Since people living in cars actively try not to be found, statistics are hard to come by. However, over the years, reporters, advocates, and others have managed to capture stories of those living in a car. What their stories teach us is that living in one’s car is an exercise in constant vigilance, creativity and desperation.
People spend a lot of time trying to go undetected.
“I know a woman, she spray-paints her vehicle every week to 10 days, so the police can’t say she’s been somewhere too long.”
“You spend a lot of effort just trying to pass.”
Many people who live in their car are employed. However, they do not earn enough to rent an apartment. Securing the first and last month’s deposit, which is usually required, creates more obstacles to securing housing.
Says a man who was evicted for not paying rent: [My] wife “is a little bit sad because she says, ‘You’re working very hard but don’t have credit to get an apartment.’ I tell her, ‘Just wait, maybe a half-year more, and I’ll get my credit back.’”
Learn more about the causes of homelessness—including lack of affordable housing.
Is Living in a Car Safer?
The stigma of homelessness – and the logistics of living on the street – are significant:
“If I had known how hard it is to be homeless and how hard it is to escape, I would have called all my friends to ask for help. But I was embarrassed.”
“Keeping the car in working order with the license, registration up to date, figuring out an address where offices can send things, and all the while trying to stay off the radar of police and neighbors becomes like a full-time job.”
It may seem like people should have other options. Staying in a shelter or finding roommates are alternatives to living in a car. However, these options may be less appealing (and more dangerous).
“We went down to a shelter in downtown, but it was bad — heroin, crack, smells. [My son] looked at me and said, ‘Dad, get me out of here. It’s spooky.’”
“Whenever I place classified ads looking for a room to rent, I always get sex-for-rent offers from men. And dealing with someone else’s drama, such as drug or alcohol abuse, can be far worse than living in your car. You already have enough problems and trauma of your own; you don’t need other people and their issues adding to your vulnerability.”
To learn more about the experiences of people living in their cars, check out these videos: