Wal-Mart Locator 2004
July 19, 2004 3:58 PM   Subscribe

Wal-Mart Locator 2004 - For years Wal-Mart has allowed RV owners to camp for free in their parking lots (sometimes to the dismay of campground owners). But the Bay Area wants to pull the plug on the practice for fear of the stores becoming impromptu homeless encampments.
posted by falconred (29 comments total)
High-density housing developments pop up around Wallmarts as well. It's like moths to a flame.
posted by stbalbach at 4:22 PM on July 19, 2004

How simple. Inconvenience the thousands of boondockers who took advantage of the store's generosity to combat the problem of the few homeless who ought to be decent enough to go elsewhere.

Much easier than doing something to help a family that's been living without water or electricity in a Wal-Mart parking lot for two damned years.
posted by Dreama at 5:17 PM on July 19, 2004

A fascinating chunk of modern Americana. Thanks for the post.
posted by delapohl at 5:22 PM on July 19, 2004

Well, if they're living without water or electricity, why don't they move to someplace with water and electricity? duh.
posted by keswick at 5:22 PM on July 19, 2004

Umm... I'm pretty sure that he was talking about the homeless. That is, people who for one reason or another haven't got the means to move to someplace with water and electricity.
posted by paultron at 5:28 PM on July 19, 2004

If I understand you right, Dreama, then I agree. It really does seem like a terribly short-sighted, band-aid style solution.

"Rather than try to address our growing problem of homelessness, by reworking our social programs, considering new options for affordable housing, etc.. let's just make it so that they have one less place to legally exist beneath the poverty line."
posted by paultron at 5:32 PM on July 19, 2004

I dinked around looking for more info on Wal-Mart campers. Found several other articles that skim the surface (here's one; here's another). Camping At Wal-Mart provides a closer (but fictional) look at this subculture. The apparent mother lode is This Is Nowhere, an 87-minute documentary on Wal-Mart camping.
posted by delapohl at 5:38 PM on July 19, 2004

f I understand you right, Dreama, then I agree.

You understand me, paultron. The answer to the problem here isn't to kick "Cory" and her family or the Jaliques out of the Wal-Mart parking lot where they're deemed eyesores and bothers and generators of too much trash, the answer to the problem is to help "Cory" and the Jaliques find a way to get out of the parking lot and into homes with foundations and rooms and running water.

This is compassion in that last bastion of true staunch left liberalism, the Bay Area? A flatly meanspirited attempt to sweep the working poor -- disenfranchised parents with young children and elderly minorities -- out of the public view, under the rug, anywhere but here, lest their presence offend the Wal-Mart clientele, or rather, the rest of the Wal-Mart clientele, since they shop there everyday. If this is best that can be done, there's something very, very wrong with our society.
posted by Dreama at 5:49 PM on July 19, 2004

What Dreama and paultron said. For the Bay Area members: is the story accurate?
posted by MzB at 6:00 PM on July 19, 2004

Do you have to be in an RV? How bout a station wagon?
posted by gottabefunky at 6:24 PM on July 19, 2004

So, in other words: Huge, faceless corporation Good, local community Evil?
posted by spazzm at 6:27 PM on July 19, 2004

My wife and I have parked in Wal-Marts many times on road trips. Nobody ever cared that we were a car and not an RV.

It is very handy when you're trying to eke out a couple extra hours of driving and not have to worry about having to pay for a motel room you'll only use for six hours or a campground that will let cars in after dark.

It is relatively safe (there are other people around), it doesn't creep out the neighbors by sleeping in your car in a residential neighborhood, and if you can sleep with lights on around you (the lots are lit pretty much 24/7 even if the store is closed) then it is reasonably ideal. And ready access to Li'l Debbie breakfast items in the morning.

But Wal-Mart should work to avoid long-term residents for various reasons, and it has always been my understanding that it was up to individual store managers to decide policy (so we don't usually try it in urban areas since the answer is more likely to be no).
posted by obfusciatrist at 6:53 PM on July 19, 2004

Spazzm: I'm really not sure how you managed to get that from any of the posts on this thread.

