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Surviving

Housing nomad: Low-income RV dweller lives in Napa's parking lots

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A woman and her RV

Teresa Windish, 54, in the driver's seat of her RV. 

Teresa Windish is living life just like the kangaroo logo plastered to the side of her RV: “bounding” from one place to another with a smile on her face, unsure of where she’ll end up.

Inside her RV, Windish has all the things any other 54-year-old woman might. Inspirational quotes, family photos, teacups hanging on hooks above her small sink.

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A woman and her RV

Teresa Windish has a wall in her RV covered with photos of family and friends. 

The Register has been following Windish’s story since last fall when she was first threatened with eviction from the $200 a month room she was renting in American Canyon. In December, after months worrying she would be left on the streets, Windish was gifted an RV. The next problem was that she didn’t have anywhere to park it.

She’s been living in that RV for a few months now, driving it from parking lot to parking lot while she tries to find either a permanent place to park it or a permanent apartment to move into. She eats off fast food dollar menus and charges her phone in outlets inside the restaurants. She knows exactly where to go: Taco Bell, Carl’s Jr., Starbucks.

She’s adjusted to this nomadic life. She makes do, but things still catch her off guard, like when a man approached her Easter Sunday, making “nasty” remarks and banging on her door.

“It’s scary,” Windish said. “I never thought anybody would bother me like that,” especially in broad daylight.

Windish locked the door and yelled out the window “Get out of here!” Then she went out and bought some pepper spray, just in case.

“There’s times I lay and cry, but that doesn’t do any good,” Windish said. Instead, she tries to maintain a positive attitude.

“It looked dark before I got this RV,” she said. “It always looks dark before it gets better, so I’m just gonna keep going and keep praying. It’ll get better. It has to.”

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A woman and her RV

Teresa Windish at the entrance to her RV while parked at Walmart in Napa. 

“We’re lucky that we got this RV for her,” Yvonne Baginski, founder of Share the Care, said. “It was a total chance thing.”

Share the Care works to help older adults like Windish with whatever they need including help grocery shopping, cleaning and, in some cases, finding housing. But Baginski says that RVs aren’t the answer because there isn’t any place to put them.

For a few weeks, Windish was given permission by The Gasser Foundation to park at their property on Valle Verde Drive while it awaits redevelopment, but that agreement ended when neighbors started to complain. Another woman in an RV was also parked at the property.

Windish says that it could be worse – at least she has a roof over her head. Other people don’t even have that.

She appreciates all the help she’s gotten so far, especially from organizations like Share the Care and Aegis. But there’s not much more those agencies can do to help her.

“I can’t expect them to keep on, keep on, keep on, I know that. They’ve done a lot,” Windish said recently.

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A woman and her RV

Teresa Windish, 54, stays hopeful, but is concerned about her nomadic lifestyle. She's been living in an RV since December. 

“I don’t know what we’re going to do about Teresa,” Baginski admitted Friday.

Windish hopes that things will change when she turns 55 on May 16. Then she’ll be eligible to apply for senior housing at places like Rohlffs Manor.

Rohlffs Manor has a waiting list, which Windish can’t get on until she’s qualified. After that, it could take six months to a year to get into a unit.

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She’s open to other options, though, including finding a plot of land to rent or even finding an apartment outside of Napa. Windish has been working on finding someplace to go, but keeps hitting dead ends. For instance, she drove all the way to Vacaville in her RV after someone offered her a parking space for $350 a month. When she arrived, though, she found out that it was actually $350 a week – far more than what she can afford with her fixed income of $945 a month.

After parking and reparking a few times at store parking lots in Vacaville, Windish had to come back to Napa – she needed to go to appointments and, she says, this is where her life is.

Windish’s 1990 Fleetwood Bounder RV was parked at Walmart in Napa on Thursday along with another RV and about a dozen cars she suspects other people are living in.

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A woman and her RV

Teresa Windish, 54, holds up a parking violation notice she received after parking her RV at the South Napa Marketplace on Sunday. 

“We’re not bothering anybody,” she said. There are plenty of other parking spots on the other side of the lot for employees and customers. “We go and we come back in a different spot. It’s all we can do.”

There are a lot of reasons Windish wants to get a permanent place. She has health problems, including sleep apnea. She is supposed to be using a BiPAP machine at night, but isn’t hooked up to electricity. She’s also concerned about her pets.

“It’s getting warmed and I don’t want to leave the animals in the RV … so I have to bring them with me.”

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A woman and her RV

Since her steps don't work, Teresa Windish has to set up a step stool to get in and out her of her RV. 

When it’s warm inside the RV, Windish puts her small dogs in a stroller and takes them out with her. She refuses to leave them home.

“I can’t have ‘em in there,” she said. If her situation doesn’t change as the weather does, Windish will have to find new homes for her animals.

“All I need is a place to plug in my extension cord, to plug in my phone – that’s all I want,” Windish said. She doesn’t cook often and she has an In-Shape membership, so she can take showers there. “I don’t even use hardly any water,” she said. “I’m not asking to do it for nothing.”

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Public Safety Reporter

Maria Sestito is the Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. She covers breaking news as well as crime and courts. Maria came to the Napa Valley Register in 2015 after working at as a reporter and photographer at The Daily News in Jacksonville, NC.