What It’s Like to Live in Your Car – The New York Times

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On Tuesday, over strenuous objection from advocates for the homeless, the Los Angeles City Council voted to reinstate and extend rules that bar people from living in their vehicles in many parts of the city.

The law, which expired at the beginning of the month, prohibits dwelling in vehicles at night on any residential street and at any time within a block of parks, schools and day cares.

The move comes as cities around the state grapple with homeless populations that — despite increased spending on services — are growing.

That, experts say, is because of the state’s intractable housing crisis.

[Read more about why seniors are being hit especially hard by rent increases.]

In Los Angeles, which as of its most recent annual count had 36,300 homeless residents, the number of people living on the streets and in cars or R.V.’s has grown considerably.

But many of the people who make up that population haven’t spent years on the streets. They’re often people who fell behind on rent when it rose and have no choice but to sleep in their cars.

That was the case not long ago for Ryan Coughran, 31; Priscilla Fregoso, 27; and their son, Jared, who’s 4 and is autistic.

Recently, I visited them to talk about the several months when they lived in their car and in motels, after a $200 rent increase forced them out of their apartment in Pacoima.

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CreditJessica Pons for The New York Times

Today, the family lives in an apartment complex in Van Nuys with enough space for the two of them, Jared and Mr. Coughran’s son, Joshua.

Ms. Fregoso has worked steadily in health care, while Mr. Coughran has stayed at home to care for Jared, a bright-eyed kid with seemingly boundless energy.

Ms. Fregoso told me that living out of their Nissan Versa took its toll.

She said she was overwhelmed with shame and anxiety.

She wondered how she, someone who’d grown up in a middle class suburban neighborhood, had found herself in her situation.

When a colleague asked her if she was O.K., “I broke down immediately,” she said. “I didn’t want anybody to know.”

Mr. Coughran, who had spent time living on the streets after running away from an abusive home, told me this week that living in a car with Jared added an entirely new kind of fear: that he and Ms. Fregoso would be deemed unfit, that their living situation would be deemed too unstable, for them to properly care for their son and that he’d be taken away.

He’d worry each time he stopped near a police officer at a red light. What if they noticed the overflowing trunk, the child sitting amid clothes and possessions, and correctly deduced they were living in the car?

A typical day would begin at 5:30 a.m., after a night of waking roughly every hour to attend to Jared or to ensure they were still safe.

[Read more about why homeless populations in L.A. surged.]

The family would find a restaurant or big box store — they often slept in the parking lot of a Target or Walmart so they’d be unnoticed among other cars — so that Ms. Fregoso could wash her face and brush her teeth before heading into work.

Mr. Coughran would drop her off at 7:30 a.m.

Then he would set out for the day. He’d find cans to sell at a recycling center for five or six dollars so he could feed Jared, or he’d stop at Los Angeles Family Housing for food.

He’d head to the library or the park — anything to keep Jared, who was about 2 at the time, entertained.

After Ms. Fregoso was off work, the family would decide whether there was enough money for a motel. If not, they’d find someplace to park and start the cycle over.

“That’s basically every single day,” Mr. Coughran said. “It’s pretty much a repetitive life.”

He said that because he’d previously been a tow-truck driver — he and Ms. Fregoso met when she found him trying to tow her car after a long shift — he knew where the family would be allowed to park for the night.

Mr. Coughran said he and Ms. Fregoso are happy to give back to the organizations, including L.A. Family Housing, that helped them find their home — after a long search that spanned the region, from the San Fernando Valley to Lancaster.

But he said the vehicle living restrictions target a population that is mostly “just trying to get by for the night.”

Mr. Coughran also worried that many people experiencing homelessness wouldn’t be able to keep up with every change to rules about where they can park.

“There’s not enough ways to reach them,” he said.

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CreditErin Schaff/The New York Times

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Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.