Lingering outside the site of his former home on a sweltering summer day, 50-year-old Jesus Rodriguez stood next to his silver Toyota, which was loaded up with all of his belongings. As he left he knew he was unlikely to return. Rodriguez is among the dozens of residents who were recently ordered to vacate the makeshift RV park on Hubbard Street in Sylmar.
Located in the backyard of the home of Cruz Florian Godoy, the property has been the source of numerous complaints from neighbors over the past few years, due in part to raw sewage leaking onto nearby streets from more than 20 RVs that the homeowner has been renting out. Due to the possible fire hazards, last week a judge ordered all residents to vacate the property by July 23.
Rodriguez was one of those residents. He had been renting an RV for the past year-and-a-half.
“I left with most of my things on Sunday night and [the next morning] I went back … [for] my computer and television, but they were gone – but that’s not what’s important,” Rodriguez told the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol. “That’s why I went back. … I didn’t think they’d let me go in, but they did … [and] found the rest of my things missing and the RV open. … I don’t know what happened.”
Luckily, he said, on Sunday he had made sure to leave with his important papers and documents, personal items, clothing, photos of his family and other things he didn’t want to get left behind.
“I took the things that are most important to me, [but] it does hurt me to lose my computer, because I had a lot of family photos saved there,” he recalled sadly.
Rodriguez said he was aware that the property owner had been having ongoing issues with the city and that neighbors had been complaining about the RVs on the property for a long time.
“But I honestly didn’t know much about all of the [complaints] because I would go to work and basically just went home to sleep,” explained Rodriguez, who is a handyman and works day jobs whenever he can. “I didn’t really talk to the other residents much either. I would just say, ‘Hi.’”
Asked again about the reports of human waste and odors permeating the neighborhood, after some hesitation Rodriguez finally admitted that the living conditions for renters on the property were quite bad, and at times deplorable.
“There were so many trailers here, so close together, and I think things weren’t installed properly, and there was a bad smell,” he said. “I did notice that and we were suffering too.”
So much so, he spent little time at home.
“I would go to work and even if I got out early or didn’t have work, I would just go over to my friend’s or just go and park somewhere to read or think or talk with my family, and then go home just to go to sleep, and when I was there I would see all these terrible conditions,” he said.
Even before the power was recently shut off at the property as part of the court order, they had power issues and no running water, explained Rodriguez. If he had to use the bathroom, he would have to go to the front of the main house and fill a bucket with water and use it to “flush” the toilet. When he needed to bathe, he would get a bucket of water and warm it up using a small single-burner propane stove (that he bought for cooking) so he could “take a shower,” he said.
“Sometimes I would think to myself, ‘How can you live like this? You’re better than this.’ I had never lived like that before,” he said. Overcome with emotion, Rodriguez started to cry.
“I’m sorry,” he said through tears, his voice breaking.
Despite the poor conditions, Rodriguez said he put up with the situation out of financial necessity, because he was only paying $600 per month to rent the RV. He said it offered him “a way to not be on the streets. This way at least I had a bed and a place to sleep at night.”
“I didn’t really care because I’m by myself; if I had my kids with me, I would try to do something else,” he said, adding that he worries what will happen to people like the single mother who lived in the RV next to his with her two young children, one of whom is disabled.
Currently between handyman gigs, Rodriguez said he’s trying to figure out where he can stay, both in the short term and in the long run. When he tried to retrieve his remaining belongings on Monday, someone on site gave him a phone number to call to request temporary shelter, but said he hadn’t gotten in touch with anyone yet. If he’s unable to secure shelter, Rodriguez said he will either take refuge in his car or drive to Santa Barbara to stay with family members if possible.
“I don’t know when they’re going to tell us what’s going to happen here,” said Rodriguez, wondering if there is any chance the situation with the RVs might be rectified. “Right now, I’m just praying and praying – praying, praying, praying – that I can find somewhere to go.”