The National Vehicle Residency Collective (“NVRC”) is a network of vehicle residents, social service providers, and legal experts joining together to support people living in their vehicles. Our goal is to honor and value the voices of vehicle residents, support their policy and service goals, and protect their legal rights. We believe that a key component of this work is to raise positive public awareness about people living in vehicles and vehicle residency.
Why Are We Here?
Launched in 2022, NVRC is a growing movement emerging from a national affordable housing crisis that has led people out of traditional housing and into their vehicles for temporary shelter and permanent housing. Laws prohibiting living in vehicles are growing rapidly, and governments use expensive fines, arrests, and towing and impoundment of vehicles to keep vehicle residents from accessing public space. Public lands, such as National Forests and Bureau of Land Management land, are becoming more restrictive. Meanwhile, private RV parks and campgrounds are hard to find or priced beyond reach, especially in metro areas where folks can maintain access to necessary services and family support. The NVRC was formed to combat stigma against vehicle residency and advocate for places where vehicle residents can park and be part of healthy communities.
National Vehicle Residency Collective members typically join one of three groups based on their lived and professional expertise:
- Lived Experience Group: People who currently live or previously lived in vehicles.
- Service Providers Group: Staff from organizations (such as safe parking programs) that provide services to people living in their vehicles.
- Legal Forum: Lawyers working to defend the legal rights of people living in their vehicles and enable services provided to vehicle residents.
What Do We Do?
We center the needs of people living in vehicles. Our work is informed by the issues our members identify. NVRC brings a diverse set of voices to the table and grounds its goals in the lived experience of vehicle residents. Our work is informed by the lived and professional expertise of our members.
We share practical knowledge and best practices. We are always learning from each other. Our meetings include information about how to live and thrive in your vehicle, about how to use and operate parking programs, and the legal rights of vehicle residents.
We work to decriminalize vehicle residency and stop closure of public spaces. Governments throughout the country limit parking available to vehicle residents through closure of public spaces, either physically or by law. Exclusion of vehicle residents from public space are often enforced through citations, fees, vehicle impoundments, or even arrests. We are building a movement to protect the civil and human rights of vehicle residents and end these harmful and unproductive practices.
We educate the public on issues of vehicle residency. Many people have misconceptions about vehicle residency and people who live in their vehicles. We are working to raise awareness and undo those misconceptions through events, social media campaigns, and other avenues.
Dr. Graham Pruss partnered with Tristia Bauman, senior attorney at the National Homelessness Law Center (“Law Center”), to coordinate NVRC and to develop the first-ever National Vehicle Residency Summit in November 2022. At the Law Center, Tristia directs the Housing Not Handcuffs Justice Network which includes a national working group of attorneys working to end the criminalization of vehicle residency.
Members of the National Vehicle Residency Collective
Graham J. Pruss, PhD: Coordinator, Planning Committee, Presenter
Dr. Graham J. Pruss is an anthropologist who studies vehicle residency in North America. His research focuses on the intersection of lived experiences, social services, legal systems, and public policy development. Graham joined the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative at the University of California San Francisco’s Center for Vulnerable Populations as a Postdoctoral Scholar in 2020, after receiving his PhD from the University of Washington Department of Anthropology. Dr. Pruss mixes participatory, qualitative, and quantitative methods to better inform policy makers and convey complex research to non-academic audiences. Graham was inspired to focus on the habitation of vehicles in public space by extensive travel with his family in vehicles during his childhood and close relationships with long-term vehicle residents throughout his life. He brings diverse perspectives to research on housing adaptation and instability, as a former social service outreach specialist for vehicle residents (2013-2015) and previous recipient of social welfare programs as a homeless youth and teen parent in the 1990s. Read More >>
Tristia Bauman, JD: Coordinator, Planning Committee, Presenter
Tristia Bauman combines litigation, legal education, and legislative advocacy strategies to prevent and end homelessness. Her work focuses on combating the criminalization of homelessness and advocating for laws that protect the civil and human rights of homeless people. Tristia also conducts legal trainings around the country, writes reports and other publications related to housing, and serves as a legal resource for homeless advocates. Read More >>
William Sweeney: Planning Committee, Presenter
I began working as a volunteer, visiting patients on the back wards of the huge “mental hospitals” that existed in the late Fifties. As the transition to the modern system of community residence and community-based services began, I helped to found the St. Francis Center in Denver (perhaps he first purpose-built day center in the nation) and was a volunteer and board member there until about 20 years ago. I have volunteered for a variety of Boulder agencies, including The Boulder Shelter for the Homeless and St. Benedict’s Health and Healing, as well having many roles in non-profit governance, given by backgrounds in law, finance, accounting, and administration. I helped to found BOHO, a sheltering agency in Boulder staffed entirely by persons of lived-experience, and directed it for several years until it was merged into the Bridge House, where I continue in a strategic role. In my professional life, I had jobs in just about every section of a high-technology or communications company, and retired from that about fifteen years ago. I am a licensed attorney. I am a founding member of the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative, and I also work with the Food Security Network, Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, the Homelessness, Housing Precarity, and Disaster Network, and Mother House.
