Martha’s Vineyard meets Richmond: Mayor suggests Rydin RV dwellers park at council members’ homes
on September 30, 2022
In a move reminiscent of the recent migrant stunt pulled by Republican Govs. Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt listed the home addresses of his opponents on the City Council as “RV-friendly parking spots” in an email to advocates for the unhoused community.
On Sept. 19, Darcy Crosman, a member of the Alliance for Action on Homelessness and Fire Safety, emailed Butt and other council members for alternative locations that residents who wanted to live in their RVs could go to after the Rydin Road RV encampment is closed at the end of the month.
Within five minutes, Butt replied with an attachment and four words: “Maybe this will help.” The attachment was a flyer headlined “RV-Friendly Parking Spots in Richmond,” with four addresses listed below the picture of a recreational vehicle. The addresses belong to council members Gayle McLaughlin, Claudia Jimenez, Melvin Willis and Eduardo Martinez, all of whom are affiliated with the Richmond Progressive Alliance.
“I thought Tom Butt was trying to help,” said Crosman, who shared the flyer with Rydin Road resident Jessi Taran, who had been looking for a new location for her RV.
Taran did not know that the addresses were council members’ homes but felt something was not quite right the flyer, so she asked Martinez to verify it. Martinez, of course, recognized his own address on the list, and informed Taran about what she was given.
At the Sept. 20 City Council meeting, Taran brought up Butt’s email during public comment.
“He was, I assume, trying to trick [Crosman] into sending the flyer out and getting everyone to go to these people’s homes … It’s wrong and unethical; it’s not funny. It’s hateful and hurtful and it’s not what we need,” Taran said. “It doesn’t bring the city together. You tried to sabotage your own city, mayor.”
According to Martinez, one unhoused person actually did arrive at a spot listed in Butt’s email. However, Martinez did not specify which address, and it is unclear whether the person were led there by Butt’s email or something else.
Butt did not respond to Taran’s comment during the meeting. But he later confirmed to Richmond Confidential that he had sent the email to “maybe a couple of people.” He said he had done so because the RPA City Council members “have no solutions for anything but don’t want to use anyone else’s solutions.” He said it was their fault that Richmond still has 128 people camping at Rydin Road and Castro Street.
“I worked for months trying to establish a transitional parking area for RVs, but the RPA City Council members voted down every single proposal because of opposition from neighbors,” he said. “Maybe they should experience an RV in front of their homes to better understand the situation.”
In an interview last week, Claudia Jimenez accused Butt of sabotaging the city’s efforts with his email. She compared the act to what Abbott, the governor of Texas, and DeSantis, the governor of Florida, did this summer when they transported migrants to New York City, Martha’s Vineyard and Washington D.C. A couple of buses also arrived outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ Washington home.
“Here we have a mayor doing the same thing,” she said. “This is not a joke; people’s lives are in jeopardy.”
At the council meeting, Willis apologized to Rydin Road residents, saying: “This is playing with your emotions while you’re in a very delicate situation. I’m sorry for the apathy.”
Also at that meeting, the council voted to extend the deadline for some Rydin Road residents, giving those with extenuating circumstances until Oct. 21 to clear out. Butt cast one of the two dissenting votes.
Butt has previously been criticized for sharing Jimenez’s personal information on his e-forum. In 2017, before Jimenez was on council, Butt published her home address on the forum. He defended his actions at the time, saying that Jimenez and her husband should not have had an expectation of privacy because they were public figures.
“If you’re heavily involved in politics and you’re an author of papers about Richmond at the Haas Institute, if you’re on the steering committee of the RPA, then you’re a public person,” Butt said then.
In the last months of what will be the last of his eight years as mayor, Butt has been on the losing side of many council votes. The election of Jimenez and McLaughlin in 2021 created an RPA majority on the council, which frequently does not vote in line with Butt.
Mayor Butt says he’s leaving public life after term ends
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The people living in unstable street housing are Richmond residents. Tom Butt is their mayor too. I can’t believe Butt used them as political pawns in an election campaign.
The migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard as a publicity stunt were at least not residents of the Texas and Florida! The governors were not sending their own citizens out to mock the communities they sent them to. Their conduct was outrageous but Mayor Butt’s stunt was even more so.
Richmond, like much of the rest of the USA, has severe and growing income inequality. Housing for low-income people is disappearing as people with larger incomes occupy more and more square feet of housing. A better-off couple may displace a low-income extended family of five, who may wind up living on the streets.
The “affordable” housing provided by developers in exchange for filling our open spaces with housing for the wealthy is not working. The free market cannot provide housing for everyone when incomes are so drastically unequal. Building for the rich is more profitable for developers, and the few “affordable” units they may build are just window dressing.
Developers are not in business to meet citizens’ needs; they are in business to make profits.
We need a long-term plan that will create low-priced public housing in Richmond’s many empty storefronts and businesses. Interim solutions could include stabilizing the existing encampments, helping the residents to create tiny house villages, and building basic housing owned by the public.
The RPA has had four years of their absolute rule to solve homelessness in Richmond. As a resident I can’t name or see a single result. I still see encampments with their filth piles everywhere. The RPA has squandered their chance with four years of no action. VOTE THEM OUT!
I think that the point the Mayor was making was that several Councilmembers and their acolytes made several bold moves to relocate the larger encampments to neighborhoods other than their own–all without benefit of even speaking with the people who would have to live with an encampment near their homes and children.
I’ve yet to see an encampment absent broken down vehicles, shopping carts full of ‘trash’ (these are the belongings of the encampment residents but have the appearance of ‘trash’), stacks of bicycle parts and–very often–excrement, bodily wastes and the rats they attract.
And don’t we also tend to see a lot of unhoused persons with mental issues? At least that’s what we’re hearing all of the time. Drug use and crime are also part and parcel with a lot of encampments.
Does anyone really want an encampment brought into their neighborhood?
I think the message he was trying to make was “if you think people ought to welcome these encampments into their neighborhoods, then try clearing a spot in your own front yard”. And we saw what their reaction was.
If these encampments are such a blessing on the community, why didn’t these Councilmembers welcome their new neighbors?
And by the way, their addresses are all public so all that the Mayor did was gather them all together and share them with the residents of Richmond.
I am one of the former residents of the Rydin Road encampment, and I want to make something clear: the problem is NOT that that the City of Richmond is no longer allowing people to live on Rydin Road. The problem is that the City of Richmond does not want to allow unhoused individuals to live ANYWHERE. The city evicted all of us without providing us with any sort of alternative location. By doing this, they skattered Rydin Road residents, undermined whatever stability we had managed to create for ourselves, distanced us from the resources we depended upon for daily survival, and made our housing situation even WORSE than it already was.
Furthermore – The City did all of this after being awarded MILLIONS OF DOLLARS by State and Federal government specifically to come up with solutions to the epidemic of homelessness.
Of course no one wants a homeless encampment in their neighborhood. Even homeless people don’t want to live in homeless encampments. That said – tiny home communities are NOT homeless encampments. Neither are RV parks. The City council wasted a million dollars on a management company Rydin Road that ultimately accomplished absolutely NOTHING. That same money could have been used to create transitional housing solutions like the ones I just mentioned. However, instead of doing anything to actually provide housing solutions, the city council decided that it would be better to just criminalize people who do not meet certain income requirements, essentially telling police to harass anyone living in a vehicle, in order to encourage unhoused Richmond residents to relocate elsewhere.