Year: Fall 2018
Duration: 4 weeks
Program: Stanford Product Design​​​​​​​
Project Type: Group - 2 Team Members
Role: User Research
We spent the last month talking to people who live in RV's parked on the streets in Mountain View and Palo Alto -- RVs that are the size of the one show in the image above.

On a long block in Mountain View lined with RVs, we met Oscar, a 10th grader, and Reina, a 5th grader. Oscar was doing laundry outside while Reina was dyeing her hair. After their family got evicted from their apartment last year, they moved to an RV with their mom and brother. They told us the rules of RV life:
1. Move the vehicle every 72 hours or the police will give you a ticket.
2. No stuff on the curb, or you'll get a ticket
3. Three tickets, and your RV -- your home --  gets towed away.
Most residents told us they rotated between three spots. When there are issues with the police, Reina says, “we just call the manager.” Oscar explained that the “manager” is a guy name José who has lived in an RV for five years. The kids don’t know many other RV residents, but Oscar told us that “everyone on the block has José’s phone number.”
After talking to Oscar and Reina, we went up to another RV in a different part of Mountain View. The first thing the guy living there said to us was: “You have to talk to Art.” Two minutes later, a 69-year-old man who described himself as “5 foot 5, mostly attitude” stepped out of an RV up the block. Art told us: “They call me the Mayor of Latham Street.” People call up Art when their RV suddenly runs out of gas, when any press show up, or when people pass by and nosily peer into the windows.
Within each interview, residents would mention the lack of care from the public, whether it was being “treated like they were in wheelchairs” or “people looking right through them”. But as Art told us these residents are houseless, not homeless, and their homes can we wheeled away in the blink of an eye.
That led to one key finding: Groups of RV residents have an unofficial leader that they go to for help when they have a pressing problem. Most residents told us they only know 1-2 other RV residents. But everyone knows the leader and calls upon this person in moments of need or crisis. This led us to two insights: one about trust, and one about permanence.
RV residents are disenfranchised. They have no representation and don’t know who they can trust. But where they place their trust dictates whether they find themselves homeless at the end of the day. Instead of figuring out whether they can rely on every single person around them, RV residents turn to leaders. Leaders connect RV residents with resources that do not put their safety at risk. For example, if the police show up and RV residents don’t speak English, residents, panicked and at a loss for what to do next, turn to the leader for help. Leaders are a shortcut to trust.
This insight led us several needs around trust: RV residents need to feel seen and treated like their human beings. More specifically, they need to quickly figure out who to trust when there is a crisis or problem.
Secondly, RV residents lack a sense of permanence. The police are constantly asking them to move to a different street, and they leave for work unsure as to whether or not their home will remain in the same place they left it. As a response to this temporality, residents place anchors in the community. They rely on a leader who has no plans of moving and create routines like holding weekly barbecues in the same place in order to establish permanence in a temporary world.
This insight led to several needs around permanence: RV residents need to identify and focus on permanent people, objects, and routines in a space where things are temporary. Additionally, they need to find a role as a caregiver for something or someone.
While their entire life may be in an 8-foot by 21-foot box, RV residents are houseless - they are not homeless. RV residents want to be re-enfranchised. They do so by finding quick resources to trust and a sense of permanence. It's all of our responsibility to not look past them.