Living in a car is far from luxury. But it’s a necessity for a growing number of Americans who can’t afford high housing costs.
And now, even reality TV stars are calling attention to the lifestyle.
Long before «Bachelorette» and «Bachelor in Paradise» star Dean Unglert hit the airwaves, he lived with his family in a converted bus.
Known online as «Deanie_babies,» the reality star explained on Instagram why he ultimately chose to go back to the van life, explaining, «for the better half of the 90s my family lived in a converted bus, traveling from trailer park to trailer park, until we eventually settled» in Colorado.
«i [sic] was always sort of ashamed of the fact that my parents panhandled, worked odd jobs, and sold temporary tattoos to make ends meet along the way. shame on me.»
He told fans that he’s now reconnecting with his roots, commending his parents for raising four kids «on a shoestring budget.»
While he’s no longer a part of that struggle after joining «Bachelor Nation,» the storyline of many Americans includes living out of a car at some point in their life.
The skyrocketing housing prices on the West Coast show how many people are turning to this lifestyle.
While job opportunities in hotspots like San Francisco are growing, so is the cost of living.
According to financial website SmartAsset, the total cost of living in the Golden City is more than 62 percent higher than the national average. The median rent there averages at a high price of $4,600.
Conversely, when it comes to home buying, those cost-of-living prices go up: Median home prices in the city are well over $1.3 million. The current average across the U.S. is closer to $230,000.
Even people working for Silicon Valley tech giants Facebook and Twitter, making six figures, struggle to afford housing. One Twitter employee earning $160,000 told the Guardian in 2017 she’s barely getting by Silicon Valley. Her biggest expense: $3,000 monthly rent.
That’s why some people on the West Coast are forgoing traditional living and opting to stay in a car instead. A report early this year showed there were 16,500 people living out of their cars and vans in the Los Angeles area alone. Much further north in San Francisco, 1,794 people were reportedly living out of there vehicles in 2019, accounting for a 45 percent increase compared to 2017.
In L.A., car dwellers are “are typically families or people who work,” Heidi Marston, chief program officer of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, told the L.A. Times.
Annual Los Angeles County numbers show a 5 percent jump of people sleeping in vehicles. There’s also an uptick in RV dwellers in places like Santa Barbra and San Jose.
That has pushed some organizations to find a solution to help people who can work but can’t afford to live in traditional housing.
The New Beginnings Counseling Center is one of those places in Los Angeles, rolling out the Safe Parking program in 2004, which finds secure parking areas in lots by churches, government buildings and other areas for people living in their cars. Last year, it expanded to meet higher demand.
Marva Ericson is a certified nursing assistant, who in 2018 was one of the program’s clients living out of her Kia. She struggled to get by working two jobs. “I wake up and I say, ‘Thank you, God, for keeping me safe last night,’” she told the L.A. Times.
Yunus Rajabiy is another worker who took advantage of safe parking. The 36-year-old air conditioner and appliance repairman had been living in his delivery van in North Hills, California, for three years before saving up enough to move into an apartment.
But not everyone is OK with the idea of people live out of their cars on the streets of L.A.
While programs like Safe Parking are offering help to those in need, there has been an increased number of complaints about people living in their cars across the state.
In July, the Los Angeles City Council voted to reinstate rules to bar people from doing just that, leaving many people living in their vehicles without a legal place to sleep.
And the problem could get worse.
Although wages have remained mostly stagnant in California over the last few years, home values are expected to continue to rise.