People Living in Vehicles Need a Safe Place to Park, Not Fines or Jail

Woman living in her car

Woman living in her car

This week, Palo Alto, California passed a vehicle dwelling ban. People found living in their vehicles will be charged with a misdemeanor and face a maximum penalty of six months in county jail, a $1,000 fine or both. The criminalization of homelessness with laws like this,  actually creates more homelessness and greatly increases taxpayer costs. When a person just loses their job and apartment, they often will sleep in their car, or find a old RV on Craigslist to live in. Obviously, they are extremely low-income, so they do not have the ability to pay a fine. If they don’t pay the fine they go to jail, or they may go directly to jail, which taxpayers pay for. Either way, their car or RV is impounded causing them to be unsheltered homeless, which then causes a different and more tragic issue, and taxpayers pay for that too.

I first learned about mobile homelessness from Sandy, a woman I met who sleeps next to her car because she was arrested for sleeping in her car.  Since then, I have met many people who call their vehicles home.

As an outreach worker, I have been in several meetings where business owners and church leaders say they have compassion for vehicle residents, but then in the same breath say they cannot use their parking lots. COME ON FOLKS! Most church parking lots are used only twice a week, yet most churches won’t open their unused parking lots to people who need a safe place to park!!!

Although there should be services so no one has to sleep in a vehicle, I am glad that there are safe parking programs like I found on a recent trip to San Diego. Dreams for Change operates out of three parking lots around the city. I have to give a huge thanks to the churches that are not only allowing use of their parking lots, but also use of showers and bathrooms. That may seem like only a little, yet it is rare for a church to allow homeless people to use their facilities. If you work at or attend a faith based group that has a building and parking lot, I hope you will consider opening a safe parking program.

In the following video I interview Teresa L Smith, Ph.D., who co-founded Dreams for Change. Safe parking programs like this are actually very rare, so I am grateful for the opportunity to learn more and share their story. Passing laws to fine people, and sending them to jail for living in their vehicle is ridiculous. Criminalization increases taxpayer costs and creates more problems while solving nothing. Ideally,  I hope we’ll have adequate services so people will not have to live in any state of homelessness, but until then, please support safe parking programs in your community.



  • a2phil

    I’ve got an idea for a fund raiser…have t-shirts made up that say “homelessness is NOT a crime, the conditions that PERPETUATE it SHOULD BE!!”

  • Ed Reyes

    When I lost everything and overstayed my welcome at a relatives house. I learned if I had to sleep in my small rental car that the only safe place was to crawl into the trunk, sleep in fetal position, have the back seat slightly cracked open for air. Placed all my belongings on the car floor covered up. Reclined in the front seat only got me warnings from the cops. ?#?Live? ?#?Learn? ?#?Survive? ?#?Homelessness? Bravo Mark for bringing this to light!

  • Ed Reyes

    Great idea, so true. When people loose their jobs because of the economy, when natural disasters ruin families, when vets come home and have difficulties finding medical care, there are so many faces of homelessness. It should NOT be a crime.

  • Alan Thorsen

    A car at least provides some shelter. Where are homeless supposed to go ? I’m homeless and living in MY car and while I wasn’t on private property, just on city streets, I got hassled continuously by the cops- even when I was out walking – intimadation there too . ABT

  • Debi Reuter

    Homeless folks need to be kept safe. Homeless women are especially vulnerable. These kinds of laws make me sick inside. The law is criminal and immoral.

  • Debi Reuter

    I like this idea. How do we make it happen?

  • a2phil

    All it takes is a t-shirt shop and enough money…

  • a2phil

    The kind of laws the “powers that be” seem to specialize in… 🙁

  • Debi Reuter

    Money is the key. I need to work on that!

    Debi Reuter, MA
    Early Childhood Educator
    *”And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~The Little Prince*

  • Jean-Louis C.

    what about social housing in the US … like in Europe? that low income workers live in an affordable apartment. A shame for such a rich country which can that finance wars worldwide but don’t have housing programs for the citizens.

