By day, Kiplin Automotive Group sells cars. But as the sun sets and folks head home after a long day’s work, the Charlotte, North Carolina, used-car lot becomes a safe space for those struggling with homelessness and living out of their cars.
Dealership manager James Charles invites homeless men, women and their families to spend the night at his secure, well–lit car lot where they can snooze without fear of possibly breaking a law, trespassing or being told to “move along.”
“This is something that my family has wanted to do for a long time,” Charles, 47, told The Washington Post. The local auto dealer runs the business alongside his wife, Haydee, his parents and sister.
Having a safe place to park at night has been a “godsend,” said Davina Stephens, who’s been living in her car off and on for about eight months now. The 46 year old, who found herself in a financial bind and evicted from her home, was forced to take up residence in her 2012 Chevrolet Impala.
At night, Stephens said she’d pull into the parking lots of shopping centers or apartment complexes still under construction in hopes of catching some shuteye. Her sleep rarely went uninterrupted, however, and she was often roused by a security guard telling her to scram.
“Once you’re in a hole, it’s hard to dig out,” Stephens, who’s now employed at a bank call center, told the newspaper. “So I keep my clothes in the trunk and go into work early to shower. At nighttime though, I get a little nervous. You never know when somebody will bother you.”
“Being homeless as a single woman can be scary,” she added.
A few weeks ago, Stephens was scrolling through her Facebook feed and saw a post by Charles saying he was opening up his car lot for homeless families in need of a safe place to sleep at night.
“It’s not news that people are sleeping in their cars at night,” Charles wrote in the Jan. 23 post. “Searching for a safe place to park free from disturbance, trespassing harassment or worse … We know some families are struggling and in a tough situation.”
It continues: “We’ll provide a safe place to park at night. As this service to the community develops we will look to help these families in other ways but right now a safe place is what we can offer.”
Stephens said she was “stunned” by it all. She’s slept at the lot for about two weeks now, along with 20 other homeless families who took Charles up on his offer after seeing the post. Some stay for just one night, while others return every night for several weeks, the Post reports.
The general manager said he can relate to those who pull into his lot because he found himself in a similar situation with his wife and six children just a few years ago.
“In 2015, we were homeless, I’d like to say displaced, for 90 days,” Charles told CNN in a recent interview. “We didn’t have a place to live because (the owner) sold the house we were renting and we were unaware that it was being sold.”
Charles said his family was forced to say at hotels, and even considered spending a couple of nights at the dealership when they had no where else to go.
“It was a tough time, a tough experience,” he added.
News soon spread about how Charles and his family were helping others, and the community chipped in with donations of hats, coats and blankets and even a porta potty. Monetary donations also started rolling in, prompting Charles to launch a GoFundMe page benefiting those who sleep at his lot.
“As long as people are willing to give to the GoFundMe, we will use that money to help whoever stays with us to find a place,” he explained. The car salesman has also founded his own nonprofit called HALO Now that’s dedicated to getting people out of their cars and into permanent housing.
Charles said he hopes to help at least 100 families this year, and is quickly closing in on that goal.
Watch more in the video below.