Jake Hoster: Planning Committee, Lived Experience workgroup, Presenter
A vehicle resident of over four years, I decided to become a nomad after a 20+ year IT career. After a year of traveling, I found success and happiness as a nomad “workamping” at various seasonal jobs around the United States including the Sugar Beet Harvest in North Dakota, holiday season warehouse work in Nevada, and camp hosting/campground management in a National Forest in northern California. Attending and volunteering for the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) and the Homes on Wheels Alliance (HOWA) has stirred a passion for successful vehicle residency. I’ve seen how individuals and families can thrive by living in a vehicle. But I’ve also seen how the result of our actions is leading to closures of public lands and the end of overnight privileges in parks, streets, and parking lots. So I’m on a mission to educate all vehicle residents, campers, and visitors on how we can keep our public lands open for all of us to enjoy.
Phyllis Bickford, Presenter
Phyllis has lived for the last four years as a fulltime van dweller in a cargo van she built out herself. Her dedication to the Homes On Wheels Alliance mission comes from seeing the power of community in making positive changes in our world. She supports NVRS efforts in hopes it will keep the nomad lifestyle sustainable as the pressures from authorities close in on this unique community. This will take the combined efforts from all the various factions of all vehicle dwellers.
Suanne Carlson, Presenter
As the Executive Director of the nonprofit Homes On Wheels Alliance (HOWA), I am focused on serving a sub-set of all vehicle residents – typically those who travel with the best weather and camp in nature along the way. However, I’m very much aware that vehicle residency includes a much broader spectrum of situations, from those who are just one bad experience away from sleeping on the literal street to those who live and travel in RVs worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet, everyone across that socio-economic spectrum shares some similar challenges, for example – needing to learn small space living skills, receiving medical, counseling, or social services beyond one’s county or state of residency, and finding safe and legal overnight parking (while traveling, in cities, or on public lands). To address those challenges and others, we have a louder voice together than as disparate sub-groups. We can learn from each other. The Vehicle Residency Collective is a movement of which I’m glad to belong, counting HOWA’s voice among others to bring about awareness and change.
Suanne Carlson has been a vehicle resident, a full-time nomad, since 2016 (part-time since 2009). She lives out of a full-size van but spends the warmer months traveling and living out of her Prius (affectionately called her “Summer Cottage”).
Karina O’Malley: Providers workgroup, Presenter
Karina O’Malley was part of the group in 2011 that started the Lake Washington United Methodist Church Safe Parking program, a church ministry serving women and families living in their cars. She currently serves as the program coordinator. She enjoys participating in the VR Collective Providers group, and is excited to help support the first national Vehicle Residency conference. Karina also participates in the King County Regional Homelessness Authority Vehicle Residency taskforce and other advocacy and direct service groups focused on King County Washington homelessness and housing justice.