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RVs As Temporary Housing Come To The Rescue


Class C RV provides Temporary Housing on a wooded lot.
RVs As Temporary Housing Come To The Rescue. Photo by Terry Bone

RVs As Temporary Housing Come To The Rescue

2020 has been a standout year for all the wrong reasons. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our way of living altogether, wildfires have ravaged the western U.S., tropical storms and hurricanes have caused significant damage to coastal areas, and record-breaking tornado activity has left its hideous mark in parts of the Midwest. Among the many resources used to aid in disaster relief efforts, RVs have often been utilized as convenient temporary housing and many times life-saving options.

RVs are synonymous with leisure and travel, a way to hit the open road and escape into the great outdoors.  On the flip side, RVs also provide a safe haven and relief for many directly affected by natural disasters and other emergencies. 

They have served as temporary homes, used to transport goods to devastated locations, outfitted as command centers or portable offices, and much more.  The efforts of RV industry professionals and RV enthusiasts have played a major part in delivering this kind of aid to those that need immediate help in tumultuous times. 

How RVs have provided relief during the COVID-19 pandemic

In a letter addressed to the lead in the Coronavirus Task Force Vice President Mike Pence, RV Industry Association President Craig Kirby pledged to donate RVs to help combat the growing pandemic. The letter dated March 18, 2020, specified that the industry group would contribute 20 RVs, along with an additional 100 RVs at a reduced price, for use at critical health care settings designated as high priority by the Task Force.  

Kirby wrote,

“Given concerns about hospital capacity, we believe RVs can help by serving as temporary living quarters, office and lab trailers, bathroom and shower trailers, temporary quarantine units or vending and kitchens. Indeed, just this week, the state of Louisiana purchased 80 RVs for such surge capacity. There are motorhomes and RV trailers located in all 50 states and we can work with our dealers at the Task Force’s designation on critical needs.” 

Throughout the pandemic, others have jumped on board to help slow the spread of the virus and shelter vulnerable populations. The following are ways RVs have been used during the national emergency.

Temporary Housing For…

Front Line Workers 

Large Scale Relief Effort: One by one, all across the nation, states have taken action, including RVs in their aid packages. In Texas, for instance, one dealership reported sending out 400 RVs to various cities requesting temporary housing for caregivers and first responders. RV rental companies were called on for units as well. Medical personnel needed lodging away from home where family members could pick up the virus and spread it to others.

RV acts as Temporary Housing for doctors and nurses during pandemic.

Small Scale Relief Effort: A small online request in March exploded into ad hoc, national volunteer service. Dallas-area woman, Emily Phillips, utilized Facebook to find an RV that her doctor husband could stay in when he was off-duty. The unit would be parked in the driveway so he would still be close to home and family but at a safe distance. A woman named Holly Haggard replied, letting Phillips borrow hers. 

The exchange spawned a slew of requests after both Texas women joined forces and created the Facebook page, RVs 4 MDs. The organization has grown to include a board of directors and a network of volunteers spanning across the nation. The concept is simple: match medical personnel with people willing to donate an RV.

“Every doctor or nurse that we can self-quarantine, not in a hotel, we thought we could be saving thousands of lives,” Phillips said. “Because if they expose their families, their families go to the grocery store, and all these other people catch it.”

Class C RVs hooked up on beachside camping lot.
California rented hundreds of RVs as temporary housing for the homeless in an effort to protect them from exposure to the virus.

Homeless Population 

Rising housing costs and wage stagnation are only two factors that have added to an already exacerbated housing crisis in states like California. Pour on a novel coronavirus, and you have a whole new dilemma, overflowing with a high probability of homelessness. 

It was key, officials agreed, to keep families in their homes and off the streets to prevent exposure. Cities became proactive with ordinances. They passed relief programs, extending rent or mortgage due dates and placing people in need of shelter in hotels and RVs, as opposed to overcrowded shelters.  

California was already looking into utilizing RVs as temporary housing for homeless people before COVID-19, but the pandemic pushed their plans ahead of schedule. In late March, the California governor requested over 1300 travel trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and private companies to house the homeless in different locations.  

“People experiencing homelessness are among the most vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19,” Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “California is deploying massive resources to get these vulnerable residents safely into shelter.”

People infected with the virus 

Similar to the concept of housing front line workers in RVs close to home, RV rental companies like Cruise America and El Monte were receiving calls from people with ill family members.

Gordon Hewston, senior vice president at Tourism Holdings Ltd., the New Zealand-based parent of El Monte RV mentioned, “We’ve also had bookings for self-isolation, [for] people who have got the virus but aren’t sick enough to go to hospital,” he said. “They can still talk to family from a distance.”

A mobile RV health clinic.
Mobile clinics used in conjunction with drive-thru testing operations

Medical Facilities

RVs have also been used for laboratory work to free up spaces in hospitals and in conjunction with drive-thru testing sites. The Mayo Clinic, the Scottsdale, Arizona, branch of the medical organization, rented an RV from Cruise America in mid-March as part of their drive-thru testing operation. The staff could utilize onboard amenities and take a break from bad weather.

