Fallen from the middle class: 60, living in an RV and fighting to be housed

Fallen from the middle class: 60, living in an RV and fighting to be housed

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Laura Garciaros lives with her cats in an RV parked in North Hollywood. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)


At first, when she became homeless at 59 last year, Laura Garciaros felt lucky to have her motor home, a 1989 Mallard Sprinter she bought with the help of friends.

It ran and the A/C worked. She found a spot that felt somewhat safe, just off a street lined with RVs near Hollywood Burbank Airport and parked next to a shady tree near a business where the owners let her fill her water jugs from a spout and plug her coffee maker into an outdoor outlet.

But it wasn’t long before she was anxious to leave. After a series of relentless summer heat waves, her A/C sputtered out and she felt at times as though she was suffocating inside the vehicle, soaked in sweat. She grew increasingly fearful when several nearby RVs went up in flames. The rumor in the camp was the fires were acts of arson.

She didn’t feel comfortable venturing into the neighborhood. Just to use the bathroom, she had to walk to a grocery store nearly half a mile away. And when she walked down the street, men harassed and followed her.

A cat is seen from the outside looking out a window screen.
One of the cats living with Laura Garciaros sits in a window of her RV. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

“I became homeless three months ago and am desperately trying to find housing of any kind,” she wrote in a plea for help on Facebook.

Across the region, officials and a growing number of residents are pushing to get rid of the RV encampments that have proliferated on the streets since the COVID-19 pandemic. The Los Angeles City Council backed an effort to crack down on the renting of RVs to homeless people and is considering a motion to create a program that would restrict RV parking around schools and homes.

For Garciaros, the motor home was better than the alternative — staking a tent on the sidewalk or sleeping on a cot in a shelter — though it was far from the life the former homeowner and makeup artist had imagined for herself.

A person applies mascara using a mirror.
Garciaros got ready for the day inside her RV this summer. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

She wanted a home, one with an address, where she could have running water and cook a meal. But like thousands of other homeless residents across the city, to get there she would face a labyrinth of obstacles, big and small, systemic and by happenstance, that made climbing out of the hole near impossible. Even a minor miracle in her favor — securing a Section 8 voucher for housing — was no promise of getting off the streets.

At her age, Garciaros reflects many of California’s unhoused men and women. Nearly half of all single adults living on the streets are older than 50. Many of them became homeless after an event that kicked a fragile financial situation off kilter.

Garciaros grew up middle class in Hacienda Heights, in a home that was “idyllic from the outside,” and for most of her adulthood maintained the trappings of that life.

In her teens and early 20s, she had been part of L.A.’s rock music scene, one of a “bunch of girls” who spent their nights hanging out at clubs like the Troubadour and their days working jobs to support themselves, the musicians and other artists, she says. She was so enmeshed in that scene that there’s even a thank-you to her on Guns N’ Roses’ debut album, “Appetite for Destruction,” one of the bestselling records of all time.

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