It may be hard to imagine that someone would choose to live in their car. Can you imagine the physical toll of sleeping in a barely reclined seat, surrounded by the possessions you were able to pack? The emotional toll of never feeling safe while parked on a street or in a parking lot? The grind of trying to find a bathroom, a place to charge your phone, a place to wash your hands? The worry of keeping your car running and registered? The shame of being exposed? And what if a family is living in their car? How can your children sustain their education – especially now in the time of COVID with libraries closed and schools often only operating online?
Who lives in their cars? The person on the computer next to you in the library, the student picking up an assignment from their college professor, the family behind you in the grocery store checkout line, the valedictorian of her high school graduating class, the person working for the landscaping company that cares for your yard, the senior waiting for a prescription at the pharmacy, the person who, after a health emergency, couldn’t make rent or their house payment, or pay their property taxes. “When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, a couple of bad weeks can be the difference between being housed and not housed.” Gavin Cooley, Chief Financial Officer, City of Spokane.
Here are some insights from a pamphlet produced by the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness, King County WA:
- More than 2,700 people in King County live in their cars due to homelessness. (2020 Point-in-Time Count, Regional Housing Authority)
- People in cars need: personal safety, basic amenities, relief from parking enforcement, a safe place to park.
- Safe parking is a critical step toward exiting homelessness. By providing safe parking, faith-based organizations can help car dwellers move toward housing.
“Often people who are living in their cars are pretty new to homelessness. This is their last asset. It’s what keeps them going to a job or to school every day.” – Lily Rehrmann, Human Services Department, Seattle WA.
- Some guests use safe parking while they save money for future housing. Others are waiting for housing assistance. On a personal level, car dwellers use safe parking to escape loneliness and find a supportive, caring community. “Most of these folks are desperately trying to get back into housing.” – Karina O’Malley, Safe Parking Coordinator, Lake Washington United Methodist Church.
- Different programs serve different populations for the safety and security of the guests. You might serve: single women, families, couples without children, single men, members of the LGBTQIA community. Consider what groups are already served by other programs in your area.
- How to welcome guests and make a connection: briefly get acquainted; gather basic information and do a background check that will ensure the community is a safe place for everyone; provide an orientation to the space and discuss and sign the code of conduct; connect guest to resources (social service providers – housing, medical, job placement); provide the authorized guest pass. “Our first responsibility is to tell new arrivals this is a safe, welcoming place where they can be accepted and build some relationships. Many are ashamed and mistrustful.” – Charlene Downes, Lake Washington United Methodist Church