“It was a dark and stormy night …”

                                                                ~ Snoopy

Colorado is nice in the summer, and camping out is a favorite activity for many of us here. Fall and spring can be nice, too, but the weather can be unexpectedly erratic. Across the southern U.S., the weather is nice three-quarters of the year — if you don’t count the rain and tornadoes — so spending time outside just comes naturally. When I’ve lived there, though, we mostly wanted to spend time in the air conditioning. And, of course, winter can be brutal anywhere.

Given today’s economy and the pandemic, it’s no surprise that many people are unable to afford housing. When we think of homeless shelters, we see a dormitory with rows of bunkbeds and haggard, unshaven old men — hoboes, vagrants, the great unwashed — in our mind’s eye.

The reality is mostly different. Suitable jobs can be hard to find and rents are high. In some areas, even people with jobs have trouble making ends meet and affording housing. Medical expenses and conditions can also destroy the solvency of once financially comfortable individuals and families. Various entities are looking for options to assist unhoused people. 

Often unhoused people own cars that serve as shelter and a somewhat private space. Reporter Dan Simon notes, “But while cars, trucks and RVs can be cost-effective alternatives in places with some of the nation’s steepest rents, they lack bathrooms and showers — key amenities for people with jobs but no home. Beyond that, sleeping in them on most city streets is illegal. And they often leave inhabitants vulnerable.” It’s estimated that “more than 16,000 people in LA County who live in their vehicles — about a quarter of the nearly 60,000 homeless people here (in LA).”

A recent option includes “a parking lot monitored by a security guard hired to keep watch over an impromptu neighborhood of makeshift shelters … The site is run by the nonprofit Safe Parking LA, which offers a ‘safe and stable place to park the vehicle, remain compliant with local laws, and have access to restroom facilities.’”

A CNN report notes, “Tents and sidewalk encampments on city streets and parks have increasingly become a political issue … The L.A. City Council recently passed new restrictions on where unhoused people can sit, sleep, and place their belongings. Critics say the new rules further criminalize homelessness and fail to offer meaningful assistance to a vulnerable population.“ 

The report detailed efforts of some communities to provide more stable housing. “Tiny Homes Villages are cheap and quick to build, and offer transitional housing for L.A.’s unhoused … Built on small slivers of ‘virtually unusable’ city land, like ‘oddly shaped junk lots,’ they are set up with the help of the local community.”

“Cheap to manufacture, quick to build, and thoughtfully designed, the structures offer transitional bridge housing for the unhoused. Here and at other sites around the city, members of the local community are invited to help set up and decorate the village … Aside from the one-bedroom houses, the site has private restrooms and showers, laundry, and outdoor seating areas. It’s shielded with a fence and 24-hour security which cloaks the village from the street … Three meals are offered a day and residents are given access to job training placement and counselors.”

As a society, we have an obligation to help members of our communities who are in need. Individuals, religious and non-profit organizations do a lot, but governments at all levels contribute as well. There is a human and economic toll to our society if we ignore those in need. Creative options exist to address these problems and help to build a more stable and humane society.

Outside, now, the temperature has risen from the teens to nearly freezing, and the snow is supposed to hold off until later this afternoon. I’m grateful that I’m not living on the street, in a tent or in my car.

“There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Additional information:

Are Tiny Homes built on Oddly-Shaped Slivers of ‘Virtually Unusable’ City an Answer to the Homelessness Crisis? Have a Look Inside, July 5, 2021, Business Insider

Dan Simon, Living in Her Car, She Was Afraid and Harassed. Then She Found an Unexpected Refuge, December 23, 2019, CNN

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