How to Live Out of Your Car

Most homeless people will tell you that there are two classes of homelessness: with car and without a car. If you are homeless, but still own a car, you may find yourself relying on it as a temporary shelter until you get back on your feet. Some cities have safe-parking programs that allow a person living in their car to park and sleep in a designated parking lot without fear of being hassled. However, more programs like this are needed if we, as a nation, genuinely wish to help the 3.5 million Americans who, according to the National Coalition of the Homeless, experience homelessness each year. Here are six tips for living out of your car if you are otherwise homeless.

  1. Find a place to park

    Finding a place to discreetly park your car so that you can rest is tricky, since the laws regarding parking on private or public property and sleeping in your vehicle vary from state to state. If there is no safe-parking program in your city, church parking lots, 24-hour shopping centers, and neighborhoods where you can park not in front of a home, but in between a residential and business property, are all potentially safe and discreet places for you to park and sleep. Parking consistently in the same spot or neighborhood will draw attention, so try to locate several places where you can park on any given night.

  2. Truck stops, rest stops, and Walmart stores

    For the weary traveler, a truck stop, rest stop, or a Pilot Travel Center are all safe, cost-free places to park and sleep. Chain truck and rest stops are well-lit and staffed with 24-hour security, and provide an oasis of amenities for the weary traveler, including showers and laundry facilities. Most, but not all, Walmart stores allow RVs and other vehicles to park overnight in their parking lots. Be sure to check with a store's manager in advance before parking and bedding down for the night.

  3. Using a car cover

    Consider using a car cover if you are unable to park at a truck stop or Walmart. A car cover will help you to remain discreet wherever you park and provide you with the privacy you need in order to rest and sleep. However, a car cover may draw the attention of thieves, who will assume that underneath it is an expensive car. And while a car cover is helpful for additional warmth in winter weather, in the summer, it will turn the inside of your car into an oven.

  4. Keep your car clean

    After a day or two of sleeping in your car, your car will start to stink. Try just barely cracking the windows before you go to sleep in order to keep the air inside fresh and circulating. Clean the interior and exterior of your car regularly, at a local car wash if you can afford it, just as you would if you were not homeless.

  5. Keep yourself clean

    Keeping clean and looking presentable when you're homeless is challenging, but absolutely crucial if you hope to find or maintain a job. Truck and rest stops usually have showers for travelers, but using one will cost you $7 to $10. Public beaches, pools, or community centers are all places where you can grab a quick shower for free. Wet Ones can be a surprisingly refreshing and thorough way to clean yourself up if you don't have access to running water or a shower.

  6. Stay safe

    Be smart about where you park your car; avoid sketchy neighborhoods, and try to park near or under a street lamp. While inside your car, make sure all four doors are always locked. If someone tries to break into your car unaware that you are inside asleep, you can almost always scare them off by honking your car horn.

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