Micki Denis prepares the bed in the car she lives in at Lake Washington United Methodist Church’s parking lot in Kirkland, Wash., on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. 

Lindsey Wasson, for the Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When Micki Denis first moved to Seattle, she tried to find a studio apartment she could afford — nothing fancy, just a warm room for sleeping and a small kitchen so she could have her son over for dinner. Instead, the mother of five and grandmother of 14 is sleeping in her car, a 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser.

She is not alone. Each night, Denis shares a parking lot outside a Methodist church with as many as 50 cars, vans and trucks, some housing entire families. In the morning, kids spill out and go into the church to get ready for school.

But Denis — the 64-year-old cousin of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and sister of a Nevada state senator — wakes up each day in disbelief that this is her life now.

She lived in nice homes for decades, until her divorce in 2003. From 2005-07, she served a mission in Florida and El Salvador for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Just last summer, she traveled around Europe.

Coming from Utah, where despite rising rental costs Denis could live on a variety of part-time jobs — like being an interpreter for a school district and a cafeteria cashier at her church’s Salt Lake Temple — she was shocked by the Seattle-area housing market.

She found a part-time job to supplement a pension and Social Security, but it’s not enough. “I thought I could get something for about $700, a nice studio, but I can’t. I don’t know what’s going on here,” Denis said.

What’s going on is that low- to moderate-income Americans who don’t own their own homes are being hammered by skyrocketing rents, stagnant wages and a shortage of affordable housing. Applicants for subsidized housing face years on a waiting list. Those in need of emergency shelter find beds are often full while people sleep in the streets.

No state has an adequate supply of affordable rental housing, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which recently released a report that examined the increasing gap between wages and rent.

The coalition found that rental costs are rising faster than wages, and that, on average, a worker earning the federal minimum wage would have to work 103 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment. In some communities, it’s worse than that. In King County, where Denis now lives, a worker needs an income of more than $62,000 to afford a one-bedroom apartment, compared to $46,548 for all of Washington state, the report said.

This has driven Denis and thousands of other Americans to live in their vehicles, many of them from vulnerable groups like children and seniors. This solves one problem but creates others — like where to park at night and how to maintain hygiene. Cities and municipalities where they stay face unsavory choices. Should they accommodate the “vehicular homeless” with relaxed laws and safe parking lots, or try to legislate them away?

California is considering legislation that would require its largest cities to provide parking for people living in their vehicles. But in the meantime, faith groups and nonprofits are stepping up to help, even when neighbors say “not on my street.”


Over and over I keep hearing discouraging stories like this throughout our state and others.

Chicago Tiny House needs your help to provide housing to those that need it. We are desperately looking for help from those that want to make a difference.

If you would like to make a difference please let us know, we are looking for individuals to organize a winter welfare check unit as well as people to help with fundraising and direction of our organization.

Make a difference in someone’s life today and join Chicago Tiny House’s mission to help people in need.