(CNN) – As an Uber driver, Lauren Kush tries to keep her Toyota Prius impeccable.
That order keeps him with a double purpose: at night, he turns the back seat into his bed. “I usually wake up sometimes, just going round and round,” he said recently while taking some blankets from his trunk.
At 36, Kush is homeless. He started sleeping in his car when he could no longer afford an apartment in Los Angeles, where the average monthly rent for a room is $ 2,350. It is now part of the more than 16,000 people who, only in Los Angeles County, live in their vehicles. About a quarter of the almost 60,000 homeless people here.
The growing problem of homelessness in California has raised the number of homeless people across the United States in 2019 to 2.7%, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) said in a press release on Friday.
But although cars, trucks and recreational vehicles can be cost-effective alternatives in places with some of the highest rental costs in the country, they lack toilets and showers, key services for people with jobs but homelessness. Beyond that, in most city streets, sleeping on them is illegal. And often those who do face vulnerable conditions.
"They constantly harassed me," Kush said about the nights they spent parked in parallel. "People were screaming or there was a fight."
However, many of those obstacles disappeared this year for Kush, when he began spending the night at the Prius in a parking lot guarded by a security guard hired to guard an improvised neighborhood of makeshift shelters.
"I don't have to worry about being raped," he said. "I don't have to worry about being robbed in the middle of the night."
The site is managed by the non-profit organization Safe Parking LA, which offers a "safe and stable place to park the vehicle, comply with local laws and have access to restrooms."
"The people who sleep in these lots come from different backgrounds," said program coordinator Emily Uyeda Kantrim, noting that university professors and city employees have found a refuge in protected areas.
A church in Koreatown in Los Angeles provided the first such parking lot in March 2018. Since then, the organization has expanded to eight facilities with approximately 120 spaces in the second most populous city in the United States.
In addition to parking, Uyeda-Kantrim tries to connect customers with homes and services, such as free gym memberships that offer access to showers.
"These people … have a place to be during the day and are productive members of society," said Uyeda-Kantrim. “He is probably sitting next to them very often without even knowing it. They are simply struggling to return to an apartment. ”
Rentals by the clouds increase the need for safe spaces
Santa Barbara opened one of the first secure parking lots in 2004. As the affordable housing crisis has worsened, similar programs have emerged in California, including San Diego, Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco, which recently opened its first facility of this type.
That pilot program provides spaces for almost three dozen vehicles and has toilets and showers.
"We are going to identify people in their vehicles that are considered homeless and invite them to park at this facility," said Jeff Kositsky, director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing in San Francisco, where the monthly rent The average of a one-bedroom apartment is close to US $ 3,700, the highest rate in the country.
The growing number of homeless residents has Kositsky "very worried," he said, adding that cities may need to recalibrate their thinking given the shortage of affordable housing.
"Maybe we should start having mobile home parks in urban areas," he adds.
A mobile home is better than a tent on the street
In some neighborhoods in San Francisco, mobile homes clog the streets. Several dozen recently lined the impoverished Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood on the western edge of the city's famous bay.
One of them belonged to Sharhonda Beavers, who said he bought it in June for $ 2,000. The engine does not start, so moving it requires a trailer.
Still, Beavers, 43, says it's better than living in a sidewalk tent.
"You are in control, you are in charge," he said while having breakfast with bacon and eggs prepared on a portable gas stove.
“I have a house on wheels. Now, I can start saving my money, ”said Beavers, referring to her monthly Social Security income of $ 1,000. "I can put it here, fix it and everything will be fine."
She has received numerous parking fines, so the idea of safe parking could attract her, as long as she can remain independent she emphasizes. He adds that mental health problems have prevented him from keeping a job.
"Life hits you sometimes, and they don't all work the same way," says Beavers.
The mobile home has a bedroom, a small bathroom with shower, as well as a space in the living room with a sofa. Recently he welcomed a woman he met on the street.
"She encourages me," said Megan Sue Belafonte, 64, who claims to have lost her husband in 2015, due to cancer. Her husband's illness depleted her finances and left her in misery. She lived in a tent until Beavers invited her to use the mobile home sofa.
“I cook breakfast, clean in front. We listen to music during the day, ”said Belafonte, so having a sleeping vehicle now is much better.
Resting for a new and hopeful start
Recently, one night the church parking lot on the Koreatown lot went silent while its occupants turned off their engines and prepared to go to bed.
Lauren Kush was anxious to get some sleep, since the next day was a new opportunity. Safe Parking LA had connected it with a computer coding program for low-income women. The 16-week intensive course, offered by the St. Joseph Center in Venice, has been praised for its efforts to help people get out of the street. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently donated $ 5 million to the organization.
Excited by the possibilities, Kush emphasized the importance of a decent night's sleep in his ordained Prius. It could only happen, he said, within the limits of secure parking.
"It's painful and it's wearing me out," he said of the need to live in his vehicle. “But at the end of this, I can get a better paid job. I'm working hard. I am coming out of this situation. I am not so".