Mile-long RV encampment in Marin Co. symbolizes growing housing crisis in Bay Area

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ByLiz Kreutz KGO logo
Thursday, June 1, 2023
RV encampment in Marin Co. shows growing housing crisis in Bay Area
Just miles away from some of the wealthiest zip codes in the country, a growing RV encampment in Marin County symbolizes the national housing crisis.

NOVATO, Calif. (KGO) -- Driving through Novato, it's hard to miss: nestled between Highway 101 and a wildlife sanctuary is Binford Road.

There, the long line of trailers and motorhomes seems to go on and on and on, stretching for about a mile. Located just miles away from some of the wealthiest zip codes in the country, the growing RV encampment has come to symbolize the haves and the have-nots in the seemingly affluent Marin County.

"What we're seeing here at Binford Road is really a larger issue that we're seeing all across the state," said Eric Lucan, Marin County District 5 supervisor. "Which is the housing crisis we have, the unhoused homeless crisis we're experiencing."

Alysia Mackey, who has been unhoused for three years, is one of the newest residents at Binford Road.

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"I was trying to just hold my head above water," Mackey said, standing outside her motorhome on Wednesday. "I was in Sonoma County, and I was trying to utilize the resources, and I kept getting the runaround."

So a month ago, she decided to move south to Novato, where she had heard more resources were being offered.

"The people who are out here are people like you and I," she said. "Either they've gotten dealt a bad hand, lost their job during the pandemic, there's something that brings us out here."

"We're not bad people," she added. "We've just made bad choices, maybe."

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According to Supervisor Lucan, there are roughly 130 vehicles currently lining Binford Road, and nearly 90 people who live there. Many of those residents said it was the pandemic that was the tipping point.

"A number of clients are living here in RVs mostly due to pressures from the pandemic," said Gary Naja-Riese, director of Marin County's Department of Homelessness and Whole Person Care. "They've experienced job loss, unexpected medical expenses or crisis, and really have become homeless due to those combined pressures, and have come here to try to find services and support."

Gordy Shafer has lived on Binford Road for six years and has watched it change. He said he was just one of just five or six RVs when he first got there.

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"It started with a couple and then all of a sudden it was on," Shafer said. "Everyone started coming."

Video taken by ABC7 News at Binford Road three years ago in 2020, showed a handful of RVs spaced out along the road. Now, it's bumper to bumper. There are also now county-sanctioned resources available to residents, including weekly trash pickup, porta potties, and hand washing stations.

"On a weekly basis, folks are out here multiple days during the week engaging with residents, really hearing about their needs, listening to their stories, talking about what support specifically they might need to get back into housing," Naja-Riese said.

Marin County's Ritter Center is also supporting the site by providing mobile medical care and food deliveries from their food pantry.

"Folks who are here are our family members, our brothers and sisters, our aunts and uncles, our kids. These are our neighbors," Naja-Riese said. "The majority of folks who are unhoused in Marin, over 78%, lived in Marin before being homeless, so the folks who are here are our neighbors, so we need to do everything possible to help these folks into a pathway back to housing."

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Shafer said residents at Binford Road are increasingly having to deal with locals who oppose the encampment.

"They started getting aggressive," Shafer said. "One guy, his kids slashed a bunch of tires up and down the street."

Supervisor Lucan said the county is no longer allowing the camp to grow in size, but it will not force current residents out.

"I know this is a complicated issue and there's a lot of different opinions about how to handle a situation like this," Lucan said. "But simply moving the situation someplace else, that's not a solution. I'm interested in solutions."

The goal, he said, is to get all these residents into permanent housing. Naja-Riese said they recently helped two residents make that transition and are also hopeful they'll receive an additional $1.5 million from the state to fund more resources and case workers.

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It's something Mackey and Shafer hope for, too. When asked about their goals for one year from now, both had similar answers.

"To be in my own place. To be in my own place, and to have a job," Mackey said.

"I want to be out of here. I'd like to be out of here," Shafer replied.

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