Kevin Hayden, Mon Jul 11 2011:
Santa Barbara boasts a classic laidback California lifestyle, with uncongested beaches, wholesome cafes and charming Spanish-style architecture.
Of course there’s a hefty price tag: nestled between the gentle Santa Ynez mountains and the inviting Pacific Ocean are multi-million dollar homes.
But in this sun-washed haven of wealth, many live far from the American dream.
In a car park across the street from luxury mansions, the evening brings a strange sight.
A few cars arrive and take up spaces in different corners. In each car, a woman, perhaps a few pets, bags of possessions and bedding.
Across the street from homes with bedrooms to spare, these are Santa Barbara’s car sleepers.
Homeless within the last year, they are a direct consequence of America’s housing market collapse.
In this woman-only parking lot, Bonnee, who gives only her first name, wears a smart blue dress and has a business-like demeanour.
A year ago, she was making a healthy living as, ironically, a real estate agent. But when people stopped buying houses, her commission-based income dried up, and, like many clients, she too was unable to pay her mortgage.
Soon she found herself with nowhere to live but her 4×4.
Piles of blankets are in the back of the vehicle. Personal documents are stuffed into seat pockets. Books litter the back seat. A make-up bag and gym membership card (she washes at the gym) are in the front. With her constantly, are photos of her former life.
She can’t quite believe her situation.
“My God, America’s heart is bleeding,” she tells me.
Tears fill her eyes.
“I know it’ll get better. But it feels sad. I really fought hard.”