Even by Los Angeles standards, Noelle spends a lot of time worrying about parking. A writers room production assistant for a major streamer and script reader for a premium cable network, Noelle wakes up at 6 am on weekdays to secure a spot close to her jobs in West LA. After work, she moves her white, unassuming Ford Transit to another spot, carefully chosen to be located in a non-residentially zoned area without nightly parking restrictions and far away from any schools, daycare facilities or parks. She is constantly rotating these "day spots" and "night spots," as she calls them, so as not to annoy neighbours or attract too much attention. These days, Noelle jokes, she's more worried about a cop knocking on her window than getting "murdered or attacked."
Noelle, 25, who is using only her first name because she signed a no-publicity clause for one of her jobs, is one of the 15,748 Angelenos currently living in his or her vehicle, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Their ranks are growing amid a worsening income inequality and homelessness crisis: As of January 2018, 9,117 vehicles were being used as homes, up 600 from 2017.
The entertainment industry, one of the city's biggest and most capricious employers, counts a number of car dwellers like Noelle among its workforce. Though the precise figure is unknown, it's a small but visible population. Of the 45 or so people hosted each night by Safe Parking LA — an organisation that launched in 2016 and opened its first facility this year providing guarded, secret lots for vehicle dwellers to sleep in — an actor and a couple of part-time production or lighting professionals usually show up, founder Scott Sale says. Though LAHSA does not survey professions in its annual Homeless Count, community engagement manager Jonathan Hans says entertainment-industry types are a familiar group: "Especially within our younger population, it's not necessarily uncommon that a group of young kids came out (to LA) because somebody told them that they would get them a record deal and then they ended up living out of their van," he says. Many now-well-known industry figures — Tiffany Haddish, Chris Pratt, Drew Carey, Kelly Clarkson — have said they lived in their car before rising to fame.
Noelle, an Iowa native who graduated from Chapman University in 2016, can afford to rent a room in LA. Still, she feels that even reasonable rents — her last place was a $600-per-month shared room — are too expensive. (She says her average monthly costs are $850.) Noelle initially wanted to switch to living in a "tiny home," which generally takes up just 100 to 500 square feet and is often marketed as a more affordable way to own property. Still, even do-it-yourself tiny homes can cost up to six figures, so she found a more affordable solution on Instagram: living in a van.
Crashing in her Transit means "really living small," she says. Noelle has one closet and says she's constantly throwing things out. Her bathroom is a tiny portable toilet stashed beneath her hanging clothes (it is emptied at RV dump stations); running water is provided by 5-gallon freshwater jugs stored underneath her small sink. She, like many who live in their cars, showers at the gym, according to Hollywood Reporter.
The extra mobility the van provides is great for an entertainment professional who doesn't love LA, like Noelle (before the Transit, she often crashed in her car in Newport Beach or San Diego on weekends). But there are downsides to the itinerant lifestyle: Noelle tends to stay in one place on weekends because she's afraid of losing her spot; she avoids driving at heavy-traffic times because she's wary of even a fender bender — going to the auto shop, these days, means briefly losing the roof over her head. She's heard street fights outside her van at night and keeps pepper spray and a taser on her in case she ever feels unsafe.
Similar to Noelle, many are living out in their cars amid the heavily expensive housing facility that LA provides.
While Safe Parking LA is open exclusively to people in need who are seeking permanent homes, those who have chosen to live in their cars say that the more mobile lifestyle has upsides for their career.
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