Let me be clear: Walmart, and other 'huge, faceless corporations' are not good. I have no love for Walmart. Frankly, I don't like 'em. (Even though the reality is that our mounting economical situations [and shrinking support for independent competition] are quickly making these Megastores near the only viable options for many families.)

But this one act; that is, Walmart allowing people to camp in their parking lots? Well, in all honesty.. that's pretty damned humane. It's downright nice. It's greedy to some extent, because they know that those RVers will be breakfasting, refilling, and restocking on Walmart shelves, but on the surface, it's kind of nice.

Local community? I'm not sure who you're talking about. It's municipalities that aren't doing enough to help the homeless people who are sometimes living in Walmart lots. (when they're not living in other, much more dangerous places.) No one's blaming 'local communities' for creating legislation that would see homeless people pushed further and further out of view until we don't have to think about them anymore. (although we could argue that municipalities often operate based on popular-apathy.. that is, agendas that unfortunately reflect a popular mode of thinking, often the path of least resistance.)

In short: Huge, faceless corporation Bad, municipalities Lame to Irresponsible, and local communities filled with Good people, but not endowed with enough power to be truly helpful, and often filled with apathy from an exhausting economy/culture.
posted by paultron at 6:59 PM on July 19, 2004

Huge, faceless corporation Good

This was said when?
posted by dhoyt at 7:13 PM on July 19, 2004

dhoyt: That's the moral I extracted from the story, not an attack on any other comment in this thread.
Chill, folks.

It's clear that in this case, WalMart is helping the homeless and underpaid. The local community (city council etc.) is opposed to this. Hence my conclusion.
posted by spazzm at 7:55 PM on July 19, 2004

From the story about the dismay of campground owners:

“We are a destination campground. People come here to relax and enjoy our country setting with grass and trees and ponds. Wal-Mart is only offering an asphalt lot,” she said.

For free. An asphalt lot for free. Sounds like a value proposition and capitalism to me. Country setting with grass and trees and ponds for a fee, vs. asphalt for nothing.

Personally, I'll pay for the country setting with grass and trees and ponds, but I don't begrudge those that can't or won't spend the money for a temporary slice of the country.
posted by msacheson at 8:05 PM on July 19, 2004

Perhaps I need to clarify this.
People may be good, bad or both.
This goodness is determined by their actions, wether they are helpful, caring and so forth.
Their goodness is not determined by their membership in any institutions - hence institutions which are nominally good (most religions, for example) can do unspeakable things if they are filled with people who make bad choices.
Likewise, organizations that in our belief system are inherently evil (huge, faceless corporations) can do good things (helping the homeless in this case) if they are run by good people.

It is of course possible to re-define the 'local community' as the people opposed to the decisions of the local municipality, or as the local store manager responsible for the Goodness in this case. You may even argue that this nice act is ultimately motivated by greed, as paultron does, in order to hold on to your preconceived dichotomy.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that acts of kindness should be valued by themselves, an that we need to look beyond our entrenched belief systems and see humans for what they are.

Think about it. Take care.
posted by spazzm at 8:14 PM on July 19, 2004

WalMart is helping the homeless and underpaid. The local community (city council etc.) is opposed to this. Hence my conclusion.

a) Walmart is facilitating some low-income (or no-income) living by allowing some people to park/stay in it's lots. It's a nice gesture, but let's not go canonizing the Walton's just yet, ok? (I know, you're just as skeptical of big-business as everyone else, but they're doing a nice thing, right?) I think that in the grand scheme of Walmart's overall social-effects, this one act is not enough to get them out of purgatory. (or worse.)

b) I think that your definition of 'local community' is a little misplaced. 'Communities' are neighbours, friends, co-workers. They are groups of people who share a common locality, goals, or ideals. 'Community' implies participation, and sharing. 'City Council' is a group of people who preside over, and govern a set of communities. They create legislature, good and bad. But they are not a 'local community'.

c) I agree that acts of kindness should be valued, for what they are. But I think that to view acts like this out of context is unrealistic, and irresponsible. I don't think that it's unrealistic to think that the fact that Walmart stands to profit from allowing campers overnight privileges means that they may not just have the good of the campers in mind. That's how business works. It's a case of the old 'give with one hand, and take with 25 other hands'.
posted by paultron at 8:49 PM on July 19, 2004

Don't worry, spazzm, I thought it was funny.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:59 PM on July 19, 2004

IshmaelGraves: Thank you.
posted by spazzm at 11:35 PM on July 19, 2004

A fascinating chunk of modern Americana.

