By Bill Hudson

STILLWATER, Minn. (WCCO) — On a cold winter night, Sandy Norton is reading herself to sleep. She’s wrapped in a blanket, in the front seat of her car.

“I don’t think about the outside world when I’m reading,” Norton said.

Norton is the face of the working poor. Her job at a fast-food restaurant doesn’t give her a paycheck large enough to afford rent. So a Ford Taurus is both Lazy Boy and bed.

“My co-workers don’t know either, and I don’t want them to know,” she said.

To stay safe and secret, she’ll move between parking lots. On this particular night the bedtime temperature is a chilly 12 degrees. But her night is anything but restful.

“Usually, I’ll wake up after a couple of hours after I fall asleep, freezing to death and I’ll turn my car on and then turn it off so I don’t waste gas,” she said.

On the other side of town, a college student slips inside his sport utility vehicle and pushes the seat back.

“As a child you know, I never would have imagined that I would be sleeping in my truck,” said Randy Jacoway.

It’s not just the working poor who you will find sleeping in their cars. Jacoway’s dorm room is a vehicle parked on the street.

“There are a lot of people who are really going through it right now and I just happen to be one of them,” he said.

He is only 22 credits shy of a diploma at Metro State University, so he’ll take classes by day and when the library closes for the night, Jacoway climbs into his vehicle, listens to music and shivers.

“So it’s always feeling like, yes, you’re under pressure and you can’t get a good enough sleep,” Janoway said.

Their stories aren’t that unusual. The recent recession forced many folks onto the streets, unable or unwilling to rely on family members or friends. And they are simply too poor to pay for rent.

Chris Jenks has been homeless nearly two years. His car is the living room, dining room and kitchen, all wrapped in one. His furnace is an idling engine.

“I couldn’t go on anymore and had to go move out to my car,” Jenks said.

The recession cost Jenks everything: His home, advertising sales job and even his family. Now, Jenks relies on friends for shelter while searching for work. It’s something that is hard to do with a bad transmission in your car.

“It’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy,” said Jenks.

The problem is particularly troublesome in the suburbs where homeless shelters are few and far between. So in Scott and Carver Counties, part of the plan to end homelessness is making all of their residents aware of the problem.

“One of the most unique challenges we face is that it’s much more hidden out here, so that causes people to believe that it doesn’t exist when it does,” said Allison Streich of Heading Home Scott-Carver.

The Wilder Foundation has been surveying the face of homelessness for decades and Greg Owens understands what drives people to the streets.

“There’s so much stigma attached to shelter use that people will often use a car or some other kind of vehicle,” Owens said.

Because wherever one lays their head, a basic human need is to feel safe and secure.

“We simply don’t have enough vacancy in housing that’s affordable for people with very low incomes and until that changes, it’s going to be very hard to turn this problem around,” said Owens.

That’s why on cold nights, Norton has few options other than a roof of steel idling in a Stillwater parking lot.

“After a while you kind of wish you were actually at home, in a home, any home, because it sucks after a while,” she said, fighting back tears.

Comments (28)
  1. Clay says:

    Our President and all our Senators, Have the audacity to say the economy is getting better and many jobs are opening up. All the jobs that are opening up are only for people who are fully educated with bachelor and master degrees. The less educated person cannot find a decent paying job like they did in the old days, like the factory jobs that families had back in my day. They made a decent wage, where they could live comfortably and support their families. Here you have just 3 people who have told their story to Minnesotans, Yet they are the working class poor. Our President and our Senators Need to Bring our factories and work back to the home front. These companies left all because the United States Government refused to give them a tax break, Now we are the ones suffering. We didn’t hurt those companies they hurt the people that worked at those companies, and now their seeing it, and you never hear them admit that, that is the reason people are out of work. I am a barber and i see and hear this from my customers all day long.

    1. Exp says:

      Yes, blame all the woes of our country on the lack of a tax break instead of the greedy executives that made the decisions to guarantee their bonuses over the working class of this country..

      Yes, a tax break will fix everything; except for, well, everything. Time and time again the big corps and rich get tax breaks and who pays for it? Yup, the middle class. It amazes my how anyone can follow them in this when they’re the ones getting bent over a barrel by it. It seems like the “tax break” rubber stamp is still well used, and makes me wonder if we have in fact a masochistic streak that runs in us.

    2. John O says:

      It sounds like your customers listen to a lot of garbage on right-wing hate radio and right-wing hate TV, where millionaire CONservatives con these poor CONNEDservative Goobers into thinking that if only the wealthy and giant corporations paid less taxes, it would all trickle down to the goobers. NOT. Corporate tax rates have been falling for decades, and with all the tax breaks and loopholes, their actual tax rates are pretty low. The reason they relocate overseas is by far the labor is cheaper, and in Asia, better educated.

      1. Thanks for clarifying says:

        In Asia, better educated? Thank you for your input, please sit down.

        1. John O says:

          East Asia, yes. Look at the international reading and math scores

        2. John O says:

          Goo gle (include the quotes): “Math, Science, Reading Scores Show U.S. Schools Slipping Behind”
          December 10, 2010 – The United States received a stark wake-up call this week with the release of international test results showing students in other countries are surpassing American students when it comes to math, science and reading. … “The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

  2. Herman says:

    back in 2005 I was in the same boat living in south dakota at the time. I worked 3 jobs then and STILL could not afford rent, even an efficiency apartment within 30 miles of where i was at costed close to $1000 a month.It didn’t stop me from trying to pay for an apartment until i was evicted. I lived in my 89 Suburban for a little more than a year, through a few ice and snow storms, through SWELTERING heat and all the while avoiding encounters with police (city code prohibited sleeping in a motor vehicle unless it was designed with such purpose in mind i.e. motor homes) I had to take showers at a truck stop 15 miles away, cooked diner on a habachi style grille attached to the back of my truck. I feel for these people, I’ve been there and can vouch for just how bad it really is. since moving back to minnesota I’ve been fortunate enough to have family who have allowed me to stay with them for a meager sum of $560 a month all expenses included, all that was asked of me was to help out with home repairs.

    Since 2008 though times are getting tough again, only this time its not a lack of me being able to pay, its the cost of my family member’s property taxes, energy bills going up, etc. can the working poor get a break?! can the middle class get a break?!

  3. Dennis R. says:

    2 summers ago I was homeless & was fortunate enough to have a good sized tent & a reliable vehicle..I made my home at State Parks campgrounds & was surprised to learn that several families & individuals were also homeless & camping..A campfire each night,a hot clean shower facility & good security 24 hours kept things somewhat normal..

  4. CEO says:

    I’m 6’3″ and did the homeless thing in a Chevy Beretta. Oh what memories from the good old days, not! You gotta do what you gotta do!

  5. Michele says:

    Well said, Herman. Business tax break, blah, blah, blah.

    This story is not NEWS. It’s been happening for a WHILE. We can blame corporations, and we can blame government, and it’s both. But it’s also the way we look at real estate nowadays. People don’t buy a home to grow up and die in it anymore. They buy it to make an investment. And that ups the price of the cost of housing.

    I honestly don’t know the answer to this.

  6. Billy says:

    What has America become and what is it coming to? Sad. And its just getting worse.

  7. givemeempathy says:

    While this is a serious situation and not to be scoffed at…some people need to get it together. There are plenty of cheap rentals albeit not glamorous. Get a few roommates together and make it work. A $400 apartment in a bad neighborhood may not be ideal, but especially split between a few people, it makes for a much better alternative (and safer) then sleeping in a car on the street.

    1. simnhockey says:

      So there is this thing called a credit check ..How is that going to work? THINK!!!!

  8. much love says:

    I like to come here to get a little inspiration from all the wcco bloggers. Some times reading your messages is the one thing that gets me through the day.

  9. angus says:

    We are becoming a 2 class society, and the divide is getting wider all the time, thanks to the “We can’t afford to pay more taxes”, “Anyone can get a good job”, and “Let the poor die off and rid the world of the surplus population” attitude of the very rich.

    Thank you Ronnie Reagan and the Bushie Boys.

  10. Billj says:

    This story hit home to me and is the war on the home front. i have been homeless in,Mn since 2005 sleeping in my car, constantly harassed by police/wellfare checks (mixed motives). ive been in the homeless shelters both in and minneapolis. tryin to find work and a home. my psychologist has said that they cant put me in prison for just being homeless but yet that is what DOC is tryin to do currently. I have just been trying to survive. in wright county where im from it doesnt just seem to me to be corrupt and there isnt much help (legally,financially, Etc.(since 1996)). its a paradox dilemma having a felony now between it being difficult to find work and being punished for not being able to find work for that mere fact. I have a military mummy bag a cold weather sleeping bag and works great. it is difficult to go to sleep to think will i be woke up tonight and will that officer beat me. it is no sleep at all and having to go to work and put a smile on my face is that much more difficult. I would look for places that had no signs that said that i couldnt be there but yet there were officers harrasing me.
    I currently have a place for rent now since november 2011 found on craigslist.. i still go to sleep thinking of it.

  11. Bernie says:

    Face it there will always be poor people no matter how the economy goes..
    Natural selection works for the good of all mankind.

  12. Jess says:

    I need to help this woman, Sandy. I don’t know how to find her. Where does she work? I want to do everything I can to help her but I can only do that if I find a way to reach her. Does anybody have any ideas? She shouldn’t be sleeping in a car. None of them should, but I want to help her.

    1. anonymous says:

      She works at subway in turtle lake wi..

      1. Jess says:

        how do you know she works there? thanks, i appreciate it

        1. anonymous says:

          i work with her

        2. anonymous says:

          I work with her.

  13. Kevin says:

    Four more years! Four more years! Yes we can! Yes we can!!!

  14. Bill Clintons Cigar says:

    Too funny! They got the change they voted for!

  15. Larry Craigs Crazy Foot says:

    Yeah, I’m sure If MCcain was president this article would be much different. The article really isn’t that funny, but your attempt at comedy always is. Keep up the good fight for Tools everywhere!

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