"Transitional" families find hope, community in local parking lots

Posted at 10:38 PM, Aug 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-29 01:17:36-04

UPDATE: Less than two days after the 10News story aired, the Mitchell family had a heartwarming update. The car dealership that fincanced their Nissan Armada kindly handed the title over to Zee. She had around $7,000 left to pay. Zee told 10News she's thankful to not have the car payment and will put that money into her savings account so the family can find a home. 

A GoFundMe page was set up for the Mitchells. If you would like to contribute, click here


SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- A safe place to sleep. It’s something many of us take for granted. In San Diego County - 9,100 people are homeless. Some of them say, it’s only temporary.

“If you do ask most of our clients, are you homeless? (They say) ‘No, I’m not a homeless person I just lost my apartment, I still have a job, I have my car, yeah I’m just sort of in-between,’” says Dr. Teresa Smith, the CEO of Dreams for Change.

Smith founded the nonprofit in 2009, with the initial goal of meeting the needs of families and individuals affected by the financial downturn. Over the years, she realized that homelessness comes in many forms - and working families have turned to their vehicles when hit with unexpected life events. Life events that leave them without any money for housing.

“It really is this sort of niche of homelessness that often times get forgot about,” Smith said. “A majority of them do have jobs, or go to school. In essence (they) have a life in the community, and they just can’t afford the housing.”

How Dreams for Change helps

Dream for Change helps dozens of those families a safe place to sleep. Smith says the biggest challenge the organization finds is finding a place for all of the applicants to go.

There are only two lots in San Diego that participate in the program - allowing families to drive in at 6 p.m. when the lot is closed for the day. By 7 a.m., they head out for the day. Kids off to school, parents off to work or to find jobs. 

10News Photojournalist Tim Hahn experienced a “normal night” with the Mitchell family.

“My favorite part about coming here is playing with my friends, because I know if I had a rough day I can turn to them and have fun,” said Imani Collier.

The 11-year-old lives with her little brother Tahj and their aunt Zee Mitchell, who affectionately refer to as “mom.” Every night, they drive their Nissan Armada to the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Campus parking lot at 6 p.m. along with dozens of other families.

“I don’t feel homeless, I feel like I’m transitioning into something better,” Zee said. “One day we’re going to be there, we’re going to be in a bed again, this is only temporary. “

Imani echoes her aunt, telling 10News:

“One day we will have our home, one day we will have our own place to stay and we don’t have to worry about anything ever again because God will have us in his hand, so, I have a lot of faith and hope that he will take care of us.”

More information

As of last month, the average rent for a one bedroom apartment in San Diego was almost $1,800. For a two bedroom apartment, you're looking at an average of more than $2,200 a month.

According to rent jungle, both of these averages are more than a 2% increase from 2016. As for homes, Zillow is reporting the average value for a home in San Diego is $548,000.

2,650 people have been served through Dreams for Change since 2009. 65% of participants find housing or long-term transitional housing within three months of coming joining.

The program offers onsite social workers and bathrooms to assist families during the transitional period. Right now, they’re looking for businesses with open parking lots to participate. That way, they can start placing families that are currently on the waiting list.

If you’re willing to participate, or would like to participate in the program, you can reach the organization through their website or on Facebook.