Craig Miller left Florida this year with $3,000, a borrowed RV and a dream of helping people find meaning in their lives.
His savings may have struck some as a considerable sum. But for a family of four on their way to California, it wasn't even close to adequate. The family, once intent on selling the RV for the owner, now lives in it.
They rise early and drive to the beach for breakfast before Miller drops off his wife at her new job and heads to the library where the kids can play and read while he tries to rebuild his business. After he picks up his wife, they head out again, sometimes back to the beach for dinner before ending at the Santa Barbara, Calif., parking lot where they sleep for the night.
"You think you have everything," Miller said, "but you can lose income tomorrow."
Miller once had a four-bedroom home, complete with pool and spa, when he lived in Orlando and worked as a life coach and ran his business. He's now part of what appears to growing number of Americans who have been forced out of their comfortable lives and into their vehicles by the continuing foreclosure crisis and slumping economy.
They're the upper-class homeless, the middle-class homeless or the new homeless, depending on whom you talk to.
Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said this group of people is different from what is considered the typical image of homelessness. They are generally middle-aged, have good educations, own their own vehicles and once lived comfortable and self-sufficient lives. Sometimes they still have jobs, cell phones, laptops -- just no place to crawl into bed.
"This is a way for people to cling on to a part of the life they once had," Stoops said. "And having a vehicle makes life easier."
Stoops can't say for sure how many of the upper-class homeless are living in their vehicles across the country. But his group's April 2008 survey of state and local homeless coalitions found that 61 percent of respondents reported an increase in homelessness since the foreclosure crisis began last year.
One woman, a 55-year-old grandmother who is also living in California, went from having two homes worth a total of about $2 million to sleeping in her rundown Jeep. She has asked that ABCNews.com not use her name because her real estate clients, co-workers and some family members don't know her situation.
"I never dreamed it would be like this," she said, breaking down in tears.
Raised in the Midwest, she moved to California in the1960s. By 2005, she was earning up to $75,000 a year as a high-end real estate agent and, that year, she invested in a $1.2 million home. She didn't sell her old $780,000 ranch some 30 miles away, figuring it would sell easily. Her plan was to flip the new house in two years and sell it for $3 million.
But then her eyesight deteriorated rapidly as cataracts left her struggling to read street signs and unable to drive at night. She stopped raking in the money needed to keep up on the $10,000-a-month combined mortgages she was paying while supporting her husband, a guitarist.
The houses foreclosed, one in September 2006, the other two months later. And, she said, her husband was found to have been living a double life as a cross-dressing meth addict, though she had suspected some drug use prior to the revelation. They are now divorced.