There’s a reason it’s the largest retailer in the world — Walmart attracts hundreds of millions of shoppers every week. But for a tiny percentage of that number, Walmart is attractive for other reasons. For them, Walmart isn’t just an errand — it’s home.
How did the stores became a haven for the homeless? Through a combination of policy and lore.
Officially, Walmart does allow overnight RV parking when available. Individual store managers have the authority to allow overnight parking, based on space availability and local laws.
In Austin there are two stores that explicitly forbid overnight camping, the Ben White and Northcross locations. But all the other local Walmart parking lots are available, including the one at 183 and I-35.
“Who doesn’t go to Walmart? So, I mean, that’s how we wound up here,” says Tony, who asked that KUT not use his last name. “We just thought like, ‘Hey, where is somewhere you can go to, and also be able to run to the bathroom or get food, and people won’t really bother you? So, hey, what else is there to do besides Walmart?’”
The 27-year-old St. Louis native moved to Austin to be with his girlfriend. Somewhere along the line, she lost her job, and they couldn’t keep their apartment. The couple has been calling their Toyota Camry home for the last eight months. It’s parked – along with a few dozen other vehicles – at the Walmart at 183 and I-35. He said most other customers don’t notice their presence.
“People tend to overlook homelessness, and everyone thinks that when you’re homeless you just don’t care about yourself. When in reality, a lot of people that you see out here, they don’t stay all day. They actually get up and go to work. They actually move around to make their lives better. Some homeless people are comfortable with their situation. Most homeless people aren’t. Everyone’s a step away from homelessness, and people fail to realize that.”