  • a2phil

    Wars and prisons make more money for the 1%…

    America’s middle name is “Greed”…we CAN’T be a “civilized” country…

  • kimadagem

    I haven’t been to California in almost 30 years and would like to go back. But now that I’ve read this, Palo Alto will definitely *not* be on my list to places to visit. This kind of “law” (I use that term loosely) is akin to making homelessness illegal, which is not something I can condone in any form. I sure hope none of the people who supported this ever find themselves in the situation they just outlawed.

  • julie
  • julie

    print your own custom shirts with no upfront fees

  • Sophia Keenesburg

    Sure this is in the USA … socalled richest country on the face of this planet?
    And there are a lot of homes and ‘old’ buildings empty … why not put 1 + 1 together?

  • a2phil

    Makes so much sense, it’ll never happen…at least in the U.S…

  • Sis and bro

    Me and my brother live in our car and can’t find a good place to sleep at night so we move around . Cops do give a hard time. I have asked for help and not that much is giving.. Am just the fear of falling asleep at night. Is more then I could handle.

  • Lost4helping

    I hate being homeless. It’s not how I ever wanted to see myself but here I am, a 36 yr old female with no family and lost everything because I was helping someone who was homeless. I found this person was stealing from me and my daughter. So I told her she had to go. For whatever reason she couldn’t just leave and understand she only did it to herself. oh but of course not.. She had me rob, raped and beaten. Then had the person she paid ( who knows how) tell me threats with my daughter. It scared me to death but why?? I still to this day can not understand how she could do that to someone who only tried to help her. Anyways it turned into the biggest nightmare and most out of control part of my life ever. If I could tell you everything that came out that one decision to help her has tore me down you wouldn’t only be shocked but wouldn’t want to help a homeless person again. It really killed my life, heart and soul. I lost my daughter. I now sit and wonder how to get it all back but losing so much at heArt. I feel I scared to build again, I am so mentally shut down and tired…… I feel lost., I have heard the worst, been thru the worst things you could ever imagine my whole life. I still tried and stayed positive. I just space out and wish and pray to please let me find a way to pull out of this but here I am looking for some place to rest. Limited now as its becoming very cold and lonely. I hope best for everyone and thanks for listing to my problems . My point here is homeless people are just like any other person. Some really are the best people and some are out completely for themselves. Have no heart and search for their next victim to hit. This world has become so full of people to quick to judge abs refuse to listen. ( stereo typing) I miss my girl, I miss my life. I miss being a real person who everyone liked until my word voice was kicked out over only using heart. I hope the best for everyone, goodnight

  • Lost4helping

    Ps. Being a felon over 15 yrs ago. Cuts all odds and options more then half for any state assisted help for housing. Building from rock bottom is harder then anyone even understands and the only way to understand is be where you have never been soooo how do you get the energy after so many dead ends and disappointments? Rejection is harsh and and really hurt people.

  • You have to love the US legal system. Large banks can engage in any type of fraud, and get nothing. But if you sleep in your car in Palo Alto you get a misdemeanor.

  • Tess Voorhis

    With the economy the way it is, and the way it’s going to get bad again in the next couple of years, the homeless problem is going to get much worse. Accept the homeless situation and find a solution. Stop fining and condemning, most homeless don’t want to be out there.

  • Lavender Beepop

    Thank you magic mulattoes for all you do for us…

  • ruby

    some people are homeless due to unforeseen or temporary set back, but others have addictions and put themselves there, those are the ones that ruin it for others who are trying to get back on their feet, because San Diego has such nice weather all year, it breads opportunity for those who wont go to shelters because they have to “clean up their act and cant use when they are there”

  • Tom

    People should be allowed to sleep in their cars, if they have to. The problem is possibly , even if your working full time and have good pay, there is possibly no guarantee that it will always be the case and you may possibly have no idea when you will get the call for a new job. The thing that annoys me about, possibly, making living in your car illegal is that, if you have no where else to go, probably regardless of what the law may say, your probably bound by the laws of physics.

  • Tom

    For example, if you are told you can park no where, you may have to park some where, maybe out of tiredness and fulling a sleep behind the wheel, maybe the car runs out of fuel or the car breaks down. I would prefer people to have some shelter in their cars, than being outside in the elements. But that’s just my opinion.

