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First Person: Living In A Car In San Diego With 3 Children

Lola Cheatham is holding her 3-year-old daughter after she fell asleep in her...

Photo by Brooke Ruth

Above: Lola Cheatham is holding her 3-year-old daughter after she fell asleep in her arms, Feb. 15, 2018.

Special Feature First Person

KPBS Midday Edition's First Person series tells the stories of average and not-so-average San Diegans in their own words. Their experiences, both universal and deeply personal, offer a unique lens into the news of the day.

More than 500 families in San Diego County are homeless, according to the last point-in-time count.

Lola Cheatham and her three daughters are one of those families. They have been living in a parking lot in the city of San Diego on and off for nearly two years.

The nonprofit Dreams for Change operates the 30-car church parking lot in Golden Hill where Cheatham parks her van most nights.

"It's a little bit better than ... a shelter system or something like that because you have your own domain, your own space, and in a shelter, you're kind of pressed up against everybody. And if someone's detoxing on drugs or alcohol, then that's kind of hard ... in a family situation," Cheatham said.

The parking lot is open from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Dreams for Change also operates two other parking lots in the city.

Cheatham's oldest daughter, who is 12, sleeps on the back row of seats, her 3-year-old daughter sleeps on the middle row, and she and her five-year-old daughter sleep in the reclined front seats. Cheatham has decorated the inside of the van with battery-operated twinkle lights so the car battery does not drain down.

Prior to staying at the safe parking lot and a shelter, Cheatham and her family lived in an apartment in North Park. They moved after the three-unit property was sold to a realty company that planned to renovate and increase the rent.

"We didn't have anywhere to move to but we had done this before where we just kind of had a transitional period in a motel for a few weeks or a month or something and then found a place, but what I didn't understand was the rental policies had shifted and you need three times the rent, combined (monthly) household income, and a 650 or better credit score," she said.

Cheatham, 36, is taking community college classes and is an aspiring actress and writer who has written a screenplay.

"My father helps me with living expenses so that I can pursue my career goals...and so I can be their mom...that's my number one job. And even if I had a job that was relatively decent paying, childcare, and rent, and you add it all up, I still don't know as I would be making ends meet and strangers are raising my kids," she said.

As part of our First Person series, Cheatham tells her family’s story from the van that she and her three daughters call home.

We're sorry. This audio clip is no longer available. A transcript has been made available.

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