The view from Sam Moore's living room
For nearly a decade, Sam Moore (not his real name) has called Ocean Beach his home. For the past seven months, his abode has been a 1991 Chevy van.
His lifestyle choice has not been without consequence. Until the past couple of weeks, the police were disturbing Moore's peace about once a week. This week, it's been almost every night via civilians or the police.
"The police have stopped and checked out my van multiple times lately,” Moore said on February 21, “but the last notable time was when I was harassed by one civilian and moments later with what sounded like maybe four or five police officers. They started banging on the windows, yelling to get out of the van, shining flashlights through every little crack that hadn't been blacked out, and trying to open the door handles. They waited about 20 to 30 minutes, then left. The police usually write a ticket, if they can.
"This particular time, I got a $57 ticket for parking on the curb. My tire was less than an inch onto the curb. After the police left, I counted four illegally parked vehicles within a block, completely free of tickets."
Finding a parking spot for his van can be a challenge. "I move a lot," said Moore. "I always try to find a legal spot by businesses, parks, water areas, or construction sites. I do my best to find a spot where there isn't a house. It's just not comfortable for anyone."
Originally from Wautoma, Wisconsin, Moore is a massage therapist who works on athletes, police officers, orca trainers, and others.
When asked what made him choose the van life, he said, "After years of building a successful business, I was proud of what I had accomplished but felt that my life was too comfortable. About this same time, I traveled through Central America, mainly hitchhiking and walking for nearly ten months before coming back to the States. Once back, I realized I wanted to continue on the journey, so I bought the van."
Before choosing a life on the streets, Moore lived in an apartment on Brighton Avenue. He says the most challenging obstacle was letting go of his creature comforts. But once he did, he says it was one of the most emotionally freeing things he'd ever done. Even with the hassle, his lifestyle is not without its rewards. It affords Moore the ability to travel the world. Last month, he spent time in Australia, and this year he plans to visit Germany, Southeast Asia, and Japan.
I asked Moore if he can see a day when he'll trade in the van for a white picket fence.
"Oh sure!” he said with a laugh. “Maybe not a white picket fence, but someday when I find someone who is supposed to be that other half. But right now, it's all about challenging, growing, creating, and simplifying."
What would he like to see as far as a change in the laws?
"I would love to see a day when the homeless are as accepted as any neighbor in the box next door," said Moore. "It would be great if we stopped looking at people who choose different lifestyles as criminals. Not everyone who lives in a van is a disrespectful drug-addicted hoodlum; just like not everyone living in an apartment is a positive addition to the community."
Help may be on the way if California senator Carol Liu has anything to say about it. In mid-January 2016, Liu introduced a new anti-discrimination bill that calls on California municipalities to treat the homeless as they would anyone else using public spaces. If passed, SB 876 would allow the homeless to rest on public property without being arrested or cited.
The bill states that if the homeless are discriminated against, they will have an avenue to pursue civil action. The bill also clarifies that the homeless will not be allowed special access to public spaces: when they are closed to the public, they are also closed to the homeless.
Liu said on February 19, “We need to address California’s homelessness problem head-on with housing and wrap-around services that provide a secure living environment and pathways out of poverty. There are working models and best practices available to inform our actions.
"Meanwhile, cities need to stop harassing and criminalizing the homeless. This only moves the problem to another jurisdiction and creates a criminal record that prevents the homeless from qualifying for housing, jobs, and student loans.
"SB 876 simply prevents cities from enacting ordinances that bar the homeless from engaging in activities that any other person would be allowed to do, such as sharing food in a public space.”
The bill is currently in committee.
Mayor Faulconer's office declined to comment; the San Diego Police Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.