Homeless Shelter vs. Van Life
I know it might sound crazy, but I think if given the choice of having to go to a homeless shelter or live in my vehicle, I probably would rather live in my vehicle. Why? Because shelters aren't known for being the cleanest places and I could keep myself somewhat sane by not being around a high population of people with mental health issues.
I'll be the first one to say that living in a vehicle might not be the best choice for everyone, especially with a child and most probably not if you have more than one child. However, for someone who's single, or with one child, living in a vehicle might be better than going into a shelter and exposing him or her to shelter life.
The following are some optimal reasons for when living in a vehicle, specifically "van dwelling," might work out well:
As I mentioned above, if you're a single person, it shouldn't be too hard to purchase a gym membership to bathe and stay healthy, and a library card to keep cool/warm, and dry. If you can do these things, you won't "look" homeless, you also might not feel so homeless, and you can save money for a proper dwelling.
You Have a Van/SUV or You Have Money To Purchase a Van
If already have a van or an SUV, you're golden. If you don't already have a large vehicle, this might be somewhat harder for you. It might sound ridiculous to some people, but others will understand that just because you're about to be homeless, it often doesn't mean you're also penniless.
If you haven't been paying rent for whatever reason, you might have some of the money, but just not all of it to keep from being evicted. The cost to save a home/apt from eviction can be far more expensive than the regular rental rate, because the landlord will have added late fees.
If you're in this situation, of course your first choice should be to try to find another place to live BEFORE the eviction hits your credit report. If that's not possible, you might consider purchasing a used van.
If you go this route, make sure you get the van checked out by a mechanic, the very last thing you need is to blow all your money on something that breaks down right out of the parking lot.
You Don't Have The Funds To Purchase a Van/SUV
If you don't have the money to purchase a van and you're single, you might have to go into a shelter for a little while and consider purchasing a van as a shelter exit strategy. If you have kids, by all means, if you have to go to a shelter please save your money for a proper dwelling.
There are some people who choose to live in a van with their kids, so it can be done. You have to consider the age of the child. If you have a baby or a toddler, it might be easier to get away with van dwelling, but if your child is older you need to really sit down and think about your decision - I'm not here to tell you what to do, I'm just trying to give you as many angles as I possibly can.
The Van Life/Van Dwelling Community
The Van Life lifestyle has an entire supportive community around it. One of the "pioneers" of this lifestyle is a wonderful man by the name of Bob Wells. Wells has been living in a van for the last 14 years and he loves it. He was the subject of a documentary and he has done hundreds of interviews with others who live in their vehicles.
Van Life With a Child
If you don't want to travel like many van dwellers do, it shouldn't be too hard to stay within a city. Although most cities make it illegal to live in your vehicle, other cities have set up a parking lot area for van dwellers to park and sleep at night.
If you think about it strategically, it shouldn't be too hard to keep your child in school and find/keep a job while living in a van. I do want to stress that if you have a child, this lifestyle would not be optimal unless you have the funds to convert your van into a comfortable living space as these YouTubers have done:
Final Thoughts on Van Life/Van Dwelling
If you have to go into a shelter, van dwelling might be a realistic option for you. If you need more information about the van dwelling lifestyle, I will be more than happy to see what I can dig up for you, and you are more than welcome to subscribe to Bob Wells' channel and check out his videos where he interviews van dwellers...
As always, I wish you the very best of luck.