I gotta agree... what a strange lifestyle...
posted by wfrgms at 11:49 PM on July 19, 2004

Why don't they just buy up an extra few acres of land when they build those monstrosities, grass-and-tree-and-hillock 'em up, and make a real place for people to camp? Hell, even leave it free. Wouldn't blow out their overhead, exactly, I wouldn't think, especially as they'd still get their grateful proles buying their crap when the doors open in the morning...
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:50 PM on July 19, 2004

stavros, that would be cheap --- but the current situation costs WalMart nothing except, I assume, a negligible amount of extra parking lot cleanup effort. They need a big lot during the day, and letting probable customers use the extra capacity at night is pretty easy to justify.

Anyway, yeah, WalMart is evil devil spawn of icky badness and stuff, and I spit on their tilt-up big-box bones, but this is a policy of theirs that I wholly approve of.
posted by hattifattener at 12:16 AM on July 20, 2004

“We are a destination campground. People come here to relax and enjoy our country setting with grass and trees and ponds. Wal-Mart is only offering an asphalt lot,” she said.

Please. I've stayed (in a tent) in plenty of RV-filled campgrounds and they are no more "country" than a Wal-Mart. People don't own RVs to get away from it all.
posted by bondcliff at 7:04 AM on July 20, 2004

For more info on "Boondocking" at Wal-Marts, All things Considered did a good segment on it a few years ago. Real audio link (plays fine in Real Alternative, a crapware-free RA player).
posted by zsazsa at 8:28 AM on July 20, 2004

Second link doesn't seem to be working, here's Google's cache
posted by m@ at 8:46 AM on July 20, 2004

...Vincent, works full time in the oil-change shop at the Milpitas Wal-Mart.... But for the past two years, the Jaliques have lived in their camper....

So, WalMart lets their employees that can't afford a real home sleep in the parking lot? How generous of them.
posted by jester69 at 8:52 AM on July 20, 2004

Do you have to be in an RV? How bout a station wagon?

Nothing as glorified as even a station wagon is required. I regularily used to catch a few hours of sleep in WalMart parking lots in my Fiero. Always seemed a lot safer than some anonymous rest stop. I've also just pulled into a residential neighbourhood but you never can tell when some busy body will call the police. I tell ya there is nothing like the adrenalin rush of waking up in a strange place with a cop knocking on your window.

My understanding is WalMart's overnight parking policy (to call it camping is a pretty big stretch) dates back to the Sam Walton and the early days of Wal Mart. As hattifattener says it is a good will gesture that costs the company next to nothing. It may even gain them increased security as vandals and street racers are less likely to hang around locations where others frequent.

The municipalities are reponsible for ensuring public health and part of that is regulating residential areas. I'm sure that wasn't the concern of the people complaining though.

Finally I can't beleive people making six figures can't find housing for themselves and two children close enough to work that they don't have to camp out 5 days a week. Is this realistic in this area?
posted by Mitheral at 11:05 AM on July 20, 2004

Finally I can't beleive people making six figures can't find housing for themselves and two children close enough to work that they don't have to camp out 5 days a week. Is this realistic in this area?

No. I live in Mountain View, and while it is expensive, I know plenty of people with 1/2/3 bedroom rental apts/condo/houses who make UNDER $100K. My guess is they want to own a house, which does mean either a long commute or a lot of money (average home price is $600K+), and for some odd reason decided the answer is to buy a house really far away and camp in a parking lot. Everyone I know just rents instead.

(In fact, rental prices have fallen dramatically in the past 4 years since the crash, while housing prices have risen... so the own/rent decision is different here than most areas, where the two prices are usually more synchronized).

People who make less than $10 an hour live with their families on the penninsula. They live in crappy, cramped apartments, but they're not camping in a parking lot. The $100K plus family is just weird.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:24 PM on July 21, 2004

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