You see them every once in a while in parking lots — vehicles filled to the brim with belongings. Most don't even think twice about it. Some may think, “Well they're not homeless, they have a car.” The realism is yes they are homeless. They are counted among the “unsheltered” homeless and most have jobs. It's heartbreaking that they still can't afford a place to rent, to call home. Most may not even see them during the day. They creep into the parking lots after 10 p.m. and leave by 7a.m. in hopes of blending in or going unnoticed. You see them more around daybreak with the steamy windows, using car heaters and body heat to keep warm.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reported that more than 15,000 people live in vehicles, vans, cars and RVs. Seattle/King County’s 2018 Continuum of Care report, Count Us In found an estimated 3,372 people live in their cars, a 46% increase compared to 2017.
With these growing numbers, a handful of “safe parking” programs have popped up around the country to help with this growing trend. Most programs run several lots and are able to provide safe overnight parking to hundreds of vehicles; however, this program often only allows cars to park overnight, leaving out RVs.
San Jose, Calif. recently approved churches, schools and nonprofits to open their parking lots to provide safe spaces to park for the night. Private Security firms monitor the parking lots at night which provides neighboring residents as well at those parking feel much safer from crime.
I talked to a man named Ande who runs one of the local programs in California.
“To have 8-10 hours of down time and no pounding on the window, flashlights in the eyes a program like this is priceless,” Ande said.
Many people using the Safe Parking program tell Ande it's “a Godsend.” Others say it's nice to be able to get eight hours of sleep and be fresh for work the next day. Another benefit is the Safe Parking Program put its clients in touch with agencies specifically geared for their situation.
A Denver Ballot would guarantee the right to take shelter in a non obstructive matter in outdoor public matter and give people the right to occupy a legally parked car. For many a car is the last important asset that they have and acts as a shelter from the rain, snow and sleet plus it is a ride to work. Living in a car you face new challenges every day. It's almost impossible if you're over 5'8'' to stretch out fully so you bend and cramp up enough to fit. After all it's all you have.
Judith Tackett, Director of the The Homeless Impact Division of Social Services said Nashville needs to figure out how many people are living in their cars and find ways to provide services to them.
“We do not have a solid number of those living in their vehicles, which is why I am embarking on an effort to bring different outreach providers together to see how we can strengthen our outreach coordination approach across Nashville-Davidson county,” Tackett said “There are several organizations that have outreach specialists who are working with people living in vehicles as they encounter them. Some of these programs are embedded in the following nonprofit organizations: Park Center, Mental Health Cooperative, Open Table Nashville, Street Works, the VA, Operation Stand Down Tennessee, Southern Alliance for People and Animal Welfare (SAFPAW), Home Street Home Ministries, and the Metro Homeless Impact Division. This list does not include the many faith-based, congregation-connected outreach programs.”
The US Dept of Housing and Urban Development list those living behind the wheel as the “unsheltered” homeless. The numbers are increasing steadily as more and more Americans don't make a living wage and are forced to find other forms of housing such as tents and vehicles while waiting for more affordable housing.
It's already proven that more affordable housing is desperately needed. How will already strapped non-profits take on more when they're barely making it as it is? They help thousands of our homeless Nashvillians no matter the season. So far a Safe Parking program isn't in place in Davidson county, but will there be a need for one in the near future as more and more lose housing and have to resort to living in their vehicles? Can a Safe Parking program start here before we're as overwhelmed as LA and Denver?