'I Used to Be Normal'

"I used to be normal," she said, continuing to cry. "And then everything was taken from me."

After bouncing from a friend's home to her sister's place, she drove two hours north to Santa Barbara in May for a fresh start and to rebuild her real estate career. But what she found was an $8-an-hour job in a coffee shop.

She pulls in a biweekly income of about $300 to $400, not including the $50 a week in tips she gets if times are good. She pays $43 a month for a gym membership, because it's a safe place where she can go 24 hours a day and take a shower whenever she wants.

Her Jeep, on which she's making $30 a month payments to a dealership that could have repossessed it for late payments, recently broke down, costing her $1,300 in repairs.

A Safe Place to Sleep

The woman and the Miller family park their cars in overnight lots dedicated to the homeless. There are only two communities that Stoops, the advocate, knows of that have such programs that cater to the homeless who prefer their cars and RVs to shelters or camps in the woods.

Several dozen homeless drivers in Eugene, Ore., and Santa Barbara are allowed to legally park overnight in lots owned by churches, businesses and the government.

"Eugene has had problems around homelessness for a long time, like decades," city Urban Services manager Richie Weinman said.

The city made a couple of unsuccessful attempts to set up a government-sanctioned parking program, starting in the early 1990s. But it was always too expensive, too rowdy.

But since 1998, the city has operated a parking program via contract with a local nonprofit agency. There are about two dozen legal parking spaces and the city also allows residents and businesses to provide parking to the homeless under strict guidelines.

There's also a facilitator who acts as a liaison between residents, business owners and homeless drivers so the police aren't called as frequently to chase away squatters or drivers parked in illegal places.

But while Eugene has not been hit hard by the foreclosure crisis, it is a fairly poor area, Weinman said.

And their program served as the blueprint for the system set up in Santa Barbara, which the Miller family and the real estate agent are now a part of.

Hoping For a Fairy Tale

Miller, 36, his wife, Paige, 38, and their two elementary school-aged children left Florida at the end of May. By then, his business, Neverland Life Design, had filed for bankruptcy. Miller said his partner ran into financial trouble, and the house was on the auction block. Prior to the move, the couple had been making a combined $73,000 annually, with Miller's wife working as an elementary school teacher.

They sold what they could, got rid of their cars, piled into the RV with their three cats and headed for the Golden State, "not to be too fairy-tale-ish, but to follow our hearts," Miller said.

Out in California, Miller hoped to begin weekly retreats where clients could get away from their daily lives and find "the truth of who they are ... in a really luxurious setting."

Miller, who holds two master's degrees, still has money coming in from clients, and his wife's new job as an administrative assistant has eased the family's worries about having enough money for food.

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