Living in a Vehicle Is Not Fun When You Have No Options

homelessness and van life

I have previously written columns about van life and homelessness. There is always some aspect of this that is worth discussing.

There is a glorification of the #vanlife lifestyle. Its advocates treat it as a great alternative to living indoors. They tout it as a great way to see the country and have adventures.

Sure, that aspect of van life can exist. However, people following the #vanlife accounts don’t get a fair insight into the actual dark side of living in a van. It’s mainly because they follow social media influencers or people riding in fully customized vehicles. Some have class B recreational vehicles with small kitchenette areas and bathroom facilities.

Bottom line: This is not comparable to being homeless and forced to live in a vehicle.

#Vanlife vehicles are fun and luxurious. Meanwhile, homeless people who are lucky to have a vehicle in the first place typically have old, rusty vehicles that need one repair after the other to keep limping along. 

When I first realized that I was destined to be homeless, I tried to save myself from the worst of it by purchasing a used RV. I love my RV. It’s perfect for me on many levels. However, it has a lot of issues.

I am disabled and do not have the skills to rebuild what needs work. Nor do I have a dry place to have the work done since it sits in an open storage field in the very damp northeast. I’ve been told the work would be unbelievably expensive. It needs seven new tires (including a spare), new brakes, and other issues fixed to make it drivable. This alone would be very expensive. But the real issues are the house part of it, not the vehicle part of it.

Because of this, many people say I’d be better off with something newer. However, they don’t understand my special needs.

My RV is fully outgassed. It doesn’t reek of any odors and doesn’t have the formaldehyde and other construction chemicals outgassing. I have a list of health conditions and must avoid chemical exposure. Newer isn’t always better.

People who’ve gone inside my rig think it’s amazing. They love the layout. I have more room than many modern RVs because mine doesn’t have unnecessary stuff like microwaves and TVs. 

It’s all moot. I will never be able to have it restored. So it sits in the field and serves as a storage unit. I can take a nap or bathe in there, so that’s helpful.

When I walk in, it’s like coming home, except I am not allowed to stay there. If I could have a small piece of land to put it on, even without all systems running, I could at least use it as a tiny house. But even that is too much for somebody like me to ask the universe for. 

When I became homeless, the van I had was 23 years old and very small. It put the “mini” in mini-van. I have a reasonably larger van now, but not large enough for a bathroom and kitchenette.

So my RV is a space where I can fit a 27″ wide cot and my scooter next to me. It’s a tight fit but far better than nothing.

Sadly, I can never have a vehicle with low mileage and less than ten years old. Impoverished people can only get old, used vehicles that will probably have an endless list of massive repairs. Without the ability to save up money to buy something newer, it comes down to what one can afford in the here and now.

I have no credit and never had a credit card. I watched many friends get into trouble with credit, but I didn’t. If I can’t afford something, I don’t buy it. However, this also means that I cannot finance a vehicle. Even if I were allowed to, there’s no way I could afford to pay the monthly payments, which are designed to pay far more than the vehicle is worth. 

Currently, we have “supply chain” problems and a shortage of vehicles. We also have back-ups on garage and servicing appointments due to extended wait times for parts, and I heard there’s an apparent shortage of mechanics. The auto shop I use has had a help wanted sign up for over a year without a nibble. Meanwhile, older mechanics are retiring.

After speaking with many people, the answer seems to be “better the devil you know.”

Fixing up my current vehicle is more logical than replacing it for even more money for essentially the same thing. 

Homeless life in a van is not the healthy person roaming the roads of America in a gorgeous custom vehicle or Mercedes class B RV. Homeless people are not sponsored by patrons and companies alike nor posting videos of adventures. There would be little to complain about if we were, but that is not the realistic picture of “homeless in a van” life.

Homeless people living in a vehicle are generally older, disabled, or both. They are living in old, rusted-out vehicles without bathrooms or kitchenettes.

A new bag of ice can run $2 daily or $60 a month if you have a cooler to keep food cold. Still, so many don’t even have coolers.

Glamorous van lifers don’t generally worry about police bothering them. With sophisticated security systems, they don’t have to worry about thieves breaking into their vehicles.

Take it from me, if you think abandoning your home or apartment for a van is the way to go, take everything into account. Stash money for repairs and emergencies. Make a backup plan for if the vehicle is totaled. Even better, do a trial run by renting a vehicle and living in it for a few months before you set sail with no place to return home.

Many have found out the hard way – living in a vehicle isn’t very fun unless you’re well off enough financially. 

For me, I have to continuously beg the internet for help just to get through each crisis. I am sick of it. I might lose my vehicle if I can’t get it back on the road. This is how homeless vehicle dwellers end up as homeless tent-dwellers under an overpass or bridge. I might be next to make this descent.

Homeless Loki

Homeless Loki


Homeless Loki is a disabled homeless person also on the autism spectrum currently homeless in upstate New York

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