Living in your car: One woman shares her story and how she became homeless

ASHLAND, Ore.– A church camping ordinance in Ashland was approved by the city council last week allowing people living out of their cars to stay in the parking lots overnight — if the church allows it. In the same week, Medford City Council gave initial approval to a similar ordinance.

According to one woman currently living out of her van in Ashland, it’s relief people like her desperately need.

NBC5 News spoke with Arielle Johnson on Tuesday to hear her story as to how she ended up in her situation and why she wants people to know that ending up where she did was never part of the plan. She says that the stigma surrounding homelessness makes everyone seem like they fell into this because of drugs and alcohol. To her, that’s not the case.

“It’s not just drug addicts and drunks out on the streets,” said Johnson. “It is legitimately some of us who ended up here because we didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

When she was 20 years old, Johnson had a job, a home and a life back in Whitewater, Wisconsin. One year later, she lost her job, was evicted and is now living in a van with her partner in southern Oregon.

“Everything that’s happened leading up to being homeless its just it happens and there are people out here because of it,” she said.

With the newly passed ordinance in Ashland allowing church camping, Arielle says it will be very helpful to people like her. Multiple times she says she’s seen police pull over and shine lights into their cars to check who might be living in them.

But with little money and barely enough for gas half the time, they’re usually stuck until they can find more.

“It wouldn’t be that big of a problem,” she said about the church camping. “We’d be able to stay somewhere without the cops spotlighting us all night.”

Arielle says she found her way to Oregon after hearing the state had a lot of resources to help the homeless like the church parking.

However, it was difficult trying to get help when many don’t know who to help.

“As a lot of people have also mentioned it is hard to tell the difference between those who want the hand up and those who are just looking for a handout,” she said.

Arielle says she doesn’t want a handout, she wants help so she can move on. But in the last several months as she began to find the help she lost something else.

Her daughter Faye, only five months old, was taken by Child Protective Services. She’s been in communication with the agency and is allowed to see Faye with her current foster family in Medford for the time being. But it will be a bit before they can get custody of her again.

Now in a series of misfortune, she’s stuck trying to get her daughter back. There’s a glimmer of hope though and it comes in the form of a tattoo she scraped some money together for. On it reads 09/19/18 in numerals, Faye’s birthdate.

Arielle says it’s her daughter that’s pushing her to find that better life.

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