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Boise Rescue Mission: A shelter is safer than sleeping in your car

The heartbreaking story of a car fire that killed a 5-year-old girl paints a picture of people who may be homeless, or at the very least were without a safe place to stay for the night.

BOISE - Police continue to investigate after a car erupted into flames in the parking lot of a Boise Walmart early Tuesday morning. A 4-year-old girl died in the fire and two other people in the car were sent to the hospital.

Investigators say there was a portable space heater in the car, and was likely the cause of the fire. The car was parked in an area of the Walmart parking lot that is a popular homeless area and a place for travelers to park and sleep.

This heartbreaking story paints a picture of people who may be homeless, or at the very least were without a safe place to stay for the night.

The CEO of the Boise Rescue Mission, Jean Lockhart, says what happened Tuesday morning was tragic and she wants everyone to know that there are resources out there for anyone who may need a safe place to stay, even for just one night.

Lockhart says their shelters are not full, and even if they were they would never turn anyone away.

When it comes to people sleeping in their cars, she says that's not as common in Boise in particular, but it poses similar threats as sleeping outside in a tent.

"Sleeping in your car is dangerous," said Lockhart. "People think because they lock the doors it's safe but it's not necessarily. Obviously there was a fire, there's carbon monoxide if you're running your car in a small space, people can get in even if it's locked. It's not safe for children, it's not safe for people, and it's not safe for pets."

Lockhart says there are several reasons people don't go to shelters when they need help. A lot of times, she says it's their very last resort when it's almost too late - and the main reason is fear.

"It's fear of losing control," Lockhart said. "I think a lot of people say 'Well I'll sleep in my car,' because then you're in control but you're really not in control because it's so dangerous to be outside."

Lockhart also says it's common for people who are homeless or living out of their cars to keep a portable heater with them so they don't have to run the car for heat.

If you have a car, the Boise Rescue Mission has parking spaces available for those who stay at their shelters.

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