  • geo s

    Yes,we are people too and I myself am working and trying to get out of being homeless in a car.But there are a bunch of people every night I see new faces.Cars are not homes we understand that.And most are good people having hard times.I have heard the laughs the not so nice comments and the down right disrespect for car people.Cars are not the answer but better than under a bridge,or in a park or a group of bushes or sidewalks. Homeless shelters here in Austin TX is full of alcoholics,drug addicts and dealers and predators that pray on the weak or down and out. So I choose as many car people do to stay in my car where I know I am safe.Most of us do not want to be here but better than the homeless shelter.It is hard paying 13 dollars for a shower at a truck stop.Paying for food and drinks when homeless is hard. Never thought I would be here but now I know that you should never say never.Just treat as with respect and know that we want to be back in housing.Cars are horrible to sleep in but the Lord only gives us what we can handle.So just be nice and please help up the next homeless person you see a shower would be great anything place to lay down would be perfect..Help your fellow man as the bible speaks.Sorry that’s just my take from being homeless for a year and being blessed to have a car to sleep in.Thank you God for my blessing I receive every day and those that are about to come.And I pray no of you will every be homeless.

  • Brenda Giron

    HEY! Let’s speak the truth! I for one….would rather live in my car …..than give another dime to line the pockets of the already rich enough! I am SO much happier!!!! I hated the fact that my pay check that I worked so hard to earn……..was going to help somebody else pay for THEIR NEW HOMES CARS ETC, while I didn’t even have enough left to put gas in my car! I put my stuff in storage, hung my work clothes in there and was making enough money to get a room whenever. Had enough (money) to keep gas in my car now! I love it! I lost my job 2months later BUT I AM STILL SO MUCH MORE HAPPIER!” BEEN LIVIN LIKE THIS FOR 2YEARS! My kids are grown so its just me….BUT WITH THE RIGHT OUTLOOK…….EVEN KIDS LIKE LIVING THIS WAY….ITS LIKE CAMPING! MY PURSUIT FOR HAPPINESS IS ONE OF MY CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS ! People need to wake up. I know people living in their BRAND NEW CARS!!!!!! AND I APLAUD THEM! I WOULD CHOOSE MY CAR OVER suffocating RENT PAYMENTS ANY DAY. The rich keep getting richer…….BUT NOT OFF ME ANYMORE!??

  • Jeff

    Love your attitude I rent at my families home in california but I am seriously thinking of buying a nice but low cost used motorhome and doing this in a small town in nor cal I have a mobile based job. Do you have a email to write you and be pen pals? You wrote a great post.

  • Brenda Giron

    Yes I have an email……and if you send me yours first…..I’ll send you mine?

  • Jeff

    Sure . email me at [email protected]

  • Jeff

    Feel free to email me at [email protected]

  • Brenda Giron

    You are HOUSELESS not homeless

  • a2phil

    Amerika-Land Of The Greed, and Home Of The Enslaved since 1776…

  • Mike

    I find what you do inspiring and would like to do it someday too when I retire. Any suggestions beyond just go for it. I suppose people don’t try to park near each other for safety reasons because it draws too much attention.

  • Dynamic iFiction

    People who go to church generally do it as a social function, not anything religious, otherwise you’d NEVER see someone living on the street, because Christ’s main commands to Peter the Rock of Faith, were to LOVE, to PROTECT and to FEED his sheep. What better place to do this than these “Christian” churches, that instead sit empty most of the time, representing the spiritually-empty shells that are the members of these abominations of Christian love and charity.

  • a2phil

    No, churches (at least in the U.$) are just in it for the money…”if you’re poor, you’re lazy…” like any other of the 1% they just give a s*** about themselves…

  • a2phil

    Makes too much sense for the average Amerikan…

  • a2phil

    The 1% would NEVER find themselves homeless unless the 99% start the revolution!!!

