The coronavirus pandemic has created difficult financial situations for lots of Americans, with many now opting to live in their cars to alleviate the burdens.
USA Today reports:
Americans are being driven into their vehicles by COVID-19 pandemic-fueled woes. And their ranks are likely to grow as the government safety net frays and evictions and foreclosures rise.
Graham Pruss, a postdoctoral scholar with the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative at the University of California, San Francisco’s Center for Vulnerable Populations, said that while many struggled to find an affordable place to live, the pandemic has made the housing crisis worse.
“We have seen more people moving into vehicles and more restrictions on public parking for them over the last decade, and then COVID hit,” Pruss said. “I am concerned that we may be facing a population increase in mobile sheltering and vehicle residence at unprecedented levels.”
According to estimates reported by USA Today, nearly 1 in 500 Americans is homeless, with the majority on the West Coast and in the Northeast. People who work to raise awareness for the homeless say that those who do not have permanent housing are often undercounted. Those who live in their cars are even more difficult to track, due to the fact that they move often.
Joseph Zanovitch, executive director of HOPE Homeless Outreach in Longmont, Colorado, said, “We call people living in vehicles the hidden homeless population.”
Vehicles are sometimes preferred places to live instead of shelters and encampments. Not only do they give more privacy, but they can protect people from the elements and keep families together, along with their pets. The isolated structure of living in a vehicle is also more attractive due to the pandemic because it allows people to keep a distance from others. USA Today notes that infection rates have “so far [been] lower than feared in the homeless population.”
Yesica Prado is a multimedia journalist and first-generation immigrant from Nezahualcóyotl, Mexico. She parks her RV in an industrial area of Berkeley, California, as she attends graduate school at UC Berkeley. Prado reportedly said that during the pandemic, “she’s seen at least a 10% increase in vehicle dwellers as people lose their jobs and can no longer afford the Bay Area’s sky-high rents amid the decadeslong regional housing crisis. Their ranks are also growing as more people use pandemic unemployment benefits to move out of tents and into vehicles, said Prado…”
She adds, “If you only have so much in savings, you can either spend that money on three months of rent or get a vehicle…A lot of people are having to come to those choices right now.”
Churches, nonprofits, and local governments in California and Washington state have reportedly stepped up to help, offering overnight parking lots for people living in their cars or other vehicles. The lots have “portable toilets and showers and caseworkers to help secure permanent housing.”
But some non-profit workers worry about funding, including Kristine Schwarz, the executive director of the New Beginnings Counseling Center, which hosts a Santa Barbara Safe Parking Program.
USA Today reports, “Because of the way stimulus and other funds are allocated, many nonprofits like hers are ineligible for assistance, Schwarz says.”
“We are very concerned about what is going to happen when we deplete the financial assistance funds we have and don’t have access to additional funding sources,” she says. “There is simply not enough financial support to go around.”
The economic shutdowns caused by COVID-19 have taken a toll on employment and aided in homelessness over the past year, with many people still struggling since the pandemic entered the United States more than a year ago. These hardships are expected to continue in many areas.
Locked Out: Unemployment and Homelessness in the COVID Economy, by the Economic Roundtable, used data from the 2008 recession in order to estimate the connection between homelessness and job loss in order to predict the “pandemic-driven homelessness” in Los Angeles and the United States.
The report states that “over the next four years the current Pandemic Recession is projected to cause chronic homelessness to increase 49 percent in the United States, 68 percent in California and 86 percent in Los Angeles County.”
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