will allow them to formally adopt a Safe Parking ordinance at a future Council meeting.

Councilmembers Clark and Hicks dissented from the decision to place restrictions on over-sized vehicle parking, citing their concerns that this action could potentially push people out of Mountain View or onto the street without resolving their housing situation.

SV@Home supports the Council’s actions to expand Safe Parking and continue to provide much-needed emergency assistance to the most vulnerable community members. We have urged the Council to continue its focus on permanent housing solutions, including approving new affordable housing developments and working with Santa Clara County to identify opportunities for developments that can qualify for Measure A funding.

We look forward to continuing to partner with the Council and City staff to explore further regional cooperation to provide stability and housing solutions for vehicle dwellers across the South Bay.