Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Mom forced to live in car with dogs
" SANTA BARBARA, California (CNN) -- Barbara Harvey climbs into the back of her small Honda sport utility vehicle and snuggles with her two golden retrievers, her head nestled on a pillow propped against the driver's seat.
A former loan processor, the 67-year-old mother of three grown children said she never thought she'd spend her golden years sleeping in her car in a parking lot.
"This is my bed, my dogs," she said. "This is my life in this car right now."
Harvey was forced into homelessness earlier this year after being laid off. She said that three-quarters of her income went to paying rent in Santa Barbara, where the median house in the scenic, oceanfront city costs more than $1 million. She lost her condo two months ago and had little savings as backup.
"It went to hell in a handbasket," she said. "I didn't think this would happen to me. It's just something that I don't think that people think is going to happen to them is what it amounts to. It happens very quickly, too."
Harvey now works part time for $8 an hour, and she draws Social Security to help make ends meet. But she still cannot afford an apartment, and so every night she pulls into a gated parking lot to sleep in her car, along with other women who find themselves in a similar predicament.
There are 12 parking lots across Santa Barbara that have been set up to accommodate the growing middle-class homelessness. These lots are believed to be part of the first program of its kind in the United States, according to organizers.
The lots open at 7 p.m. and close at 7 a.m. and are run by New Beginnings Counseling Center, a homeless outreach organization.
It is illegal for people in California to sleep in their cars on streets. New Beginnings worked with the city to allow the parking lots as a safe place for the homeless to sleep in their vehicles without being harassed by people on the streets or ticketed by police.
Harvey stays at the city's only parking lot for women. "This is very safe, and that's why I feel very comfortable," she said.
Nancy Kapp, the New Beginnings parking lot coordinator, said the group began seeing a need for the lots in recent months as California's foreclosure crisis hit the city hard. She said a growing number of senior citizens, women and lower- and middle-class families live on the streets."