A new study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, “Who Lives in Vehicles and Why? Understanding Vehicular Homelessness in Los Angeles,” compares the characteristics of unhoused people living in vehicles to unhoused people living in tents, makeshift shelters, and public spaces. The study finds that compared to the nonvehicular unhoused population of Los Angeles, residents living in their vehicles were more likely to be female and to live in larger households with children. Respondents who were experiencing vehicular homelessness were also less likely to be chronically homeless compared to respondents who were not living in their vehicles.
The researchers relied on data from a homelessness survey by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), conducted in conjunction with the annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count. Using these data, the researchers compared the characteristics of those living in vehicles to those living in tents, makeshift shelters, and public spaces. Of the 3,754 survey respondents, 17% reported living in a vehicle. Though LAHSA implemented several measures to ensure the survey sample was representative, this rate was far lower than the 60% of respondents who reported living in vehicles through the PIT count. The survey therefore likely underrepresents the number of people living in vehicles in Los Angeles.
The survey found that respondents living in their vehicles were more likely to be female and older compared to other unhoused respondents. Forty-six percent of respondents living in their vehicles were women, compared to 26% of nonvehicular unhoused respondents. Fifteen percent of residents experiencing vehicular homelessness were over the age of 62, compared to 10% of nonvehicular unhoused residents. Respondents living in their vehicles were also more likely to live in large households with children, with 18% of these respondents reporting they lived in households with children compared to 2% of unhoused respondents not living in vehicles. Unhoused residents living in their vehicles also differed from other unhoused residents insofar as they were less likely to be experiencing chronic homelessness, with 38% of respondents living in their vehicles experiencing chronic homelessness compared to 50% of other unhoused respondents.
Residents who were living in their vehicles were less likely to be experiencing homelessness as a result of a mental or physical health issue than those who were not living in their vehicles. People living in their vehicles were also less likely to report incarceration as a factor leading to homelessness compared to those living in tents, makeshift shelters, and public spaces. Compared to other unhoused tenants, respondents living in their vehicles were slightly more likely to report unemployment as the main reason for homelessness.
The findings of the study reveal that there are significant differences between unhoused people who live in vehicles and other unhoused people. The researchers highlight safe parking programs (SPPs) as a type of policy that could substantially improve the livelihoods and outcomes of those living in their vehicles. SPPs would allow for people living in their vehicles to legally park overnight without fear of being arrested or fined, offering an interim approach until residents are able to secure permanent housing.
Read the study at: https://bit.ly/3STvHd9