Originally published August 17, 2012 at 6:59 p.m., updated August 22, 2012 at 9:40 p.m.
On a recent Wednesday, Angela Caldwell and her five children pass the warm hours of the afternoon at the YMCA in City Heights. Her 9-year-old son, Justin, cools off in the pool while Adrielle, 6, and Gabriel, 7, hit the court with their basketball team.
As other families head home after a day at the Y, the Caldwells pile into their van, which they also call "home."
"Five years ago if you would have told me that this is where I would be, I would have been devastated," Caldwell said.
Finding a safe place to sleep just got a little harder for homeless people living in San Diego County. Last month Cornerstone Christian Church opened its parking lot for people to sleep overnight in their cars, but the City of Vista said the program is required to have costly permits and undergo public hearings in order to continue.
The family moved across the county in their van two months ago. They came from Michigan to San Diego to be closer to Caldwell’s ex-husband and father of her children, who range in age from 8 months to 9 years old. But the housing she had hoped to find didn’t pan out, and within a couple of days, they were homeless.
She doesn’t want to let their lack of housing deprive her kids of their childhood, so she keeps them busy.
"I’m just hoping that in some way when they remember this moment they will think, 'wow, we were homeless, really? We were staying in our van? That’s crazy, we did this, and this, and this'” said Caldwell.
When the family ran out of options, a caseworker at St. Vincent De Paul said they could sleep on mattresses at the Rescue Mission, or they could check out the overnight parking lot program, Dreams for Change on L and 28th Street near downtown San Diego.
Caldwell's children are full of energy when they arrive to the lot. They spill out of the van bouncing balls and later shooting each other with water guns. Caldwell believes her children look forward to ending their day at the parking lot. "It tells that this experience isn’t the worst-case scenario for them” she says.
The parking lot program provides a safe place for homeless people to sleep in their cars. Social workers on staff at the lot also provide help to access services, like CalFresh and unemployment benefits, offered to San Diegans in need.
CEO of Dreams for Change, Teresa Smith, says over the past two years, 70 percent of clients have found longterm, or permanent housing.
The Caldwells are on waiting lists for a few shelters around the County, but Angela has found it difficult to qualify. "Several of them have said that we have too many children.”
She is no stranger to adversity. After dropping out of college, she and her then husband started a family. Then, her second son was diagnosed with leukemia at just thirteen months of age.
"In the hospital I was always wishing for better days. I was always projecting that I could give him a better life.”
Cladwell wants to find a job that will allow her to work from home. She believes her situation is temporary.
“Someone told me, it’s just a season, and I said, 'no, it’s intermission. We are out getting popcorn right now, and then I am going to go in and see the rest of the show, and I am going to have a grand finish.'”
As the street lamps flicker to life over parking lot, the family climbs into their van. Tomorrow, they’ll get up and start it all over again.