164. Calling a Vehicle “Home”

Barbara Harvey lives in her car with her two golden retrievers(.Source AFP)

Several months ago I struck up a conversation with a stranger about our mutual admiration of dogs. He had a beautiful dog that was with him and being the animal lover that I am I stopped to pet the dog after coming out of the grocery store. This man was articulate, friendly and had an obvious pride of the dog that he told me he rescued. We continued our conversation as we both walked to our cars. It was the type of interaction among strangers that left a smile on my face. Not only was this man genuinely nice but he also had so much pride in this animal who he saved from abuse…both good things in my opinion. As we wrapped up our conversation and said goodbye this stranger went over to his car that was parked next to mine. As he opened the door I then realized that this car was home to both he and his beloved dog. Packed into the compact station wagon were the tell tale signs of a home on wheels…bedding, a dog bowl full of water on the floor board, various books and other items that told me that this was where this man lived.  As he pulled out of the parking lot I paused to think about how amazing it is for those who have so little to have such a shining spirit of kindness towards others.

My thoughts of this man were revisited when I read this article about the growing numbers of the homeless who live life out of their cars. This story about a middle class 66 year old who lives with her dogs in a Honda CRV certainly gives another face to the  typical stereotype of the demographics of homelessness. Barbara Harvey’s story is not unusual though~ there are indeed a rising number of folks that face homelessness as a most unexpected event in their lives due to the economy. These folks are the ones that find themselves one paycheck away from loosing their homes, and then the reality of the harsh economic environment leaves them no choice but to live on the streets in their vehicles.

According to Michael Stoops, executive director of the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless, Harvey’s experience is not exceptional.

“We are receiving reports from different agencies and individuals in the field that it is becoming more common,” Stoops said. “It’s definitely a trend.

“For people who lose their homes or their jobs their worst nightmare is to end up living on the streets, literally homeless. So for many it is preferable to live in their vehicles.”

For most folks the stereotypes of the “typical ” homeless person will be challenged by the recent reports of who compromises the faces of our homeless population. While there are still many addicts and mentally ill who are homeless, there are as many “normal” people who simply have fallen into unexpected financial hardships. These are the people who otherwise fit into the mainstream ,who we would never suspect of being homeless . Homelessness no longer can be viewed with such blinders as the homeless of our country have become as diverse as any other population.

Yet another myth that surrounds many stereotypes of the homeless is that they are lazy and not willing to work for a living. The facts are that many of the folks who find themselves homeless do in fact work for a living. Unfortunatley, low wages and increasingly expensive areas make it difficult to find affordable housing. Luckily, the town of Santa Barbara has created a safe solution for those who call their vehicles home by providing safe,secure parking lots for these citizens to park their vehicles. 

New Beginnings has sought to help people who are living out of their vehicles, like Harvey, by organizing a network of safe overnight parking havens, mostly in church and public carparks

Former software engineer and dotcom CEO, Jess Jessop, 54, has lived with his two sons in a converted school bus for the past four years, three of them in Santa Barbara. He says the parking scheme is a “life-saver.”

“Wherever else we’ve, it’s almost always okay for one day, maybe two. But nobody wants you to stay, so you’re constantly being forced — usually in the middle of the night — to move on. And that’s pretty tough,” he told AFP.


The faces of the homeless might surprise some who cling to stereotypes ~and that’s a good thing. It’s time that each community acknowledges the needs of this growing population and makes provisions for them to live safely whether in a vehicle or on the streets while working to create affordable housing solutions.

the situation in Santa Barbara has attracted national attention as America’s economic problems have deepened.

Breaking the myths of the homeless can only lead to the improvement of life for those who face homelessness and for the communities that seek to provide a healthy community where all citizens are valued. I was lucky to have crossed paths with that nice stranger and his dog a few months back~ I’ve certainly met people with material wealth that couldn’t come close to his graciousness & kindness.



4 Responses to “164. Calling a Vehicle “Home””

  1. 1 Terralynn Swift
    July 15, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    CNN LARRY KING had a story about Barbara Harvey and her two retrievers. I was touched at how she managed to survive with dignity and still care for her beloved pets. I would like to know more about this lady as there may be a home and a job waiting for her in Maine. Is there any way to
    contact her?

    I was also very touched by the care of her beloved pets as I was with the man I met in the parking lot that I wrote about. The ability to reach out beyond ourselves to all creatures speaks worlds about the capacity for compassion that can be demonstrated by people. This woman and so many others might find themselves lacking in material wealth but the wealth of their spirits is inspiring.
    I would suggest contacting the organization in Santa Barabara that provides the safe parking lots for people who call their vehicles home. And please, if you do reach her please share with Wanderingvets!Thank you!

    An American

  2. 2 robin cross
    July 19, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    I was very touched by Barbara’s story. I’m a retired airline pilot. living alone in Amsterdam with a wonderful dog, a white shepheard bitch, She keeps me going as slowly but surely I lose contact with widely dispersed freinds in the UK and Europe. I am not well off, no pension etc,. and what little resources are left will surely run out. But whatever happens my dog will keep me going untl she dies, she’s nearlysix now so hopefully there are many good years left.
    Good luck Barbara, your dogs will keep you going.

  3. 3 tracy mccarson
    May 22, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    I wanted to know how i can help barbara and her dogs . ive read this story and have passed it along to friends and family .. please advise how we can help barbara and her dogs ..thank you

  4. 4 Niki
    October 24, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Barbara Hats off to you! The commitement you have made to your dogs gives me hope.I hope your life has gotten better for you no matter where you are. I’m almost to the point that I will be living in my truck with my 2 dogs and one cat soon. A year ago I had a job and my own home and have lost it all living in a house that strangers are letting me stay in that is in forclosure now. So when I get the word I will have to move on myself.I have a part time job teaching art in a after school program (2 hours a day)I was able to go back to school for a assestaint teacher program. Being 59 and much alone in this world just my beloved critters that give me reason to get up in the morning. Barbara you give me hope that YES I can do this! I can keep my critters safe with much love they give me and I give them. That The sun will shine again.
    Good luck to all the people that are on this rocky path.

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