Providing Help and Hope for People Living in Vehicles
One individual working to find both short- and long-term solutions for displaced Bay Area residents is Pastor Paul Bains, who leads Dignity on Wheels and Project WeHOPE, an organization working to help Silicon Valley residents become healthy, employed and housed.
Recognizing that one of the biggest challenges in Silicon Valley is that each city government has a unique set of ordinances and laws guiding vehicle dwelling, SVCF worked with Bains and Assembly member Marc Berman in 2019 to convene leaders from local cities, counties, nonprofits and faith organizations to discuss RVs, city ordinances and regional solutions.
The gathering was part brainstorming session, part open conversation about “vehicular housing” challenges. The need for collaboration was a recurring theme. SVCF also organized a visit to Project WeHOPE’s Safe RV parking lot in the City of East Palo Alto to meet with community leaders, city officials and local RV residents.
SVCF produced this video about the work of Project WeHOPE in 2019:
of vehicle dwellers have jobs
have children in local school districts
“These families didn’t choose to live in RVs, their cars or their vans,” Bains notes in a podcast conversation with SVCF’s Gina Dalma. “They were forced out.” Many rented homes or apartments in Silicon Valley for years and put down roots. Eighty percent of vehicle dwellers are working and approximately 10-15 percent are families with children who attend schools nearby, according to Bains. With the lack of affordable housing and the region’s incredibly expensive cost of living, individuals and families have few options to maintain their jobs or school upon learning unexpectedly that rent will be doubled or tripled.
Project WeHOPE provides one of the most immediate solutions for vehicle dwellers. With three sites, the program provides safe spots to park with services geared toward finding people stable housing. SVCF is proud to be part of the public/private partnership that supports Silicon Valley residents who have been forced to live in their RVs and vehicles by the Bay Area’s soaring cost of living.
To achieve long-term systemic change, Bains is calling on all sectors to work together. “I truly believe none of us is stronger than all of us. And we are better together than we are apart,” he says. It will take cities to develop policies that prioritize building low-income and affordable housing, the faith and nonprofit communities to collaborate on addressing systemic issues, and philanthropy to find responsible providers.
Bains says that through all the planning and partnerships, it’s vital to keep in mind the needs of the unhoused individuals: “If you don’t meet people where they are, you can’t get them on the path to self-sufficiency and total independence.”