Van life reimagined: As van-lifers head into the winter, leaders in the community look for ways to help


Local van-lifers are beginning to brace for the winter.
Tristin Gallo

As van life has gained in popularity, many people across the nation are choosing to build out their vehicles as living quarters and are either traveling across the country for various adventures, or using it as an opportunity to live wherever they choose at a lower cost.

For some, van life holds no romanticism. As rent prices in the Truckee-Tahoe region have skyrocketed, and many rentals sold due to their higher market value, many local workers have since been forced into dwelling in their vehicles.

Nevada County Supervisor Hardy Bullock said that a new ordinance was recently put in place for a west county residential neighborhood that was being overwhelmed by overnight car campers.

“These are people who are going to work all day and sleeping in their cars at night, and they weren’t bad people and they weren’t doing nefarious things — they were just trying to get by,” said Bullock.

“The local neighborhood got really upset for really valid reasons, and so we had to pass an ordinance about camping in that particular area… I think it’s really challenging for everybody and I think it’s only going to become more challenging,” he added. “The Bay Area is a great example — you see campers lined up on the streets… it’s because they don’t have anywhere else to go and I think the sooner we recognize that, that’s a fact of the world we live in today, the better we will be equipped to start talking honestly about these problems and honestly about the solutions. Because the solutions are going to be tough.”


A group of regional leaders called Convene Champion Catalyze, formed by Bullock, began talks this past summer about how to handle the local van life community, as many car campers are scattered across the region in need of a safe place to park — without disturbing local neighborhoods.

The group came to the understanding that there were two demographics of car campers. Some campers in the community were those visiting Truckee or Tahoe to stay overnight for skiing or other outdoor activities. This demographic is usually a tourist coming up to visit or a traveling van-lifer passing through and are typically in the region only temporarily. Then there are those who work locally living out of their vehicles. Bullock explained that this is a demographic of people who may be working temporarily in the region and are living out of their vehicles in or around town – some by choice, some due to the lack of affordable housing.

“That’s where we saw a sweet spot for creating some workforce housing,” Bullock said.

Bullock’s goal now is to orient car campers close enough to town so that commute distances aren’t as long, but to also make sure that they do not impact busier areas or residential neighborhoods — but rather unincorporated areas on the fringe of Truckee.

Some conceptual ideas that are still being worked out for these parking areas are waste management and fire protection. “…all the things that go into the design review of creating a community going into the van-life concept. There’s some people all around town talking about that concept and trying to find some areas to park… and let people utilize that type of housing because it’s affordable and it’s temporary and it can bridge us as we get some of these other units here locally,” Bullock said.

Those making use of the parking would likely have to pay a fee for the services provided, although it has not yet been determined how much it will cost. It was also discussed that the parking will likely only be available in peak visitation months like summer and winter.

Bullock said this kind of service to the public is also an opportunity for outreach and better understanding of how many people are actually in need of workforce housing.

“You would have immediate access to people — you understand your problem at that point. You can say ‘hey, who here is looking for long-term housing? Are you willing to share housing? Where exactly are you working? …so you could work with that group to find solutions creatively among that population,” Bullock said.

Although Bullock sees the parking as a temporary option for anywhere from the next two to three years, he mentioned that there are other discussions in the community about having more long-term affordable “glamping” options.

“People were talking about doing upscale trailer parks where you have vans and trailers with shower houses — more integrated into the natural environment. So instead … there’s recreational trails and interpretive areas and outdoor gathering areas. So it’s like trailer parks and camping rediscovered and reimagined. There is a discussion happening in the private development community about developing things like that near Truckee.”

The group hopes to have parking spaces available in 2022 and are actively discussing with representatives of Sugar Bowl about obtaining spaces nearby, as well as other unincorporated areas of western Nevada County.

Those interested in giving their input on the project or would like to contribute may email Bullock at


The weather-triggered emergency warming shelter will be open for its seventh season on the lower level of Church of the Mountains, at 10069 Church St. in Truckee.

The day respite center is currently open for those in need from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and offers food, showers, health checks, and laundry services at the lower level of Church of the Mountains.

To find out what nights the emergency warming shelter will be open, call 530-386-7954, email to request to be added to the email notifications list, or visit

Elizabeth White is a staff writer with the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User