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The Department of Housing and Urban Development reported homelessness in the United States grew last year for the first time since the Great Recession. On the west coast especially, the problem seems to be getting worse because people are starting to live out of their vehicles. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority estimated in June that 9,000 people live in vehicles within the city limits, with more in the surrounding areas.

“These are people who are turning to vehicles as affordable housing,” said Graham Pruss, a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington who studies vehicular residency in Seattle. “It’s not that they want to live a nomadic life. They’re looking at the environment around them and they see that options don’t exist for sedentary housing, so they create it.”

Many of those who live in vehicles have suffered from the isolated crises that can spiral into homelessness: job loss, illness, divorce, or a death in the family. The path from rent hikes to missed payments to reduced credit scores is also a growing peril to those in blue-collar or service industry jobs, particularly in affluent regions like the Bay Area, where a San Francisco Chronicle editorial recently described the housing crunch as nothing short of an “emergency.”

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