US people living in cars find solace in safe parking

By BELINDA ROBINSON in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-11-23 09:27
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A jogger runs past a homeless encampment in the Venice Beach section of Los Angeles on June 8, 2021. MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/AP

To make ends meet the master's degree graduate became an Uber driver. Every morning she would gather her things from the car and put them into the storage unit, go to work and engage in chitchat with her passengers.

However, at night she would shower at a gym, she said, go to her storage locker to get her belongings back out and feel stressed out about how to keep her new life a secret from family and friends. She felt "ashamed and embarrassed", she said.

"I'm such a successful person, and here I am ending up homeless," she said in a testimonial for the US nonprofit group Safe Lot. "Having to keep a secret like that was very stressful."

She told of how others in the Safe Lot rallied to help her as she underwent radiation therapy because we "all looked after each other".

Life eventually got better when she secured a permanent apartment. She credits Safe Lot as the main reason she got "a chance to breathe".

Safe Lot, established in 2020, says it helps nearly 120 households a night. This includes individuals, couples and families in 13 Safe Lots across metropolitan Denver. Its funding comes from government contracts and foundation grants and a variety of other sources.

Terrell Curtis, executive director of the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative, said: "In Colorado, like most places, sleeping in a car isn't legal, so for those people who do, they are harassed at night or become victims of crime.

"And since it's illegal they are made to move along by police frequently. It is very difficult to get rest; 40 percent of the people we serve are working and need good sleep to keep their jobs as well as maintain reasonable health. The Colorado Safe Parking Initiative also offers case management services to support people in regaining stable housing, employment and healthcare."

In June Denver's city council approved $600,000 to create two new Safe Lots that the initiative will run.

Derek Woodbury, communications director for Denver's Department of Housing Stability, was instrumental in pushing for an update in the city's contract with the initiative and a budget increase.

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