By Josh Boswell, In Novato, California, For Dailymail.Com
21:24 09 May 2023, updated 22:41 09 May 2023
Ordinary people down on their luck and now working two jobs to get back into safe housing are among those living in the 135 motorhomes, cars and shacks on the two-mile stretch of Binford Road north of NovatoAmong them is John Sherry, 69, and wife Siriporn Lyness, who once owned a restaurant before they fell on hard times due to the 2008 recession, a cancer battle, and their daughter’s financial issuesKeith Jackson, 61, who has been jobless since the pandemic began, told DailyMail.com: ‘I’m a single dad with an 11-year-old son. I was a welder and a mechanic, but I got fired. Now I’m doing anything I can for money’
John Sherry saved all his life, owned his home outright, and ran a business with 15 workers. Then his wife got cancer.
Now the couple live in a trailer and take grocery handouts from shelter volunteers. Their prospects of ever getting back into a home in tony Marin County, California, are swiftly dwindling.
‘I’m not the guy that’s down there and has zero. I saved real well. I owned my home outright. But circumstances happen,’ Sherry, 69, told DailyMail.com.
He thought he would only ever use his $50,000 Outback Keystone RV for family vacations.
Now, it is one of a reported 135 motorhomes, cars and makeshift shacks that have assembled over the past two years to fill a two-mile stretch of Binford Road – the Misery Miles – alongside the 101 highway north of Novato, a city of 53,000, a 45 mile drive from San Francisco.
John Sherry, 69, and wife Siriporn Lyness, are among those living on the two-mile stretch after falling on hard times due to the 2008 recession, a cancer battle, and their daughter’s financial issues Sherry, who once ran his own restaurant business, was forced to sell his home as a result, but refuses to give up his prized 1971 Chevy Nova, which he lovingly refurbished and keeps under a tarpaulin next to their well-kept RV home Sherry, who was among the first five to pitch up on Binford Road in 2018, has the $35,000 classic car, a $45,000 Ford F150, and a $50,000 Outback Keystone RV on the side of the road
The snaking line of vehicles is a sharp contrast for the posh area outside San Francisco which has been home to multi-millionaire stars including George Lucas, Tony Bennett and Robin Williams.
Homeless residents lined up in vehicles along the road told DailyMail.com some were strung out on drugs, firing guns in the middle of the night, and setting their trailers on fire – while others were just down on their luck, working two jobs day and night to get back into safe housing.
Lifelong Marin resident Sherry said he built homes as a carpenter in Mill Valley, north of San Francisco, for 25 years, then employed over a dozen staff at a successful window cleaning company for another 20.
He and his wife, Siriporn Lyness, started a restaurant in Novato, but were hit badly in the 2008 recession. His daughter fell on hard times and he was stretched helping her out. Then Lyness, 70, got cancer.
Her eight rounds of chemotherapy drained their accounts, and Sherry was forced to sell his home.
But he refuses to give up his prized 1971 Chevy Nova, which he lovingly refurbished and keeps under a tarpaulin next to their well-kept RV home.
‘I keep things clean. You won’t see even a candy wrapper on the ground here,’ he said.
Sherry, among the first five to pitch up on Binford Road in 2018, has the $35,000 classic car, a $45,000 Ford F150, and a $50,000 Outback Keystone RV on the side of the road, with some of his unhoused neighbors sporting jet skis and motor boats.
The snaking line of caravans lining a two-mile stretch of Binford Road alongside the 101 highway north of Novato is a sharp contrast for the posh area near outside San Francisco which has been home to multi-millionaire stars Many of Sherry’s unhoused neighbors have set up their own encampments, sporting jet skis and motor boats According to locals, the road had long been a spot for homeless campers but that the number has grown significantly in the past two years As for the government’s role in the issue, Marin realtor Toni Shroyer said Novato residents suggested a local abandoned ranch or acres of empty land at the civic center as new sites for the encampment, but claimed the county has turned down both
‘I’ve got expensive stuff,’ Sherry told DailyMail.com, gesturing to his luxury vehicles. ‘I owned three homes outright. But my wife got cancer, insurance didn’t cover everything and I had to sell the house.
‘My daughter had financial problems and I had to help her out. We owned a restaurant on 4th Street [in Novato] but the 2008 recession killed it,’ he added. ‘Now I’m almost 70. You don’t feel like working at 70.
‘I’ve been here four and a half years. I was one of the first here. When I came in mid 2018 there were three motor homes. Now there’s over 80.’
Sherry and Lyness said they can’t afford a normal home any longer, and low-income housing is in short supply.
According to Zillow, median rent in Novato is $3,299, with 56 rental properties available. Prices range from $1,743 to $7,900. Nearby, Petaluma’s median is $2,900, Sausalito is $4,250 and San Rafael $3,350.
‘We get services like free food, free medical, if you need band aids, a toothbrush, a snack for the dog. They’re just super people.
‘This lake view is my bedroom window. The birds come down in the morning. It’s fun to watch the little airplanes come in,’ he said. ‘This is paradise here.’