  • a2phil

    Only HALF??? Try more like 87.5% AT LEAST!!! I’m thinking of robbing one of those “too big to fail” banks when I turn 65 and wait for the cops to arrive just so I could be assured of “3 hots and a cot” in my retirement years (no 401k left-used it up after only 2 years of unemployment!!) I’ll even tell that to the judge at my trial…I just HOPE they don’t get rid of the “3 strikes” law in the next 10 years or so, THAT would REALLY screw up the plan…

  • a2phil

    May I suggest that all of us living in our cars park them in front of the White House, right in line with Barry’s bedroom window…encircle the Capitol…etc…

  • a2phil

    Amerika is the epitome of the Golden Rule: “He who has the gold, makes the rules”…


  • a2phil

    I prefer the term “Residence Challenged”…more PC…

    Hey, I’m from Ann Arbor…

  • a2phil

    Truck stop parking lots, just watch out for the “lot lizards” (prostitutes)

  • Hedda Bead Treasures

    Barry? That would be PRESIDENT Obama.

  • a2phil

    He hasn’t done S*** for ME (and A LOT for the1%) so it’s Barry to me…

    The biggest Presidential disappointment, IMHO…and this is all on him…

  • looking to live

    I’m by soledad ca.. And out of money, anyone knows where to park or me and my family?

  • DNA(splicer)

    It wasnt always this way. In the begginning it was great after reagan and a pretty much after both worl wars and the great depression the government began to meddle in private life. Also fiat money doesnt help either, since you can manipulate the economy to either keep the rich rich or make them richer by inflation or artificial economic depression.

  • DNA(splicer)

    Are you still homeless, if so lets talk im as well without a home would be nice to find someone to get a place with even if is a one bedroom. I have 2 jobs and still cant afford rent in this place lol. Can you imagine that.

  • a2phil

    Ain’t that Amerika, The land of the greed….

    Song I’ve been working on-a rewording of “Little Pink Houses”….about the only part I have worked out good, yet…

  • KinDn3sS

    I pay federal taxes, and I demand the government stops harassing homeless people, and let them sleep on public surfaces. I’m so thankful to GOD for the roof I have on top of my head, but I’m so heart broken for those who don’t have it. And I don’t even know what I could do, to get the government to stop harassing people without a place to rest. :((((

  • a2phil

    If the Fools on the Hill (what I call Congress) could take only 10% from Amerika’s military budget every year for the next decade, we could afford to put it towards, I don’t know, say ALL THE PROGRAMS BERNIE SANDERS BROUGHT UP DURING HIS CAMPAIGN!!!

    Of course, THAT will never happen!!! Not in Amerika!!!!

  • Mic

    1 percent is a way of not respecting a people who are having a few problems I donto want help from people when they find oit your homeless they look at you different 1st you need to know why they are homeless I make 22 an hour I an homeless now how many work like me waiting to see what you are thinking

  • Mic

    What is wrong if a person parks on church ground I never leave trash and I sleep where I can’t be seen Evan a church will kick you off property if you need help they want feel comfortable with you there

  • Mic

    I don’t need money just a place to be able to park so I can get me together like don’t drink smoke or do drugs

  • Lynda Love

    That is the truth Brenda

  • Dynamic iFiction:

    You’re making a overgeneralization statement to the maxxxx! NOT everyone in those Churches are phonies. There are some who care and volunteer their services, so please stop with the logical fallacies.


    Here’s where you’ve got it wrong; and considering your picture, you look old enough to know better. And even if it’s not you pictured, you’re just as capable as the next person to ACTUALLY learn something, rather than being lazy and using logical fallacies to make your point!
    You got it wrong when you falsely claimed “churches (at least in the U.$) are just in it for the money…” First of all, pray tell, what “money” are you talking about??? The majority of churches aren’t televangelists like Pat Roberts, okay. But past that, let’s look at some actual HISTORY. You know, that thing that holds FACTS, rather than a bunch of subjective suppositions!!!
    Fact: The Church established the FIRST hospitals for the infirmed, ill, and dying!!!
    Fact: The Churches were the community social services…until the Federal Government stuck it’s greedy fingers into the pie! FDR created social programs supported by TAX DOLLARS; rather than the Churches who used MORALS as a foundation for helping the less fortunate.
    Fact: If I have a say in WHAT, TO WHOM, and HOW MUCH I give, I am more apt to choose to give, and generously; which by the way Americans did do until the FED decided it was more profitable to PICK THE POCKETS of everyday citizens (socialist programs which have never, throughout history shown to do anything more than keep the impoverished, impoverished)!!
    Fact: The Churches have been made irrelevant in the social communities, as safety nets. Therefore, they NO LONGER have the abundant funds (voluntarily given by the MORAL public) to help as much as they once did. Yet, you ignorantly blame them, rather than the true evil entity in this immoral mess!
    Fact: What better way to keep the citizenry dependent, than to become the safety net, and one whom has NO intention of “giving a hand up” but rather is dependent on the entitlement of “the hand out!!!”