Safe Travel Option

After several days and weeks of lockdown, “quarantine fatigue” became a thing.  People were itching to get out of the confines of their homes and get back to doing regular things like travel and visiting places, especially with summer on the horizon. 

With the ever-evolving CDC guidelines and regulations, flights and cruise lines were out of the question, and visiting popular attractions like Disney World and the Mall of America were also off the list. Instead, folks turned to RVs.  RVing has proven to be the optimal alternative to vacationing in a pandemic.  Families can travel, enjoy meals, and sleep in their self-contained unit and also enjoy leisure and recreation time away from home, in the great outdoors.  

This concept of RVing and safe travel has taken off.  RV dealerships and rental companies have seen astronomical spikes in sales, so much that many businesses have experienced periods of little to no inventory on every model. 

How RVs are utilized in natural disasters

Natural disasters include hurricanes, flash floods, wildfires, tornados, and earthquakes. Through it all, RVs have helped play a vital role in providing temporary housing for those displaced, a command center for first responders, and another means of transporting and distributing goods and services to those in need. This year alone has seen record-breaking natural catastrophes, and RVs have been put to use more than ever before.

Temporary Housing 

Many residents have been displaced due to the wildfires in the western portion of the country. Businesses were set up as emergency vendors ready to respond to victims. Del Yermo RV Park in California was one of these vendors that opened up its doors to more than 20 travel trailers. These RVs were set up as temporary housing for families that lost their home to out of control fires.

The news captures more and more stories about good samaritans offering up their property and/or RVs for victims of natural disasters. RV parks dedicate sites for RVers fleeing inland from coast hurricanes. Folks like Lisa and Joe Waldner of Oregon collaborated with the Red Cross and were able to lend their RV to an elderly couple after they lost their home to fires. The couple who suffers from many health issues were living and sleeping in their van before the generous donation.

“How do we get people out of the smoke, how do we get people safe, how do we get people out of their cars and some semblance of comfort?” Lisa said over the phone to Red Cross personnel. “They gave us a license plate of a car and we went up and asked them if they would like our trailer.”

Companies like RVshare have provided an online platform to help victims obtain an RV for temporary use. Residents displaced by an event and volunteers willing to lend their rig simply contact RVshare. Depending on the needs of the displaced, RVs are matched up accordingly.

Storage and distribution of goods

Once the storm has passed on and it is safe to enter the location, RVs are some of the vehicles brought in.  They tow equipment utilized by first responders and are stocked with goods like food, water, personal hygiene products, and medical supplies for victims.  Personnel use RVs to distribute these goods and services to critical areas that have been affected by the natural disaster, whether it is in the form of a mobile food bank or clinic.

RV serves as Mobile emergency operations center.
RVs used as command centers

Portable Offices

RVs can be outfitted as mobile offices and emergency response command centers.  The functional space, including the sleeping area and kitchen, allows first responders the convenience of rest and nourishment.  They won’t be deprived of basic needs and instead are ready and alert to carry on continued operations.

Ways RVers can help with disaster relief efforts

Own an RV and want to combine travel with volunteer work? Many programs can use your help, especially for disaster relief efforts. Organizations like RV Disaster Corps and Habitat for Humanity are always on the lookout for fellow RVers to help with administrative work and construction projects. 

RVers travel to the affected communities and help with restoration efforts. Many cities welcome these second responders. Not only for their invaluable service, but RVers bring their self-contained housing unit, which doesn’t put a strain on the location’s already depleted resources. Both programs, RV Disaster Corps and RV Care-A-Vanners through Habitat for Humanity, are temporarily suspended due to COVID-19.

The video below gives a bit more insight on what to expect as a volunteer with the program RV Care-A-Vanners through Habitat for Humanity. Get more information on these programs by visiting their websites, RV Disaster Corps and Care-A-Vanners.

Stay informed on current events 

Stay abreast of current events and RVing with Camper Report. Readers can stay updated on news that directly affects the RV lifestyle, including travel, recreation, industry outlook, new units, and everyday life on the road.  

Also, if you are in the process of taking off on a road trip in your RV, make sure to check out RV Trip Wizard to plan your route. RV Trip Wizard has up-to-date information on business and campground closures due to COVID-19 and RV-friendly routes to make planning a quick and painless process.

Author Natalie Henley Avatar

Natalie Henley

Natalie Flores-Henley and her husband, Levi Henley, workamp around the country in their 26-foot motorhome. Along with writing for RV magazines, they recently published their first book together, Seasonal Workamping for a Living: How We Did It. They share their experiences and RV-related tips on their own blog henleyshappytrails.com as well as videos on their YouTube Channel, also called Henley's Happy Trails.

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