The Safe Parking Program run by Santa Barbara's New Beginnings Counseling Center is directly helping those who are down to their last form of housing - their vehicle.
Now, they can stay overnight in approved parking lots, without have the fears normally associated with living on the streets at night.
Paula Corb, her daughters Emily and Alice, and their dog Jewel call their van, home. It's the roof over their head, and it has been for the last three years since they lost the lifestyle they once had due to devastating personal and financial issues.
"I've grown so much more since losing it all. And the loss was horrific," said Corb. "The grief was overwhelming. It just takes the biggest hit to your pride that you can imagine."
The Safe Parking Program began about ten years ago with support from city and county leaders. 19 government, church and private business parking lots have been approved for the program. Those who want to use the spaces, about one to five per lot, have to go through a review with New Beginnings and follow a set of rules. A program supervisor checks the lots regularly, and is available to anyone in the program with a concern.
The Corbs used to move from neighborhood to neighborhood before learning of the Safe Parking Program. They say it was a life saver. They say their bond is tighter now than ever.
Emily is graduating high school this year, and has A grades. She studies in the middle seat of the van and, at times, late at night when parking lot lights go out, she sits on the concrete near a building where lights are still on.
Even though some friends have invited her to move in, Emily stays close to her family. "I love it here. I love my school. I love my mom a lot," she said. "I didn't see any point giving up. I knew I would eventually get through it."
Her older sister Alice, is an avid reader and would like to work, but she has not been able to get a job.
"I am praying every day that something will happen and we will be able to rent something, It's not so easy," she said. But an optimistic personality shines through. "When you stop laughing about it, it's all over."
The three park about 7 pm and have to be on the road again in the morning around 6:30 am. They say they feel safe, and are thankful they can keep their dog by their side.
As the day begins, Emily is able to get ready for school at a friend's home. She says some of her classmates know of her situation but most don't. She is 17 and looking forward to college next year.
The family hopes for some housing options in the future, but for now they remain in their van, which has a driver's side window that won't go up and sometimes doesn't want to start. Temperatures at night lately have been in the low 40's. Last year they were in the 20's on several winter nights.
New Beginnings says they have 107 spaces filled right now and a waiting list. They have files on each person in the program and do regular assessments. When it comes to the Paula Corbs, "There's no doubt in my mind that she is very committed to the family and want to do the best and to get them back on their feet," said Roslyn Scheuerman the Safe Parking Program Coordinator.
They work with each person or family to have a short term and long term plan to help them towards housing so spaces can be freed up for others living in their cars or RV's.
For more information log on to :
or contact New Beginnings at:
324 East Carrillo Street, Suite C
Santa Barbara, CA 93101