    Both of you need to step outside your dependent safety zone, and actually do some real HISTORICAL research! Oh, and before you go off on me as someone who doesn’t know jack…yeah, me, my husband (who has a job, by the way) and both our children are homeless and living with a friend for the time being in KANSAS!!! We just had -10 degree weather come through; and luckily we had somewhere warm to sleep. Otherwise, we would have froze to death in our Dodge Ram pickup truck!!! In our county, it has been illegal to sleep in your vehicle – hell, it’s illegal to be homeless here. Here the cops will take you to the neighboring county line and drop you off! However, we do have a homeless population (as of 2014) of 150 persons, with a single shelter which can hold 10 people! The churches help out with meals, homeless prevention, and taking up donations for holiday dinners. Every Wednesday, our church provides a meal for ANYONE AND EVERYONE who comes through the door. They have a program for recovering drug and alcohol addicts, a program for helping with budgeting and finding a job and housing. We also have a Salvation Army; however, their funds are limited to help with either the rent or energy bill once a year, and providing food boxes. NO ONE gives to these community programs anymore because they have either lost their humanity and morality, or they are taxed to death and forced to pay for those who leech off the system for decades and decades. Those, like my family, fall through the cracks, and are left with nowhere to go, and no assistance in sight!

  • a2phil

    Of all the religions I’ve encountered (all the mainstream religions, anyways), the Muslims were the most tolerant, and least hypocritical….”Christian” churches get all those tax breaks, and all that money in the ‘ol collection basket every Sunday (more cash than I’VE ever seen at one time)-where’s all THAT money going to??? Some more solid gold chalices and crucifixes for the church??? A brand new Mercedes for the minister??? An air conditioned dog house for his dog???

    BTW: At least you have a vehicle to sleep in when it gets cold…I don’t….

  • “Of all the religions I’ve encountered (all the mainstream religions, anyways), the Muslims were the most tolerant, and least hypocritical….”

    1. You’ve got to be kidding!!! Muslims tolerant and least hypocritical…you must have been sleeping under a rock for the last 50 years or more. Were you comatose on 9/11; or are you completely ignorant of the definition of “tolerant?”

    2. Christian churches tax breaks are the same as any nonprofit agency; which have enjoyed those “breaks” since the birth of the FREE nation. I suppose all nonprofit agencies, according to you, should be taxed. So, let’s tax the daylights out of the Salvation Army, Red Cross, ASPCA, the Humane Society, and of course all those nasty churches who send Missionaries into war torn areas of Africa decimated by those tolerant Muslims and Ebola! But, let’s not forget to get those nasty Veteran programs while we’re at it – I mean how dare they help men and women who have fought and died for your’s and my right to sit right here and discuss this topic – disgusting!

    3. And all that money in the “collection plates” goes to mission trips to Venezuela, Africa during an Ebola outbreak, etc; pay for food for the homeless, Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners for the less fortunate, pay the pastor for his services, the workers at the daycare center (which operates to help working families with reduced fees), to heat, cool, maintain and repair, and provide services for the church, pay for the counseling services, the materials for Bible study, Bibles sent on Mission trips, scholarships for students in the local community, etc. You know all those things which any regular business would pay; plus some for the community services which the Government fails to do for those less fortunate and homeless, because those Government officials need 5 vacations in Hawaii or Bermuda, a new jet to fly around so they can admire their peasants scattered across this once free nation, and let’s not forget the annual raise they vote in for themselves!!! While the common man has seen his wages stagnate (down some 12% since the 1990’s) – where is the common man’s raise???? Oh, that’s right, the Government takes it and wastes it on themselves and bailing out their little goldsmith buddies on Wallstreet and the “too big to fail banks” who thought it cute to gamble with the livelihood of every American!!!

