In homeless LA, the families, retirees and working people who live in their cars are desperate for overnight parking

LA's homelessness epidemic continues to rage unabated as housing prices soar and wages stagnate; the result is a "wheel estate" boom of people living in cars and vans, with the greatest proportion of vehicles-dwellers being seniors, families with children, and working people.

With 16,000 Anglenos living in their vehicles, there is a desperate need for safe overnight parking. Some volunteer groups — churches, etc — have provided these, but the city is taking over (as it should) and trying to establish standards that include case workers and security (also really important), but in so doing, they've priced the provision of overnight parking out of the range of many of the volunteer groups, while also not providing enough space on its own. The city is on track to provide a mere 300 overnight spaces in LA — double the number that exist now, still far, far short of the mark.

Overnight safe parking is essential for families (whose kids need to sleep near their schools) and working people (who won't be able to keep their jobs if they have to park far from work). Providing inadequate parking is better than banning it, but falls short of the mark of solving the city's housing crisis.

Marston, with the L.A. program, said the security guards are intended to help working people sleep better, "to truly get a good night's rest and be productive the next day," so they can get out of homelessness faster.

Similarly, the case management model emerged because "[clients] are at work during the day and our system doesn't work with their schedule."

For some, like Yunus Rajabiy, safe parking's social services were critical. When the 36-year-old air conditioner and appliance repairman first entered the North Hills safe parking lot last fall, he had been sleeping in his delivery van for almost three years. Six months later, he was living in an apartment.

He credited the lot's intake coordinator, Laura Rathbone, with helping him get back on his feet. "She was making me do things that would help me, because otherwise I was very depressed," he said.

But for others, on-site services are less crucial than simply have a safe place to bed down — ideally one that's close to work or their children's school.

16,000 people in L.A. now live in cars, vans and RVs. But safe parking remains elusive [Sonja Sharp/LA Times]

(Image: Don Hankins, CC-BY)