While most people think of homelessness as living on the streets, many of our unhoused neighbors live with friends or in their vehicles. According to the 2018 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, more than 9,100 vehicles are being used as residences.

Last month, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved a motion that expanded the use of public and private lots countywide to provide safe overnight parking to people living in vehicles, as well as more sanitary conditions. These special lots are protected by law enforcement and have resources like porta potties.

Earlier this year, Councilmember Mike Bonin announced at United Way’s Stories From the Frontline event that his own field office at the West LA Civic Center will be turned into a safe parking site.

A recent piece from Vice shines light on Danielle Williams and her daughter, who live in a Chrysler Town and Country minivan with their two dogs. Williams was laid off from an accounting job and was unable to get something similar due to her age and education level. She now works at temp jobs, and she and her daughter both go to school. To the outside eye, their lives may appear like those of everyone else using wifi at a coffee shop. But at night, instead of going to a house or an apartment, they return to their vehicle.

Many people like the Williams’ feel safer in their cars than in a shelter, where crimes and assault are not uncommon. However, it’s illegal to sleep in many public spaces within Los Angeles County, which means that vehicle residents must park in desolate places or keep moving their car. This can be dangerous, and for those who still maintain a work or school schedule, extremely disruptive.

The expansion of safe parking lots in our region is an incredible step forward that will allow many of our neighbors to continue to pursue their future from a place of strength instead of isolation.

United Way of Greater Los Angeles works to create impact and change. We partner with organizations across Los Angeles County to help our vulnerable neighbors come home for good. Visit EveryoneInLA.org for information about how you join us and help to end homelessness in L.A. County and find out more at UnitedWayLA.org.

Banner photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG