Sign over your check and you'll get help!

by Kristin Pazulski with reporting by Rebekah Hanish

When I was young, I never learned how to manage money effectively. I just figured life would follow the pattern I expected: high school -- college -- good job -- better job -- raises -- ... well that end part was supposed to continue.

Alas, after reaching a credit card limit and changing careers a few times, I have come to learn the reality of the workforce is more complicated and not as lucrative as I thought. 

Was I warned before this fiasco of youthful spending? Yes.

My dad tried to tell me the realities of student loans and credit spending. I didn't listen, and now my credit card bill is a monthly reminder of my ignorance.

Sometimes, you have to learn on your own.

I am a strong believer that people will and do eventually learn on their own time with guidance, not micro management. Telling people—who are stubborn or ready to learn life's lessons for themselves—what to do is demeaning, and they often rebel against it. I know because I did. I'm stubborn, and so are a lot of people from the street.

People who live on the streets are a unique breed. They've been there. Doesn't matter where, so don't ask, cause they've been there. Rock bottom. The gutter. Alone. Attacked. Lost.

Telling these people who have lived (maybe not the life they wanted to live, but living nonetheless) what to do with their money is not going to be taken lightly.

That's why I find this move fascinating. San Luis Obispo in California has offered five parking spots to the population of people that call their car home. They apply for a permit and get to stay overnight in a safe environment--safe for the community that is.

The catch? They have to turn over their checks (from the government, a job or elsewhere) to a nonprofit for fiscal management with the goal of getting people into housing.

A good goal and sensible on paper. But signing away checks? What about just helping people manage? 

About three months into the project, no permits have been issued (due to frustration with the financial requirement and apparent confusion on how to apply).

Would living in a car be rock bottom for you? Maybe you need to get to the gutter first. Either way, these people have lived and made mistakes and are getting by on what they have. The little control they still hold onto in their lives is their money. Maybe you don't think they are doing it right. Maybe they don't think they are. Maybe they need help. But it's their money. And requiring someone to turn over their check is much different than helping someone, than teaching a lesson.

I learned my lesson, and if I was still spending on my credit card and my dad or boyfriend asked me to turn over my finances in order to manage my debt, I'd run. If they offered to sit down with me and budget my money, I'd sit down.

That's what I love about what we do at the VOICE. I'm so glad we don't have requirements and restrictions on who can work for us and how they use their money. IN that way, we welcome everyone and anyone. We don't require a car, a house, a paycheck. We hope they eventually attain those things, but for people on the fringe who aren't there and maybe aren't ready, we will offer a way to earn money they can own, and sometimes that small ownership can launch someone to bigger, greater things.

In Denver, 123 people were living in their cars in January, according to the Metro Denver Point-in-Time Report released last month. There doesn't seem to be a law against sleeping in your car in Denver (we couldn't find one), but according to this story in the Denver Post Crime Blotter, those living in their car or sleeping overnight (in Golden) are encouraged to park alongside public, not private, property.