Two caravans down was David Schuck, 65, who said he also once owned a million-dollar home, yet ended up a crystal meth addict on the streets.
‘A while back I stayed in a motel. It was the only shower I’ve had in six and a half years,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t get prescription painkillers so I went on street drugs. I got on crystal meth, like everybody else. But I got clean. It was that or die.’
Keith Jackson, 61, a single dad with an 11-year-old son, is among the homeless residents forced to live on the road after losing his job as welder and mechanic at the start of the pandemic David Schuck, 65, who said he also once owned a million-dollar home, ended up on the streets after falling into addiction. After being unable to obtain prescription meds, he sought street drugs instead and became hooked on crystal meth For Shelly G, 53, renting a home in the area is ‘out of control.’ She moved to the lakeside encampment a month ago, and has struggled to keep a job after a series of strokes, heart attacks and mental illness, she said
Schuck, who lives in a broken down trailer with his blind, deaf Labrador Buddy, said he bought it new and uses his social security pension to make the payments.
‘Without help here we’re going nowhere. We get medical care, food, and help with housing. They give us needles and tell us how to do meth safely,’ he said.
His friend, Keith Jackson, 61, has been out of work since the pandemic began.
‘I’m a single dad with an 11-year-old son. I was a welder and a mechanic, but I got fired. Now I’m doing anything I can for money. In the past year I made $11,000,’ he said.
According to a 2022 survey by Marin officials, homelessness in the county has increased by 8% since 2019 to 1,121 – although only 14% told researchers the primary cause of their homelessness was related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Of those 1,121, 284 were deemed ‘chronic’ homeless cases, 65 were veterans, 224 were families and two were unaccompanied children. About one in seven respondents said they had children under 18.
More than half had lived in Marin County for over a decade, and a further 13% for at least five years.
Seven percent had full-time jobs, 15% part-time and 9% seasonal or sporadic work. A quarter of them had spent one or more nights in jail in the past year.
Half reported alcohol and drug use, 45% psychiatric or emotional conditions, and 41% said they suffered from PTSD.
One 53-year-old woman who said her name is Shelly G., only moved to the lakeside encampment a month ago, and said she has struggled to keep a job after a series of strokes, heart attacks and mental illness.
According to Marin County Health and Human Services, homelessness in the county has increased by 8% since 2019 to 1,121 ¿ although only 14% told researchers the primary cause of their homelessness was related to the Covid-19 pandemic Seven percent of homeless residents had full-time jobs, 15% part-time and 9% seasonal or sporadic work. A quarter of them had spent one or more nights in jail in the past year Signs posted by the agency said the area is only open from sunrise to sunset and camping by the ecological reserve of Rush Creek is not permitted’Throwing money at the problem is not the solution,’ realtor Toni Shroyer said. ‘The county has no solutions even though we’ve given them a lot of alternative locations to relocate people’
‘I love the views. I can sit here and talk to my mom who’s in heaven,’ she said.
‘I’ve been homeless for two years. I was up in Petaluma since 1978 but came here to start a new life. Renting a home here is way out of control.’
Kate J., 69, has been living on Binford Road for 18 months. She said she is scraping together her social security checks and $19-an-hour wage at Petco as a dog trainer, to get an apartment.
‘I’ve always worked,’ she said. ‘About a third of the people here work.
‘I looked at renting here but it’s $1,900 a month for a studio apartment.’
She said she ended up homeless after she was fired from her job as a carer for disabled adults in 2020 for refusing to get the Covid vaccine.
Bonnie Silveria, 53, lost her home in Rohnert Park, California, when her mother died last year.
Despite only moving to the road two months ago, she had already built a wood-fenced backyard with artificial turf, streamers, flowers and a barbecue overlooking the lake.
‘I chose here because it’s somewhere we won’t be bothered,’ Silveria said. ‘I like the water.’
But members of star-studded Marin County are beginning to revolt against the two-mile-long trailer camp, claiming homeless residents are dumping ‘bloody tampons, used condoms, needles and human feces’ in a neighboring nature reserve.
Marin realtor Toni Shroyer told DailyMail.com she helped organize volunteers to clean up the site, who found the human waste being ‘raked into the wetlands.’
Kate J., 69, has been living on Binford Road for 18 months after she was fired from her job as a carer for disabled adults for refusing to get vaccinated. She is now scraping together her social security checks and $19-an-hour wage at Petco as a dog trainer, to get an apartment Bonnie Silveria, 53, told DailyMail.com she lost her home when her Rohnert Park, California home when her mother died last year Silveria has only been living on the road for two months but has already built a wood-fenced backyard with artificial turf, streamers, flowers and a barbeque overlooking the lake
‘We’ve also seen tubes and piping from the RVs that go into the wetlands,’ she said.
‘I don’t want to demonize the people. We want to help them find a home. But putting human waste in the wetlands is not the solution.’
Locals set up a group called ‘Concerned Citizens for the preservation of Rush Creek Wetlands’, warning that ‘the law is not being enforced and the result is on-going criminal activity, unsanitary and unsafe living conditions, cats and dogs being injured or killed and major pollution of our wetlands.’
