Published September 20, 2011
Volume 19, Number 9

Shepherd’s Gate Fundraiser ‘24 In Your Car’ Dramatizes Plight of Mobile Homeless

There is an old saying about not passing judgment on a person until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. Local resident Jennifer Harp had the opportunity to step into the shoes of a growing segment of the underclass lately when for a few days in August she voluntarily became one of the “mobile homeless.” These are people—an increasing number of whom are women and children—with no other option but to live in their cars. 

To draw attention to the current epidemic of mobile homelessness, Shepherd’s Gate is offering the general public a snapshot of what it’s like to call the car home. The event, 24 in Your Car, will take place on Saturday and Sunday, October 8 and 9, at the Alameda County Fairgrounds. Activities include discussion groups, music, testimonies, convenience store meals, service projects, and sleeping in the car. Participants are asked to gather $24 pledges from family and friends to support the nonprofit’s good works.  “We have families, youth groups, businesses, and churches that are signing up,” Harp says.

Harp’s own experience went even further. A constant concern was finding a safe place to park overnight. If she stationed herself in a neighborhood, she had to worry about early-rising homeowners who might report her presence to the police. A more secluded place conjured up memories of horror movies. The parking lot of a 24-hour retail store boosted her comfort level but did not offer much peace and quiet.

Then there was the question of hygiene. She had to wake up early to make her get-away, and then go off on the hunt for a restroom to freshen up. She tried not to look too disheveled before going out in public without having washed her face and brushed her hair. 

Getting food was another major obstacle. With no cooking facilities, she had to survive on what was available at the convenience store, not a terribly healthful diet. One day she went to a local soup kitchen, but even that option was fraught with embarrassment. “I was really surprised at how hard it was for me to go in there. They don’t ask any questions, they just welcome and feed you. But I spent 15 minutes in my van trying to deal with the pride issue.”

Harp willingly subjected herself to such a daunting challenge experience to dramatize the plight of her constituency, the women and children who seek refuge at the nonprofit Shepherd’s Gate, where she is Director of Marketing. With facilities in Livermore and Brentwood, Shepherd’s Gate has been providing “a safe haven for women and their children who are homeless because of abusive relationships, addictions, loss of financial support, and other factors” since 1984.

Especially with today’s economy, “women and children have become the fastest growing segment of the homeless population,” Harp points out. All too often, the only choice left to them is to live in their cars.

For more information, visit www.24inyourcar.com, where a video blog of Harp’s experience can also be viewed. 


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