As another year of my life evaporates, I think about time. My adoptive father always taught me that time was the most valuable thing you have. He instilled in me the importance of using time wisely. That wasn’t hard for me to learn as my nature is always to stay busy, using my time well.
Before becoming homeless, I was very busy all the time. I am still very busy all the time, but too often in a non-productive way. Where I should be working on writing, art, and other sewing work or crafting (some projects with the hope of selling and earning a living), instead, a day in the van moves very differently.
You have to waste time doing things that other people don’t have to worry about or take for granted.
For one thing, it is imperative that nothing get spilled in the van. This makes my very long and very involved routine before sleep much more time-consuming, having to be super careful in near darkness. When possible, I try to bring my rechargeable dental irrigator into a public single-person bathroom and do that part at an actual sink. If that’s not possible, I use a basin in the van.
My routine involves irrigating, flossing, gently scraping along the gum line and each tooth, brushing thoroughly, then using an oral health mouth rinse. I soak the brushes in peroxide to kill germs. My routine requires being super careful, so nothing spills or splashes anywhere. I use a misting bottle as my “running water.”
Some people tell me that I put too much pressure on myself because most housed people wouldn’t do a 45-minute dental routine before bed, much less if they became homeless. Well, I am a poverty-stricken person without access to stellar dental care. I was able to keep a “botch job” (done by an incompetent Medicaid dentist) at bay for 20 years before I had to deal with it because I have this comprehensive routine. The dental surgeon said, “It’s really a shame this happened to you. You have really nice teeth otherwise. I can see you really keep them clean.”
It was nice that he said that. I do try my best, and even homeless, I make no excuses to myself to not keep my routines.
In the van, I never usually sleep well. I am always on “yellow alert” status, remaining aware of who is around my vehicle. Many areas in America criminalize sleeping in your vehicle, so it’s not so much worrying about vandals. It’s law enforcement that you have to worry about more.
In the end, lack of sleep destroys people both physically and emotionally. If you’re exhausted all the time, you just don’t have the energy to be productive.
Sure, if you have absolutely no medical issues and can just sleep in the back of a van on a mat and you don’t have a scooter to keep charged and tons of special needs, then having a van to live in might be great for the minimalist nomad.
However, I am not a minimalist. I am an artist and somebody who works on projects that need space. My disabilities and conditions require a long list of special needs. So this time I waste in the van is horrific for me. Sure, I work on small projects when I can. But it’s not the same as having a room of my own to use as a studio and be super productive.
Public housing options in my area are unacceptable for my special needs. First, those buildings are not smoke-free or accessible for scooters and wheelchairs.
Even if the housing units were acceptable, the waiting list is years-long. You must also live in a shelter during the waiting period. While in the shelter, they take nearly your entire SSD allotment, leaving no way to maintain your vehicle. The mandatory shelter stay also requires you to spend much of your days on the streets regardless of extreme heat, humidity, rain, or anything else. As a disabled woman, I am a million times better off in my van, but they don’t allow that while you’re on the waiting list for unacceptable housing.
So I wait for something to happen.
Maybe a friend will be in a position to help me in a few years, and then I’d have a place to call home. Or maybe the Section 8 list will reopen, and I’d find a place in the meantime. Or maybe I might end up on a piece of land that we can put my old, non-mobile RV on that lives in storage under a pile of tarps. My RV isn’t much of an upgrade at this point since it’s in poor shape, but at least if it were on a friend’s land, I would be able to breathe easier knowing I won’t be harassed or thrown out.
Who knows? All I do know is that disability-accessible housing that is clean, safe, and affordable doesn’t exist here. I have to wait it out for something within acceptable limits, but I expect to perish before that happens.
People tell me that I need to “ask the universe” for what I want. To engage the “law of attraction” and let the answers come. Well, I have come to a point where I don’t have the energy to keep asking, hoping, praying, begging this universe for anything. I’m lucky to raise money for dental emergencies and vehicle emergencies.
I am eternally grateful for those who’ve helped me with that stuff in the last few years. What I want is too much to ask for: a tiny cottage or cabin in the woods in a place that gets lots of snow. That exists not far from here, but it’s entirely out of financial reach.
For 2022, I expect not much will change from any other year. I expect to be dragged from one crisis to the next, struggling to keep my head above water, like a salmon struggling to get upstream against too many odds. In the meantime, the time I might have been able to use being productive, trying to get back on my feet, and trying to help others, as I did in the past, is ticking by. Like so many others priced out of housing, it’s often too late once acceptable housing is obtained. Their bodies are past the point of no return. It’s not uncommon to either die soon after, like our friend Mary did, or to end up back on the streets because you’re too ill, weak, and exhausted to earn enough money to keep the place.
I don’t expect anything to get better for me in the coming years. But I hope that you all have a happy, healthy, and safe new year in 2022. I truly wish all my readers the very best. Many of you have been the one thing that’s made my survival possible. I am eternally thankful for you. I am also thankful for Invisible People giving me this platform to share the horrors of my homeless-disability existence. It is a chance to educate and spotlight people priced out of housing due to poverty or disability.