by Deanna Tolliver
As if Walmart needed another excuse to ban overnighters, most of whom these days stay in RVs.
But it should have been expected: as people are living in their vehicles in Walmart, they are also dying.
It’s happening in all areas of the country. Often they are homeless, living in tents behind the store or in their cars or vans or RVs in the parking lots. Most die of natural causes; others are likely suicides. The cause of death can be difficult because sometimes the bodies aren’t found for days. Too often shoppers are alerted to their presence because of a bad odor.
Last January, a 61-year-old California man was found frozen inside his sleeping bag inside his van in Kalispell, Montana, at a Walmart parking lot. The Flathead County Sheriff said the man was living in his vehicle. Officials believe he died about a week before he was found.
Two months ago a five-year-old girl was killed in a car fire in a Walmart parking lot in Boise, Idaho. Her mother and a toddler were injured. It’s believed the fire was started by a portable heater in the car, where the three were sleeping.
In Portsmouth, Virginia, a 60-year-old woman was found dead in the trunk of her car at a Walmart. She was known in the community to be homeless. A local pastor knew the woman and said she had been a nurse but had fallen on hard times. “Nobody deserves to die like that,” he said, referring to her homeless life. She died of natural causes.
The list goes on and on.
Why Walmart? Why now?
Except where local code prohibits it, the corporate giant has a history of allowing transient people to stay in the parking lots. Originally these “transients” were truckers; then the RVers took advantage of a free overnight stay. Now, the homeless are there, too, but they tend to stay more than one night.
The “why now” can be complicated but the current economy plays a big role. Housing costs have skyrocketed, and the working poor have difficulty affording rent. Many “homeless” living in their cars and RVs still have jobs, sometimes two. But paying rent takes too much of their paychecks, leaving little for food and car payments. So the car takes priority because it’s needed to get to the job.
How does this affect us as RVers? For starters, the Walmart overnight option may become a thing of the past. Just Google “people dying in Walmart parking lots” and you’ll relate to how corporate Walmart feels about that bad press.
It will also be only a matter of time before Walmart lawyers (if they haven’t already started) will tell their over 5,000 store managers nationwide to put up the Absolutely No Overnight Parking signs due to fears of litigation by the overnight “guests.”
What can you do? Be a good Walmart guest. If you stay at the Walmart open air motel, don’t put out your slides or your camp chairs. Park away from the main area of the lot. Ask for permission to stay. While there, spend a little money in the store.
Or, be like Chuck and Dave Smith, who wrote to us last week: “It’s time to go on the offensive…..My husband and I now keep yellow vests and Grippers in our rig, and if we stay overnight for free somewhere, we put on our vests, grab a trash bag and our grippers and start cleaning up the parking lot and grassy areas ….” (Read their entire letter here.)