What It's Like to Live in an RV and Work in Silicon Valley, But Call Fresno Home

6 min
Arturo Torres sits in his RV in Palo Alto. His family and home are in Fresno, but he lives and works during the week in Palo Alto, where the pay is better. (Penny Nelson/KQED)

KQED’s Penny Nelson recently dove into the story of one RV dweller who commutes from Fresno to Silicon Valley for work, setting up residence each week on the streets of Palo Alto (you can listen to all three stories by clicking the play button above).

Throughout the Bay Area, you can find RVs and campervans regularly parked along the road in many communities, as sky-high housing costs push some people into creative living situations.

Over the past couple of years, this phenomenon has taken off. In the course of my own daily living on the Bay Area’s Peninsula, I’ve watched the number of those living in RVs ebb and flow.

In Mountain View, where some Google staff live right off the campus in campervans, the Silicon Valley city has banned RVs from parking overnight on public streets (the ban has yet to take effect), Bloomberg reported, as has the city of Berkeley.

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In Palo Alto, where campervans and RVs line El Camino Real next to Stanford University, a city rule mandates that people move vehicles on public roads every three days — and at least a half-mile away.

Sometimes my curiosity gets the best of me, and I start knocking on doors. That’s what happened when I spotted a campervan near the KQED building in San Francisco’s Mission District. The door creaked open and a middle-aged man’s face peaked out. I asked if we could chat about living in his campervan in the city.

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Happy to oblige, he shared his story of being a cook in a nearby restaurant, using the bicycle locked to a tree near the RV to get to and from work, and carrying his work clothes in a backpack. He said he was doing fine in his home on wheels. He said other restaurant workers he knew were doing the same thing: living in motor homes while working in the service industry’s relatively low-wage jobs that put the region's high rents out of reach.

That was the spark for me to check in with those living in a line of vehicles consistently parked curbside on El Camino in Palo Alto, where many RVs are parked right next to Stanford University. I started knocking on those doors, assuming the residents of the RVs were graduate students or university staff unable to afford expensive Palo Alto rents.

And that’s how I met Arturo Torres.

He opened his door for me with a broad smile, and invited me into his RV. Sitting on his couch, he said he was happy to talk about his situation. It soon became clear that Torres, who has a townhome in Fresno where his wife and kids live (and whom he sees on the weekends), does not see himself as a car dweller or homeless. He sees himself as a commuter, who comes to work in the Bay Area as a painter because the pay is better.

Listen to his story via the big red play button at the top.

Arturo Torres sits in his RV in Palo Alto. His family and home are in Fresno, but he lives and works during the week in Palo Alto, where the pay is better.
Arturo Torres' boots sit by the door in his RV in Palo Alto. Torres' family and home are in Fresno, but he lives and works during the week in Palo Alto, where the pay is better. (Penny Nelson/KQED)

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