SANTA BARBARA, California — There is a shortage of affordable housing in every state in the country, but it's especially bad in California, where more and more people are discovering the only place they can afford to live is inside a car.

There's only one affordable housing unit for every five extremely low-income households in the state, and the gap isn't just pushing more and more people out onto the streets — it's also creating a new, fast-growing, and hidden class of homelessness.

Danielle Williams is one of them. She’s a single working mother who has been living in her van with her daughter for five years. At first, it meant sleeping in dark, scarcely populated areas, and being hassled by the police on a regular basis.

"I just couldn't pay the rent anymore. We just ended up sleeping in the car, thinking it was only going to be temporary," Williams said.

But now, thanks to a program called Safe Parking — a network of parking lots equipped with porta-potties and lot monitors — she can now stay in her car overnight without worrying about her safety.

VICE News traveled to Santa Barbara to see how the new program is helping people like Danielle live a little more comfortably, and we met with a government official who’s frustrated there aren’t longer-term solutions to help the roughly 16,000 people in Los Angeles who now sleep in their cars.

Danielle Williams, 46, is a single mother who downsized from an apartment to a car five years ago, after she was laid off from her full-time job in accounting. She is among a growing population of people in California who have resorted to living in their cars in Safe Parking programs due to a lack of affordable housing. (Cassandra Giraldo/VICE News)
Danielle Williams' Chrysler Town & Country, seen here in a Safe Parking lot in North Hollywood, Los Angeles, doubles as shelter at night for her and her daughter. (Cassandra Giraldo/VICE News)