Ed Note: San José is one of the least affordable cities to live in in the country - according to the National Association of Home Builders only 21% of San José’s households can afford to buy a median priced home versus the national average of 63%. According to the last count in 2013, there are 4,770 homeless people in San José, with the majority of those living outdoors, in parks, a car, or encampments. Yaveth reveals how he is one of those folks navigating the few options a lack of affordable housing in the land of plenty leaves. He spent a year and a half living out of his car after his family was forced to move to Tracy when they lost their San José home of 25 years to foreclosure. Only recently a friend convinced him to share the rent on a garage, he now has a regular place to rest his head, but without the owner of the home knowing there's another tenant.
It’s crazy to think that I make more money than most people in the world, but I’m still unable to afford a place to live. I make $58,000 a year and it’s not enough to live and be able to eat here in San José. That’s why I live in my car. Sleeping in my car is my way of fighting high rent costs. I want to save up for my future. I want to be able to have a place to call home – not to borrow and give it back when I run out of money.
I can either go into a lease agreement where I can easily go into a lot of debt, go back to grinding and hoping to get promoted only to be more in debt. Or I can keep grinding but give up finding a decent place to stay due to the fact that getting a place equals being broke as f***. So right now, I’m enjoying spending a little money, paying debts faster, and am on a somewhat clearer path to saving up for something bigger.
I was born in San José, and lived with my family here for more than 25 years until we lost our home to foreclosure during the recent market crash. We moved out to Tracy and while I had a job here in the area at a bank I commuted back and forth for more than a year.
I got that job as a teller after graduating from UC Berkeley thinking I could move up and grow, but I hated working there. I would go home to my little room that I rented from a Filipino family and played video games with my housemate – a 9-year-old kid who played Grand Theft Auto on Playstation 3, and I would take out my frustration by killing random people on the street – in the game of course.
After a while the decision of whether to continue renting the room in a shitty run down area of Santa Clara vs. commuting from Tracy was made for me. I got fired from the bank, moved back to Tracy and started looking for a job that I somewhat liked.
I knew I wanted to help people and I started getting involved in community non-profits because that was always something I enjoyed. I was working at Sacred Heart Community Center, networking, I then began working at Working Partnerships USA and I started a community organizer internship. I finally felt like this was more of what I wanted to do. Eventually I applied for a job at a union, where I am currently working now.
The only sad thing for me is that others don’t know I’ve been living in my car. I started to be more open about it, but what I hated about telling people is that they assume this is not my choice and they try and help me only to realize there’s really nothing they can do.
I would go home to Tracy to visit my parents and go back to my room I have there, thinking to myself: damn, I could just be sleeping in my comfortable bed in Tracy if only I had the discipline and will power to do the 4 hours of commuting every day. My parents didn’t even know I lived on the street, if they found out they would probably have a shit storm.
Keeping all this secret took a mental toll, I constantly lied about my situation. To the question, Where do you live? I would tell people I commute, or I’d tell people I rent a room – I would tell them anything except that I live in my car. My friends knew I lived in my car and my close friends would be shocked like, wow, how do you do it? They’d be worried, but otherwise they’d admire my tenacity.
People say that if you’re poor you deserve to be poor and it is no one else’s fault. But it’s hard to say that when you live in a place where the blatant disparities are in your face every day. I hear about security guards that work for Google who are homeless. I see people with families that have to work at places like Wal-Mart or Jack in the Box and hardly make ends meet.
Why can’t we work together to help the economy for everyone?
Companies can easily invest in their communities to improve all of our lives. Companies could offer package deals for their employees such as: health insurance, home ownership/rental property, and retirement options. They can invest more in philanthropy. Especially the ones that really are capitalistic vampires (*cough* Wal-Mart *cough* *cough) can come up with home owner/renter incentives to motivate and encourage employees to work for them long term.
If the government doesn’t have the will to help out the depraved in this city, choosing to chase the homeless out from one spot to the next without real long term housing solutions, they can at the very least have car parking sanctuaries and make living in your car legal. It can be very simple like a neighborhood park where people are allowed to park their cars overnight and feel safe.
If you happen to find yourself in a similar situation, here are Yaveth’s tips to sleeping in your car:
Park in a safe, chill neighborhood. Make sure you don’t see any signs saying that you’re not allowed to park, and if you see a neighborhood watch program sign just be aware that you might get told on if you are spotted. No one will notice you if you don’t make it too obvious. It would be cool if you had tinted windows. I know some people may live in their RVs and park outside of Home Depots or places that are mostly industrial and don’t have security watch.
I parked around a park where I could use the restroom in the morning, but I wouldn’t recommend it since those restrooms are disgusting. It also helps to have baby wipes as a shower substitute, but that is not exactly an effective alternative. Have a sleeping bag and/or a thick blanket with a couple pillows to sleep comfortably. Keep your clothes on even when you sleep because you never know if someone will come and wake you up to kick you out of your parking spot.
I know it’s illegal to sleep in your car in most places. Don’t let your battery run in the car unless you have jumper cables and you don’t mind wasting gasoline or energy. Bring a nice book if you’re parked under a street lamp. Don’t make it obvious by parking and putting all kinds of covers on your windshields because that just looks tacky and will get attention.
A constant challenge though, is having nowhere to cook food. If you’re going to be extreme, have an adapter that can connect to a Foreman Grill or some low vault pressure cooker, or steamer to cook all your stuff in. Park near a Safeway to stroll in and buy what you’re going to cook and eat right away. Also, a Safeway is open 24 hours so you can go use the restroom if you have to.
I didn’t have a gym membership so I would sneak into a local college and take a shower in the locker room whenever I had the chance and I was near campus. I would have myself a free breakfast at the buffets where they had a free event or forum or I’d pretend I was a hotel guest at a hotel where they give a complimentary breakfast. I know that’s wrong but that was sometimes my little scheme to save money.
About Yaveth Gomez
Yaveth Gomez is a videographer and writer for Silicon Valley De-Bug. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org