San Diego

Parking Lot Provides Safe Place for Homeless Families

A city-sanctioned car parking lot for the homeless opened off of Aero Drive and the I-15 on Monday. It's the third of its kind run by the nonprofit Dreams for Change and will provide 60 spaces for people to live.

"We can come here. We can park our car, knowing that we're safe. We're gated in," said mother Zockie Mitchell.

She lives at a similar car park at the Jewish Family Services Center off Balboa Avenue with her 11-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.

"It's almost kind of like these are our houses, but like in car form," said daughter Imani. "I would want to have a place, but right now this is our home."

Homelessness falls into three main categories: people living in shelters, people living on the street and those that live in their cars. The last of which, homeless advocates say it's crucial to help.

"It's a lot of families trying to stay intact," said Heather Fitzgerald of the Youth Assistance Coalition. "If we don't help them then they're going to end up being our street homeless."

These are families like Mitchell's. Zockie says they've been in this car park for a year. Before that, they lived in one in Chula Vista. Mitchell says it allows her family to stay together while she saves money for an apartment.

Each morning, she's up by 5:30 to take Imani to the YMCA to shower. Then Imani goes to school. After that, Mitchell cares for her son, who's currently on a school waiting list.

"I wouldn't have it any other way because they need me just as much as I need them," she said.

She hopes to find housing through the city's rapid rehousing program by November.

Once home from school, Imani leads a pretty regular life in this park.

"I either do my homework, read a book or play with my friends," she said.

Her car park is a community. They have a play area and she said they ride skateboards up and down the lanes. Wednesday night, they were singing songs as families settled in for the night. Though as one woman, who wished to remain anonymous pointed out, this situation only works if the people here make progress.

"Start with the ones that have been here first, help them get on their feet and get on their way." she said. "Otherwise it's going to get pretty crowded here."

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