Living and dying at the Walmart parking lot

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.)

##RVT852

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21 Thoughts to “Living and dying at the Walmart parking lot”

  1. JWC

    Maybe Walmart should capitalize on the space and charge a fee. Wouldn’t have to be a lot but maybe they should get 20 bucks for an overnight.

  2. Jack

    Walmart over night is just that it is not camping. Its just a stop on your way to someplace. Just because someone is home it can be there choose. Need a job just go out and look there all over there. Yes I have stayed at a Walmart and it is not fun.
    Jack

  3. Benny H Smith

    On another point, that being trash. We can help Walmart when we see bad actors trashing the Walmarts we visit. If you are not secure in telling others to pick up the call the cops. If you shine a light on trashy behavior you often reduce other more worrisome illegal acts. I dont want this to be an excuse for harassment of those down on ther luck, but to counter bad behavior, which makes life harder for all.

  4. Ed

    Stayed in a Wal-mart when my Fan belt broke after hours and I could not get to the repair shop with out overheating the engine. I was kicked out of the Cherry Land mall due to the no overnight rule and appreciate the Wall-Mart even more. I no longer shop at Cherry Land mall since they kicked me out in my hour of need and this was only 45 miles from home in Traverse City, Michigan so we do come to the big city a couple of times a year and they lost my business. The local Wal-Mart in Petoskey has reaped the reward for the Traverse City good deed.

  5. Moaboy

    When one stops to think of the millions of people who visit a Walmart, of course there r going to be deaths. I’ve stayed at quite a few Walmart’s over the last couple of years with no problems. And at only one up at Klondike ALaska did I see problems of campers abusing the overnight stay privilege. RVTravel seems to support Walmart banning overnight stays by blowing the negative aspects beyond the real life experience I have witnessed. Maybe that is not the case, but it sure seems like it. Let’s not encourage them to ban it, but encourage better behavior as some of ur readers have done in their email replies. Thank u Walmart for providing a win -win situation for many travelers.

    1. Deanna Tolliver

      Thank you for sharing your point of view.
      It is not our intent to encourage Walmart to ban overnight parking; we just want to show our readers all sides of a story. There are over 5,000 Walmart stores nationwide, so you have apparently not been to any that have dozens of homeless people sleeping in their vehicles and RVs. We are also not condemning them for their lifestyles, although there are many who would like to sweep these unfortunates under a rug. Because many RVers spend an overnight at Walmart occasionally, they may encounter these homeless; and we want our readers to stay informed.

      1. Benny H Smith

        On another point, that being trash. We can help Walmart when we see bad actors trashing the Walmarts we visit. If you are not secure in telling others to pick up the call the cops. If you shine a light on trashy behavior you often reduce other more worrisome illegal acts.

    2. Benny H Smith

      I want to also thank Walmart for allowing me to stay there as an overnight option. My wife and I can afford to eat at cracker barrel but chose to get our breakfast at the Walmart we stay at along with our other supplies, including RV supplies which We buy from Walmart before, Amazon.

  6. Tommy B

    I’m all for the overnight lots that Chuck wants to endorse. I stop at Wal-Mart because parks are closed for the season when we leave for the south. As we get further south we use paid for RV parks, but is it just me or is it alright to charge $35/45 for a parking place for 7 /9 hours? I might use a few Kilowatts but hardly ever use water and maybe I dump,but my black tank is only 5 gals. Sometimes it’s not just the money but the principal.
    Charge a little less and maybe more would stop. Jonah stop and No money in the register..

    1. Don

      If you went to a motel for even 1 hour you would have to pay the nightly stay – not pro-rated by the hour. I have found that most people that want a cheap place for “A FEW HOURS” stay want and need power, water, sewer, Wi-Fi, get rid of all of their garbage that they have been collecting for a long time and complain about too much . When they want a cheap place they have to only expect the very basics and do not complain if the person next to you is a homeless person that can only afford the basic place or Wal-Mart

  7. Rich

    Am I the only one who finds it odd that a homeless woman would die in the “trunk” of her car and not suspect foul play???

    1. Deanna

      Hi Rich,
      No, I thought the same thing. But the more I thought about it, maybe she thought it would be warmer in the trunk. Or, she didn’t want to be found right away….

    2. squeakytiki

      On some cars you can access the trunk from inside if you remove part or all of the back seat. If she was trying to be stealthy, she may have been sleeping in the trunk so that it wouldn’t be obvious to a casual observer that the car was occupied overnight.

  8. Tom

    Putting the shopping carts in their proper place would be a great service. When are the Big Block stores going to copy ALDI’s “25 cent basket fee” idea? Aldi spends little or no time policing up their carts. I never see many abandoned in the parking area.

    1. J

      Tom,
      I work part time at Walmart as a cart pusher. People are too lazy to put there carts back.

  9. Doug

    Walmart’s should set a one night per every 30 days policy for overnight parking/sleeping.

    1. Mike Burger

      One night stay in 30 days. How in the world would it be enforced?

  10. jenskifer

    gosh, the nerve of those people DYING, when they’re down on their luck! what a terrible inconvenience for good, respectable (read: wealthy) RVers who are too cheap to stay in a for-profit park that night. won’t someone think of the $250k Class A owners?

    seriously, people. our fellow RVers are dying in their homes (lose the scare quotes around “homeless,” okay?) and going unnoticed for a week at a time. this should horrify all of us.

    where’s that close-knit RV community i heard so much about when I first started researching full-time RVing? what are we going to do to help our RV neighbors?

    or does the close-knit RV community have some kind of minimum income requirement to qualify for any amount of compassion?

    1. Doug

      How many homeless have you invited into your home to help them back on their feet?

      My number is zero in case you are wondering. I bet yours is as well.

      1. jenskifer

        I’m not sure what inviting homeless people into my home has anything to do with my comment, but if you must know, I’ve invited several over the years. and I am no longer in a place where i can do that because of the physical size of my home (i guess if you have a giant expensive class A, you might have a guest quarters and whatnot, but i don’t) and because of health problems, so i help out homeless people by giving money and goods when i am able, and by treating them like human beings– like reminding judgmental people in the comments sections of biased articles like these that homeless people are, in fact, people, and that perhaps y’all could stop talking about people referenced in these articles like lesser humans unworthy of any dignity or respect.

  11. Denny Wagamsn

    We have stayed in one Wal-Mart parking about 3 yrs ago. I decided it wasn’t worth saving a few bucks. 2 Semi-trucks with engines and refers going plus the parking lot lights near or next to us. Why take a chance with all that is going on now days. Oh well and down the road we’ll go.

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