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Tuesday, November 28, 2023
Nov. 28, 2023

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Abandoned RVs challenge Vancouver

Costs, laws protecting homeless keep vehicles in park

By , Columbian staff writer
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A pedestrian strolls past an abandoned recreational vehicle along Vancouver's Waterfront Renaissance Trail on Tuesday. Derelict vehicles on public property remain a difficult obstacle for towing companies to remove because of their high impound and disposal fee.
A pedestrian strolls past an abandoned recreational vehicle along Vancouver's Waterfront Renaissance Trail on Tuesday. Derelict vehicles on public property remain a difficult obstacle for towing companies to remove because of their high impound and disposal fee. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The Waterfront Renaissance Trail provides a beautiful view of Oregon’s shore across the Columbia River’s gentle ripples, yet some say an abandoned recreational vehicle obstructs the serenity the scene is meant to provide.

The vehicle parked along the path has broken windows, a missing wheel and is dependent on a jack to stay upright. It shows no indication of moving.

Diane Pontrelli, who lives near the area, said the abandoned motor home embodies a grim future if the city doesn’t have a way to remove them. Those who own property by the waterfront are concerned it could become a similar sight to Portland’s Marine Drive, a stretch of road adorned with tents and motor homes, she said.

“We really do need to make sure we keep it clean,” she said. “We need to keep the integrity of the community.”

Recreational vehicles need a parking permit to sit on public property. Despite this, motor homes without proper tags remain parked on Vancouver’s streets — sometimes for weeks or months.

The motor home by the trail is one of many abandoned vehicles that Vancouver is finding difficult to remove. The city plans to submit a new request for bids to complete towing projects in late February and early March, which could improve the situation.

However, tow companies may avoid impounding recreational vehicles because of the high cost associated with the process.

Chapelle Towing operations manager Ambra Peters said tow services take on the financial burden to impound and dispose of motor homes. It costs up to $4,000 to dispose of the vehicle and may require additional services depending on the state and age of the vehicle. Hazardous materials such as sewage, asbestos and litter increase the cost.

There are some businesses that will do it on a case-by-case basis, she said, but it is not common.

“We just don’t because the cost has gone up so much and we just can’t afford to keep disposing of those,” Peters said.

Lawmakers attempted to ease the large price tag in Substitute Senate Bill 6437, which collects funds through taxes to reimburse tow truck companies for the removal and dismantling of recreational vehicles. But under the law, Chapelle Towing only receives about $250 for disposal fees, Peters said, and the fee doesn’t come close to covering the cost to impound or inspect the recreational vehicles.

Addressing the reason behind the problem

Washington’s Supreme Court noted that people living in their own vehicles on public property isn’t egregious in a 2021 ruling. The court consensus also stipulated that impounded vehicles can’t be sold at auctions if the owners can’t afford to pay impoundment fees.

However, this calls into question how municipalities can keep streets clean while considering people’s financial abilities.

Teresa Tate manages the Knoll Mobile Home Park and said its neighboring streets, which are normally scattered with illicitly parked vehicles, have been clear since fall 2021. However, she expects the number to increase during the summer as it has in the past. Tate is also prepared for the sanitary challenges; garbage and belongings are haphazardly scattered throughout the area when people are parked along the street.

Although the vehicles appear to be abandoned, she said, they are used by people who are homeless. Tate, who once experienced homelessness, said the situation is not sustainable for those seeking stable shelter.

“I wish there was something that could be done for the people that are there,” she said. “It’s just too expensive (to live) in this town.”

In light of this hardship, there is a city resource for people living in their vehicles.

Those living out of their vehicles, campers and motor homes can register for a parking space at Vancouver’s Safe Parking Zone at the Evergreen Transit Center, at 1504 N.E. 138th Ave. The space provides access to restrooms, handwashing stations and garbage services. There is limited space for vehicles, though, particularly larger units like recreational vehicles.

The Safe Parking Zone was initially a response to COVID-19 in June 2020 to help vulnerable populations have a safe place to stay. During its operation, however, the operation proved to work well as a resource for homeless people. There are plans to create more safe parking areas, but it is not known when.

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