    3. Perhaps if you quit feeling sorry for yourself, and counted your blessings, you might find yourself seeing your circumstances in a better light. You’re capable of getting on the internet – so apparently you can afford that much. You live in a nation where you have the freedom of speech; where you can come here and express your opinion – ignorant as it may be. Yes, I have a car to live in; but that is the only thing I do have outside of my most prized possessions: my family, my faith in God Almighty, my mind, a clear conscience, a beautiful world where I can experience the work of the hand of God, and knowing that if Almighty God should deem my time has come then I know I am going home to a place where everything is perfect. I have all of that; and that right there makes me more wealthy than any billionaire, government official, or someone who has no clue just how blessed they truly are in this world.

    I pray God will reveal His loving grace to you, and you will see just how blessed you truly are. God bless you and keep you, I pray, always.

  • a2phil

    When was the last time I got first and last month’s rent and security deposit on a new apartment paid by a “Christian”? AND bought food and furniture for me? My last boss (a Muslim) did all that for me when he hired me!!!

    When was the last time I wasn’t demonized, spat on, “you’re going to HELL!!”, “get up off your lazy a*** and get a job!!!” (BTW: I do have a job) or harassed by a “Christian”? It hasn’t happened yet today, but it’s still early…

    The way “Christians” harassed and subjugated the Muslims over the last 1000 odd years (and now mostly through Israel) I’m surprised 9/11 hasn’t happened AT LEAST 30 years earlier!!!

    The Ebola virus has been around longer than the HIV virus, but it didn’t become an “international health crisis” until a white person caught it (same with AIDS, as I recall…)

  • With all due respect sir, I find you incredulous! It appears that regardless of what facts are presented to you, you have an utter dislike for “Christians,” and a love of logical fallacies. My father always told me that arguing with one of your logic is a waste of time; because either I would end up stooping to your level, or you’d beat me with experience. Sometimes it is best; as Jesus told us, to plant the seed and then walk away – brushing the dust from our feet. There are some who can be helped, and then there are those who prefer to waller in their own misery – you sir appear to be the latter. Good day to you, and may God bless you abundantly!

  • Soraya N Maynes

    I just moved to San diego, and all i own and have is in my car. It is also what I call home. I too am just trying to find safe places to park. I found work, and work a lot. but the savings is slow before I can even save enough for a place. what are the areas in san diego that I can park? im not familiar with a lot.

  • The_Troll_King

    No surprise. America must be the absolute worst shithole in the world. I pray everyday that it collapses.

  • a2phil

    Only got another week or so until the Evil One gets into power….

  • Jonathan Elmore

    Love it i agree i am about to live in my car to and put my stuff in storage i refuse to pay high rent to people who only care for themselves.

  • Jonathan Elmore

    I am reading your post as well i love it you spoke the truth and i love hearing people who are real and truthful my email address is [email protected] if we can pin pals 2 only if you want to.

  • Brenda Giron

    Sure you can have my email its [email protected]

  • Brenda Giron

    And…I’m houseless! Not HOMELESS! [email protected]

  • a2phil

    I prefer the term “residentially challenged”…. sounds more PC to me….

  • Amanda

    I stumbled upon this and it caught my attention. I completely agree and wish there were more open minded people with a willing heart to have compassion and understanding for people going through difficult times. I was once living out of my own car and as a single woman that can be a very scary place to be. I was fortunate to meet a woman who’s name I will mot mention, that was in a similar situation but with children. She probably will never know his but her strength and courage was beyond my comprehension and shortly after that we landed at chief cornerstone ministry located in Ferndale Washington. A faith based Christian camp for the homeless. We were taken in, given food, clothing, educated in the word but the most important thing at the time and what I needed most was unconditional love and I received this from a woman who throws her all into teaching the woman while her husband teaches the men. They struggle with funding and it’s difficult to watch considering how many people come stumbling through the door with nothing but there clothes and a broken spirit but if more places like this we’re willing to open there doors so many people could benefit from this. I desperately wish churches would open there parking lots and will pray that in the future they will be bold and courageous in helping individuals in

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