Thousands in Los Angeles now calling vehicles homes

By Omar Younis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Colleen Megee moved into an RV with her boyfriend, Alexander Spector, and their dog, Mimo, two years ago. Like thousands of other unhoused people in Los Angeles, they feel living in a vehicle is safer than sleeping in a tent or on the street.

"In 2011, I became homeless because I couldn't afford my rent and I ended up living in tents or bushes or whatever. Then, I got into an RV and that's more like a home kind of thing. At least there is shelter," said the 37-year-old, whose mobile home is one of several hundred parked on Burbank's Forest Lawn Drive across from Warner Bros Studios.

"It's home now but I would like to be in an apartment," she said.

Nearly a third of Californians are living in or near poverty, with poverty in Los Angeles County the highest in the state, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Los Angeles has some of the highest housing costs in the country with its stock of affordable housing unable to meet demand.

The thousands of parked vehicles have disgruntled neighbors, however, according to Los Angeles City Councilwoman Traci Park.

“We're outside of one of our local schools, and you can see there are RVs. They have been parked here without moving for years,” said Park, from the popular Venice neighborhood. “Their belongings are impeding the sidewalks and, you know, families with children need to be able to access this area to get to school."

She called the scale of the problem “immense”. Estimates vary on how many people are living in vehicles but most agree the figure is at least several thousand.

A motion introduced by Park to regulate the sale and leasing of RVs and vans that are used for housing was approved unanimously by the Los Angeles City Council on Aug. 30. Now, Los Angeles County is following her lead, considering similar restrictions.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority estimates over 75,000 people were unhoused this year in Los Angeles County, 46,000 of which are within the City of Los Angeles.

(Reporting by Omar Younis; Writing by Christina Anagnostopoulos; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)