Nomadic by Nature: Santa Barbara's Parking Program For Those Who Live in Their Cars

Woman living in car with her cat
Photo: Stephen Osman / LA Times

Los Angeles Times has an interesting article by Steve Chawkins about a "live and let live" parking program in Santa Barbara, California, for those who choose to live in their cars:

Two or three nights a week, a 29-year-old ex-Peace Corps volunteer named Shaw Talley rolls through the parking lots in his old Volvo wagon, offering help where he can. In spaces where others see a handful of battered RVs and vans, Talley sees lives playing out, for better or worse.

Here, a Vietnam vet suffers from war wounds that keep him in constant pain. There, a man in a van plays classical music on his violin. Here, a diabetic gives himself an insulin shot under the dim glow of his dome light. There, a quiet middle-aged woman eases into her old Lincoln for the night, resting up for another day in customer service at a big-box store. In the glare of a street lamp, she relaxes with a book before closing her eyes.

All are beneficiaries of the city-sanctioned Safe Parking program, which allows people to live -- sometimes for years -- in cars or RVs in about a dozen parking lots that belong to the city, the county, churches, nonprofits and a few businesses in industrial areas.

With housing prices still at a stratospheric high in many places in California, it's no surprise that a lot of people lived just a step away from homelessness. When Talley did an informal census of people living in their cars, he counted 249 makeshift homes in just a few hours.

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