I've been sleeping in my car for about a month now. I recently moved up to Santa Barbara, California so I could go to Santa Barbara City College. However, I don't have much money. Instead of blowing it all on rent for an apartment, I was thinking, "What the heck? I'll just stay in my car." I'm getting an apartment with a few other people in June, so if I saved money for a few months, I'll be rich enough to not have to worry about money next school year.

However, last night I turned my car lights off, and attempted to turn off my car. You see, sometimes my car just pu-putts when I turn the car off, and it doesn't actually stop for a few minutes. Add the fact that one of my windows is broken because of this, and a cop just happened to be driving by, and I end up having to deal with said cops because they think maybe I stole my car.

They tell me to get out of the car, into the rain when all I have on is a pair of shorts, and they start searching my car (looking for drugs or whatever, I don't know). I couldn't even put on a shirt. (They were probably worried I was going to hide the drug "evidence" or pull a weapon on them.) Pretty much I found out that in Santa Barbara County, sleeping in ones car is illegal. I was wondering why, and this theory popped into my mind.

They don't want poor people in the city. A person who can only afford to live in his car has to live in their car somewhere else, just not in Santa Barbara. Which I guess makes sense since all the rich people here prolly think that if one can't pay for rent, they don't deserve to live within 30 miles of the cool beach people dirtying up the scene and lowering property values. Personally, I don't think beachfront property values are ever going to go down, but I guess I'm not aesthetically pleasing either.

Ah well, I don't know what I'm going to do now, I guess I could just try to find a really cheap place to stay for a few months and just deal with a money problem, or maybe I'll just take my chances, hope the police don't bother me again, and continue sleeping in a car parked on the side of the road.
Here's one reason why it might be a bad idea -

About 2 years ago, we got a call for an unconcious person in a vehicle on the side of the road. I was at the fire station when the call came in, and responded with the fire engine. This meant that, going down the road emergency and in a line were a fire truck, an ambulance, my truck, and a deputy who also happened to be at the station.

The road this was reported on was a loop through a neighborhood, and we went in the first entrance. However, the car was located on the other side of the loop at the second entrance, which means we got to do this little procession through the neighborhood, bringing the residents out of their houses out of curiousity.

So by the time we get to the car, we have a fire engine, an ambulance, my truck, a deputy, (making a total of 7 people) as well as about 10-12 neighbors. Turns out to be some teen that fell asleep in his car over night, and slept through the rising sun.

So, unless you LIKE waking up to about 20 people, be careful where you sleep if you do sleep in your car.

Parking for the night

You might just need to park for a single night because you are traveling or lost your house keys, or you might be living in your car for a much longer period of time. No matter what the case you can minimize the dangers with a little bit on intelligence.

You are going to want to change parking spots on a nightly basis. Don't keep a pattern to your locations. Driving to your parking location should be the absolute last thing you do before you go to sleep. Don't park at 8 PM and then futz around with a candle and a book for 3 hours, as that will attract attention, and attention is the last thing you are going to want. All you should do is just pull into your spot, climb into the back and go to sleep. If you don't get out of the car and avoid creating any lights then you probably won't attract any attention at all.

If you are parking in a parking lot then you are going to want to park in the vicinity of other vehicles. If at all possible try to select a spot next to a larger vehicle, between two of them is even better. If your car or van is sandwiched between a pair of box trucks (or even two minivans) then it isn't going to stand out, and no one will be able to see into it without effort. Don't make the mistake of parking off all by yourself in a far corner of the lot, anyone doing that sticks out like a sore thumb.

If you are a day sleeper then your choices are nearly unlimited, just try to avoid mall parking lots, as they almost all have bored security guards driving around in golf carts looking for trouble. Night sleepers have to be a little more selective. Your number one choice should be hotel parking lots. Hotel parking lots always have lots of vehicles in them at night and those vehicles are often loaded with possessions. Just try to pick a parking spot out of direct view of the front door, because you don't want the person behind the front counter to see you pull up, but then never get out of the car. If for some reason you can't find a hotel parking lot then park in front of a house on a residential street. Pick a corner house so you can park on the side of the house rather than the front. People tend to get very possessive about the piece of street in front of their house, but not so much about the parking spaces on the side of the house. If you park in front of a house then be prepared to leave early in the morning.

There are a lot of places that you should never park, because they are dangerous or because they are in locations that tend to attract police attention. Never park in the parking lot of any business that isn't open all night. You should also avoid libraries, parks, government offices and all other places that are neither business nor residences. Those places tend to get extra police attention for various reasons (mostly because of the fact that they are favorite "parking" locations for teenagers). Commuter parking lots and highway rest stops are great for day sleeping, but can be dangerous at night, so avoid them after dark. Finally you should avoid the classic "down by the river" spots at all costs, these tend to be favorite party and teenager hangouts and they usually get lots of police attention.

Sleeping in a car parked on the side of the road is in most locales illegal, but in certain circumstances can be one of the best options. These can include stranding by mechanical problems or intoxication, lack of funds, or a problem which otherwise prevents the driver from continuing, such as loss of contact lenses.

When I was 19 and flew from California to San Antonio to purchase a Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, I found myself that night without funds until at least midnight due to daily bank caps on usage of debit cards to get a room for the night, and no other obvious options for a location to sleep. I sought out the best option I could come up with: I slept in the car over where I saw some trucks parked for the night by a filling station on the south end of Fort Worth.

With my contact lenses out, which had been threatening to fall out for hours prior, I crawled in back to get some shuteye. I found myself awakened in the backseat of an ex-cop car with a present cop knocking on the window and shining his flashlight in my near-sighted eyes a few hours later. I put up a hand to shield my eyes, and was asked to open the door. Confused, nearly blind, and still tired, I opened the door as requested.

After the obvious questions such as "Why were you sleeping in the car?" (Because I was tired, and it seemed safer than driving tired with contacts potentially falling out) and "Why didn't you get a room in that motel not a hundred yards away?" (Because I was completely devoid of funds other than the $20 bill in my pocket until midnight PST), he finally told me I couldn't sleep there. I asked where I might sleep, and he just told me "Not here."

I thanked him, for lack of a better idea, and got back in, put in my somewhat moisturized contact lenses. I went down the freeway a few miles and pulled in at a Denny's and proceeded to be confused when I was asked whether I wanted smoking or non. Being a Californian at the time, I was so accustomed to it being illegal to smoke in business establishments that it took a minute for my tired mind to wrap itself around the question and comprehend what I was asked and stop responding with "one".

I sat around there for about three hours until sunup, drank a lot of coffee, and grabbed a bite to eat, concluding that if I ever ended up in the predicament of having nowhere to sleep, I could find something better than the back of my car. Especially now that I have left the spacious Crown Victoria behind, since that would mean someplace very uncomfortable. Namely, the back seat of a Volkswagen.

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