Homeless with Gratitude: On the Trail of Trailer


I used to hate asking for help, and I’d often refuse it if it was offered.

I’m not that stupid now. I am still reluctant to ask for help. But if it’s offered, I accept it with gratitude.

I didn’t ask Marty to help me in 1987 [see Rising from the Ashes], and I tried to refuse his help when he offered. True friend that he is, he insisted, and I caved into his generosity.

In 2016, I didn’t ask Sophia [see part 1 of Homeless with Gratitude] for help, but when she learned I was going to live in my car, she offered me an awesome place to stay in her home. I gratefully accepted.

Last year, faced with homelessness again because there was still no affordable housing, I went public on the opinion page of my local newspaper about being homeless – and pissed off about it.

My friends Duncan and Laura invited me stay in their summer travel trailer for a few weeks while I looked for a place to live. Then, they made me an incredible offer: I could stay as long as I like – if I could find an all-season trailer to live in.

At first, the idea of buying a trailer seemed impossible.

How could I possibly afford that? Still, I really liked my exotic situation on Duncan and Laura’s property. With them, I felt I was on safe ground. It was a strange new feeling for me, and I liked it. A lot.

To my surprise, used trailers were cheaper than I thought. I had some money in the bank, and with a cash advance from one of my credit cards, I could actually buy a trailer.

Problem was, every time I saw a potential unit on Craigslist, it was sold within hours. Then, a couple days later, I’d see the same rig for sale at triple the price at a dealership in Yuba City, a town down in the Sacramento Valley.

Clearly, I had to find a trailer before it hit the open market. I made it a habit to ask virtually everybody I met every day it they knew of a trailer I could buy. I haunted bulletin boards.

At the time, I was working at a nonprofit I had adopted as a PR project. Let’s call the nonprofit OSXC.

One day, Lydia, one of the OSXC volunteers came into the office. Perfunctorily and without much hope, I asked her if she knew of anybody who had a trailer for sale.

“We might want to sell our 5th wheel,” she answered.

She called her husband Roger. He said they’d sell their trailer for $3,400. I didn’t even know what a 5th wheel was, but Duncan and I went out to take a look at it.

It was the kind of trailer that hooks into the bed of a full-size pick-up truck. The sleeping area is a loft that overhangs the truck bed, making it a three-foot climb up from the main floor of the trailer. The main floor had a living room, kitchen/dinette and an airplane-sized bathroom with a shower.

It was old and needed some repairs that Duncan pointed out, but we agreed it would do. Roger said he’d make the repairs, but it would take a while. Lydia insisted he do it right, because I was going to buy it.

A day or two later, I was back at OSXC.

Since 2016, I had volunteered/worked there partly for the occasional money but mostly for the opportunity to work with Della.

I wasn’t in love with Della. I was in awe of her. She was the unpaid founder, executive director and president of the board. She worked 50-60 hour weeks. Her enthusiastic, team-based leadership style was what they write about in management textbooks.

It was never, ever about Della. It was always about us, and what we could do. I called her the Queen of Gratitude, because she was always going out of her way show her appreciation for everybody and everything. She is the kind of person who makes you want to for her.

She is the kind of person who makes things happen.

It was a privilege to prove what I could do with the freedom to market her all-volunteer startup. The mission of OSXC was to give free respite to 24/7 caregivers.

Out of the gate, I had the organization on the front page of the local paper. I routinely placed feature news releases about the organization. I also created attention-getting Facebook posts and videos.

While I was in the office, I shared my plans to buy the trailer. I had one thousand dollars in savings, and my precious friend Alice and her husband Dennis had just given me another thousand.

I happily declared I could finance the balance with a cash advance from one of my credit cards (at 27 percent interest).

“Don’t do that!” Della yelled from her office. “Give me a couple hours.”

I had no idea what she meant by that.

In part four, find out what Della did in a couple hours. Click here to read part one in this series; click here to read part two.

Tom Durkin

Tom Durkin


Tom Durkin is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer. He has two degrees with honors from UCLA. He has been episodically homeless since 1979. At age 40, he was diagnosed as bipolar with three personality disorders, childhood PTSD and ADHD. "Well, that explained a lot," he laughs. Presently, at 71, he lives illegally and happily below the radar in a trailer on some friends' wildland property in the Sierra Nevada Foothills.

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