ONTARIO – Every morning, Tiana Gutierrez-Costante wakes up at home, in a 32-foot travel trailer.
She takes her five dogs outside, fills the water tank, and prepares breakfast – pancakes, eggs, a strawberry or banana smoothie.
Outside, her children play in a dip of green grass, and beyond that, 166 other RVs line up neatly into the distance.
Gutierrez-Costante is one of the million Americans who live full time in RVs. Her neighbors in Ontario’s River Point RV Park are diverse: some are travelers in million-dollar RVs, others narrowly escaped homelessness.
“I think the misconception that people have is that it’s like, the worst way of life,” said Gutierrez-Costante. “But you get all walks of life. This is actually a very beautiful way to live.”
At the height of the pandemic, 9.6 million Americans lost their jobs, according to the Pew Research Center. At least five million lost their homes.
In 2016, Gutierrez-Costante, a beauty technician and mother of five, lost her apartment in Garden City, Idaho. In 2020 and again in 2021, she lost her salon job as Covid surged and reemerged.
For a few years she stayed with her mother in Garden City, first in the house, then outside parked in an RV. Parking tickets, complaints, and eventually police flocked to the vehicle.
“[The officers] got to the point where they would apologize for people calling the cops on us,” said Gutierrez-Costante.
They told her she was going to make it.
Across the Treasure Valley, RV parks were already filling up. Those with spots open – she called 30 of them – wouldn’t accept Gutierrez-Costante’s 1998 travel trailer due to the vehicle’s age.
Then, in February, she stopped by the new park in Ontario.
At River Point, whose just-finished lot had maybe two or three RVs, Gutierrez-Costante asked for the biggest space, with the stretch of grass in front of it, where she, her husband, five kids, and two pit bulls would be one of the first families.
“We thought it was going to be so hard,” said Gutierrez-Costante. “And it was.”
She and her husband Alfredo, a wildland firefighter, began homeschooling their children – teaching kindergarten, first, third and sixth grade all at once – while still working and learning the ins and outs of RV living.
For two weeks, while waiting for their water system to be repaired, they showered and washed dishes at the park’s clubhouse.
It wasn’t exactly the life she dreamed of for her kids. She wanted stability for them – a home, a yard, somewhere to anchor.
“To provide this instability was harsh,” said Gutierrez-Costante. “I did everything I was supposed to. I went to college, I graduated. I feel like I should’ve been a lot further.”
In the patchwork community of the RV park, there are the elderly and retired, the travelers, the in-between, and also those “at the beginning of life,” said Gutierrez-Costante.
“Even though we have one of the crappiest trailers, everybody comes over to my house,” said Gutierrez-Costante.
Every day, too, she works towards a better life for her kids. When they move out of the park someday, back to Garden City or Boise, she hopes the sense of community stays.
Unlike in a normal subdivision, said Gutierrez-Costante, where residents often don’t know who their neighbors are, people are frequently outside at River Point. They’re grilling and playing, borrowing sugar and screwdrivers.
They also never look down on each other for being here.
“Maybe I don’t want to go back to that lifestyle, [where] everybody just goes to their room and closes the door,” said Gutierrez-Costante. “This kind of brings back that old saying of, it takes a village to raise a family.”
She’s sometimes worried about what could come next. Work has been unsteady, with her appointments dwindling even as she’s nearly caught up on her bills.
But on a warm evening in June, families ride bikes, grill burgers, and walk dogs around the park. Tiana Gutierrez-Costante watches with her husband as their kids – Adriana, Noah, Mijo, Lilo, and Legend – play in the green grass in front of their home.
“It’s kind of opened my eyes to see what really matters. Because in the middle, what people think matters is what you have, what you possess. And that’s not what matters,” said Gutierrez-Costante. “What matters is, who you’re with and who you love.”
News tip? Contact reporter Cynthia Liu at [email protected]
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