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The Homeless Crisis Is Getting Worse in America’s Richest Cities

A toxic combination of slow wage growth and skyrocketing rents has put housing out of reach for a greater number of people.
Daniel Olguin, 28, works on his computer in the front of his van, while his wife, Mary, 26, checks on their almost-2-year-old child in the back. The couple, who have a band called Carpoolparty, have traveled around the U.S. since 2017, playing gigs with their electronic pop music whenever they can. Daniel, who was recently diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, says his parents kicked the couple out on Christmas Day a few years ago, but they have since reconciled. The two musicians have been in Los Angeles for about five months, and use the quiet and safety of the Safe Parking L.A. lot in the Koreatown section of the city to work on their music and sleep. According to a 2018 count done by Los Angeles County, there are more than 15,700 people living in 9,100 vehicles every night. These vehicle dwellers represent over 25 percent of the homeless population in L.A. County.

Daniel Olguin, 28, works on his computer in the front of his van, while his wife, Mary, 26, checks on their almost-2-year-old child in the back. The couple, who have a band called Carpoolparty, have traveled around the U.S. since 2017, playing gigs with their electronic pop music whenever they can. Daniel, who was recently diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, says his parents kicked the couple out on Christmas Day a few years ago, but they have since reconciled. The two musicians have been in Los Angeles for about five months, and use the quiet and safety of the Safe Parking L.A. lot in the Koreatown section of the city to work on their music and sleep. According to a 2018 count done by Los Angeles County, there are more than 15,700 people living in 9,100 vehicles every night. These vehicle dwellers represent over 25 percent of the homeless population in L.A. County.

Photographer: Sara Terry for Bloomberg Businessweek

It was just after 10 p.m. on an overcast September night in Los Angeles, and L. was tired from a long day of class prep, teaching, and grading papers. So the 57-year-old anthropology professor fed her Chihuahua-dachshund mix a freeze-dried chicken strip, swapped her cigarette trousers for stretchy black yoga pants, and began to unfold a set of white sheets and a beige cotton blanket to make up her bed.

But first she had to recline the passenger seat of her 2015 Nissan Leaf as far as it would go—that being her bed in the parking lot she’d called home for almost three months. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was playing on her iPad as she drifted off for another night. “Like sleeping on an airplane—but not in first class,” she said. That was in part by design. “I don’t want to get more comfortable. I want to get out of here.”