Protected species living there include bald eagles, salt marsh harvest mice, and the California clapper rail, a bird that lives only in the San Francisco Bay Estuary.
TheConcerned Citizens say the road had long been a spot for homeless campers but that the number has grown significantly in the past two years, despite Marin Housing Authority’s efforts to re-house a reported dozen people a month on average.
The county has provided porta potties, and local charities help with free groceries and medical assistance. RV owners on the street regularly spend $75 to get their sewage pumped.
Homeless people at the site have been receiving mixed messages from authorities about the legitimacy of the encampment.
In December a notice from the Department of Fish and Wildlife told the street-dwellers to vacate in 72 hours.
Signs posted by the agency said the area is only open from sunrise to sunset and camping by the ecological reserve of Rush Creek is not permitted.
However, it does not appear that residents have been moved on, and the sheriff’s office has indicated they will not be moving residents, though four foot high piled earth barriers have been placed along any spaces on the roadside to prevent further caravans extending the already miles-long encampment.
‘It’s the perfect place for homeless people here,’ Schuck told DailyMail.com. ‘But they want to push us out.’
Emergency services have dealt with at least three fires at the encampment, two this year, including one in February caused by a resident ‘cooking’ at 3am Another fire broke out last week, burning out the front of a van Photos posted by local towing company Diego Truck Repair showed the charred remains of an RV that went up in flames earlier this year
Emergency services have dealt with at least three fires at the encampment, two this year. Shroyer said one in February was caused by a resident ‘cooking’ at 3am.
Pictures posted by a local towing company showed the completely destroyed RV.
Another fire broke out last week, burning out the front of a van.
In March police investigated Binford Road resident and registered sex offender Daniel Worthen for allegedly stealing a car.
They arrested him when they found someone dead of a fentanyl overdose and large quantities of the deadly drug, methamphetamine, marijuana and an illegal 9mm handgun upon searching his trailer.
Worthern, 59, was released on a $25,000 bond and returned to Binford Road, but was thrown back in jail on April 20 after he failed to show up to his court hearing.
The surge in homelessness has led to increased criminal activity, and unsafe living conditions. In March, Binford Road resident and registered sex offender Daniel Worthen was arrested for allegedly stealing a car
On April 18, 29-year-old Shelby Wilcox, 29, was arrested after Marin Sheriff’s deputies found her car with a suspended registration on Binford Road. Inside they found stolen mail, financial documents, bank and social security cards and cans of pepper spray.
The nearby cities of Novato, Sausalito and San Rafael have received $1million each to tackle homelessness, $500,000 from the state and $500,000 matched by Marin County.
Marin has received $3million from a $1billion state homeless fund, but Governor Gavin Newsom froze further payments in November saying he was unhappy with statewide plans, the Marin Independent Journal reported at the time.
‘Throwing money at the problem is not the solution,’ Shroyer said.
‘The county has no solutions even though we’ve given them a lot of alternative locations to relocate people.
‘What the county is spending on police and garbage services, that money could be spent on housing.’
She said Novato residents suggested a local abandoned ranch or acres of empty land at the civic center as new sites for the encampment, but claimed the county has turned down both.
According to the US Census, the average household income in Marin is $131,000, and property data shows the average home costs $1.4million.
Laurel Hill, Director of Safety Net Services at homeless charity Community Action Marin, helps organize services for the homeless people on Binford road including RV repairs, medical aid housing paperwork, and contributions to tenant deposits.
Hill told DailyMail.com that the persistent cause of homelessness was the lack of affordable housing in the county.
‘The growth of the number of people living there underscores the serious lack of affordable housing,’ Hill said. ‘The income necessary for a family of four to live in Marin County without any support is somewhere around $150,000.
A Reddit thread seen by DailyMail.com shows users have asked for suggestions for ‘stealth camping/boondocking’ in Marin County
‘People working in the service industry, even people working in our agency, they’re not making that kind of money. Families willing to spend 50% or more of their income on housing still struggle.
‘That’s really what’s guiding more and more people to consider things like living in a motorhome on the side of the road.’
Hill said unlike other encampments, Binford Road is largely deserted during the day as many of the campers have jobs.
Volunteers who went to clean up the site near the Rush Creek wetlands photographed boats and a jet ski among the RVs – but the motorhome dwellers say despite owning items usually considered luxuries, they still don’t have enough income to get a permanent residence in Marin.
Shroyer said the site is becoming known by homeless people looking for locations they won’t be moved along.
One post on Reddit from August 16 asked ‘Where in Marin would one blend in stealth camping/boondocking?’ and another user replied ‘Binford Rd in Novato (between 101 and Rush Creek) has a ton of boondockers, but space is limited and it seems pretty full. might be worth a look.’
Famous Marin county residents have included George Lucas, Tony Bennett and Robin Williams.
Star Wars producer Lucas previously offered to build affordable housing at his Grady Ranch property in Lucas Valley, Marin County after his plans for a movie studio there were stymied in a bitter fight with neighbors.
The homes were reportedly meant for people who earn between $65,700 and $101,400 a year – but the project has been on hold for over a decade since its first proposal in 2012.