It might be too early to draw conclusions about Janesville’s experiment in allowing homeless people to sleep in their cars in a park. But so far, so good.
The arrangement began Thursday night in the parking lot of a boat launch on the far north side of Traxler Park.
Police reported one man stayed the night Thursday. Three cars used the lot Friday and Saturday nights.
Friday, Dave and Mary, who arrived at the lot separately, were passing the time by chatting in her minivan. They agreed to give their first names for this story.
They did not appear to be the people some in the community have feared, bringing drugs or other crime.
“I think we’re too old to do that,” Dave said.
They are both in their 60s.
Dave is a former construction worker and homeowner in Chicago. He has struggled for much of the past 20 years after his divorce and the death of his son, he said.
Dave starts a job next week, and he hopes to have enough money to get an apartment before the weather turns cold.
“I’m not asking for sympathy,” he said. “I’m a hard worker, a go-getter.”
Dave has gotten help from family, “but you can only ask so much,” he said.
Mary said she is a certified nursing assistant who had returned to her hometown of Beloit to care for her aging mother, but a domestic incident led to her being banned—unjustly, she said—from that residence.
Mary and Dave both have contacted shelters, but all were full, the two said.
A police squad car cruised through the parking lot as the two talked with a Gazette reporter. A nearby camera sends a live feed to a police monitor—although not continuously—through the night.
Sgt. Dean Sukus said police will offer help, such as a contact for possible rent assistance they offered to one person, but otherwise, they won’t disturb those who might need to get to work in the morning.
Mary and Dave said they appreciated the police presence, as did a woman who declined to give her name who was spending the night with a small girl.
The woman had been forced to leave the house where she was staying because it was sold, she said.
The woman had read news stories in which people expressed fear of homeless people. She said she and the girl are not that kind; all they want is a quiet place to spend the night.
The woman said this is her first time being homeless. She looked tired. Tears came to her eyes as she talked.
“Raising kids, working and trying to find a place is hard for one person,” she said.
Mary said she was uneasy to be sleeping in her car, but knowing police are keeping watch lessens her fear.
A new city ordinance allows the overnight parking only in this spot, which has a restroom and drinking fountain.
Police who encounter people sleeping in their cars now will be able to direct them to this parking lot, which is tucked behind commercial properties between North Parker Drive and the Rock River, Sukus said.
It is impossible to know if more people will use the site, Sukus noted, but as word gets out, numbers could grow. Plans envision no more than 25 vehicles during this trial period, which runs through Oct. 31.
A group of city and social-service organization representatives came up with the plan to address the growing numbers of people temporarily homeless because shelters are full, and the dearth of available apartments makes finding an affordable home harder to find.
Dave said he has seen apartments costing $650 to $800 a month.
“How can a single person pay that much?” he said.
“You can’t,” Mary responded. “It takes two people to make it.”
Mary said she plans to have a place to stay before the cold winds blow.
In the meantime, she’s grateful to Janesville for providing a safe place for her to sleep.
“It means a lot. It really does,” she said.