Tenants of the makeshift RV Park in Sylmar were evicted by court order to leave the property. This photo of the unsafe conditions was previously published on Aug. 3 . Photo credit: Hector Rivera

On a recent torrid afternoon, a small group of displaced former neighbors gathered outside the recreation center of a park in Lakeview Terrace serving as their temporary shelter. Despite the lack of privacy and uncertain future, they expressed a collective sense of relief about one thing: being free of the squalid conditions they felt forced to put up with at the makeshift RV park in Sylmar that they were ordered to vacate in late July.

Speaking with the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol on the condition of anonymity, about half a dozen men and women – some single, some coupled and primarily immigrants from either Mexico or Nicaragua – shared glimpses into the inhumane living conditions they endured, and the complete disregard for their concerns and even intimidation that they all experienced as renters on the Hubbard Street property of Cruz Florian Godoy.

Some of the tenants had lived on the property for as little as two months and others as long as three years, paying between $400 and $600 each month to rent RVs of various sizes and conditions. One woman who had recently arrived from Nicargua to join her husband in the US said they were both struggling to find work, so she sometimes helped Godoy with tasks around the property for a discount on rent. She and several others admitted that they had never before lived under such desperate and dangerous circumstances.

“All of the RVs were parked so close together – imagine if there had been a fire? Some  people wouldn’t have been able to get out; it would have been a disaster,” said one man.

All declined to provide their names, citing Godoy’s numerous threats against them – primarily alleging that she would bring lawsuits against them or that they would face legal repercussions if they spoke about her personally or about their specific experiences with members of the press or with the authorities. While several people from the group acknowledged that they believed it was unlikely to happen, none wanted to be identified.

“She is just a bad person – bad, bad, bad,” said another former resident, shaking his head. He said that in the RVs that he and others rented they were sometimes living in near or complete squalor, including a shower that often backed with foul greenish water, roofs that regularly leaked and plumbing that would sometimes emit what several agreed was a type of vapor at night that would fill their compact living spaces with a nauseating smell.

“I got into the habit of plugging up the faucets at night to try to block the vapor from coming in,” he continued, stressing that he believes the stench came directly from big blue barrels that he and neighbors outside the RV park have claimed were buried on site to contain the human waste being diverted from the RVs via jerry-rigged plumbing.

Several individuals described the situation with the RV toilets as unbearable and said they were “embarrassed” to admit they sometimes had to resort to using buckets or plastic bags that they later dumped in designated spots outside due to nonfunctioning toilets.

Regardless, the former residents who spoke with the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol said they didn’t remain silent about their grievances. While Godoy would sometimes attempt to rectify various issues in the RVs or throughout the property, she would increasingly disparage them, saying variations of “Si no les gusta y no estan comodos, se pueden largar” – which roughly means, “If you don’t like it and you’re not comfortable, you can get the hell out.”

There are plenty of others who are eager to take your place, they were often told.

“When I saw [Godoy] on television talking to reporters – she put on the face of an angel, talking about God and acting like she had a big heart and we were her family – I couldn’t believe it,” said the woman from Nicaragua. “She’s an evil person who took advantage of us. That’s what she does – she takes advantage of people who have nowhere else to go.”

She went on to say that she felt traumatized by the entire experience, physically, mentally and emotionally. While still living in the RV she rented with her husband, she regularly began to experience nausea, headaches and stomach issues, which she said persist to this day. At least two other people said they often felt and continue to feel similar symptoms.

“We put up with so much from that woman, but we stayed so we wouldn’t end up on the streets and look what happened – we ended up homeless anyway,” said a second woman, also a recent immigrant from Nicaragua, who said that she and her husband came to the US for the same reason most other immigrants do: to work and create a better life.

At press time, the temporary shelter at the park was only expected to be available through Aug. 9. 

“After that, I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she continued.

Relocation Assistance 

Among those who spoke with the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol, at least five said they had received a check issued by the Los Angeles Housing Department to assist with relocation costs. According to Sharon Sandow, public information director for LAHD, checks are being issued per rental unit to eligible applicants, noting that the dollar amount varies based on the tenant’s age (i.e., seniors receive a higher benefit) and whether they are disabled or have children. 

While they all expressed appreciation for the relocation assistance, several former tenants said they still face obstacles to finding safe, affordable housing because most properties have prerequisites or require documents some of them just don’t have, such as references, credit scores or social security cards. Further, some have lost jobs or currently have limited work options due to their tenuous living situation, explained a few individuals.

And for most, the primary underlying issue remains: they were living under subpar conditions because it was all they could afford, so even if the relocation check allows them to secure a motel room or even a relatively cheap apartment today, they won’t necessarily be able to afford either one as a long-term solution to their housing dilemmas.

“I don’t need much; I just want to find steady work and have a safe place to sleep every night,” said one of the former tenants who had been silent for most of the conversation. The rest of the group agreed, expressing concerns about still living in limbo, the difficulty of finding stable jobs and the ever-increasing costs of housing and other necessities.

“It’s a difficult situation for everyone,” he said.

The San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol will continue its series of reporting on the makeshift Sylmar RV Park and those who lived there.