Rewriting the Narrative: Challenging Misconceptions about Homelessness

Woman experiencing homelessness on the city streets

Seniors and disabled individuals experiencing homelessness are experiencing more challenges while local agencies feel the pinch on resources. Through personal anecdotes and societal observations, this article underscores the harsh realities of vehicular homelessness, emphasizing the urgent need for compassionate solutions amidst the growing threat of criminalization and societal misperceptions.

Invisible People recently published an article about the rise in senior homelessness that got me thinking about the homeless people I’ve met in this area. Most are older, and many are disabled.

In my area, there’s an agency that helps individuals facing housing or other crisis situations, and they operate multiple locations. I prefer to use the one where my social worker is located.

The organization is understaffed and underfunded, and there has been a massive influx of new residents (after COVID hit New York City, many people moved upstate). This has led to a greater strain on resources and fewer available housing options than ever before.

The agency does its best to provide services, but much of it relies on volunteers and donations, as government funding has been cut to the bone over the years. Needless to say, the situation is truly horrific at this point. 

I stop in frequently to see if I’ve received mail and check in with the social worker for updates on anything that could help me. Some days, fruits and vegetables donated from farms are available. However, that is also not a guarantee since things are either not available or are not acceptable. I’ve seen half-rotted produce donated by supermarkets on some days and nothing offered at all on other days. However, it’s a place that I am very glad exists, and I am grateful for it. 

Sometimes, you will run into other people there who are also in a bad situation. Many are homeless and living in vehicles, waiting and hoping that they will eventually be placed into permanent housing. Everyone has a unique story. And they are all in the same boat as I am, adrift without a sail on the doldrums.

When I first became homeless in 2017, I met a lady who was also stopping in for mail and whatever else was being offered.

She was an older woman, clearly not someone you’d think would do well living in a sedan. Sadly, this area is filled with people fitting this description. Many of these people could never make a good wage or save money for retirement. As the economy worsened, they ended up in their cars. 

This particular lady, Anne, reminded me of a lady I once knew at the nursing home I had worked at. She was a very sweet lady who may have had mild dementia. She was definitely not someone who should be in a car rather than a house. 

Anne walked to her car as I walked to my van. I felt heartbroken for her as she had a small, older car stuffed to the ceiling with her things. To be homeless in a sedan is such a different experience from being homeless in a van or an RV.

Sure, I wish I had a small RV with a shower, sink, and fridge because I could make that work much easier than being in a passenger van. However, on the other hand, that’s much more expensive to insure and fuel.

Let me make this clear: I do not want to live in a vehicle on purpose.

It’s just a second choice that’s far better than a filthy, dangerous shelter or a tent under a bridge. I do not want to live the hashtag “van life,” and I don’t advocate for it. I am not deliberately a nomad, but I consider living in a vehicle a better option for those priced out of housing than the horrible alternatives.

I respect those who choose nomad life if it’s truly what they want. But I am tired of it blurring the issue for people experiencing vehicular homelessness.

Even other homeless people can be guilty of doing this by putting young, healthy “van life” people on a pedestal. I have met many people living in sedans and passenger vans who are either middle-aged or elderly, and I have met some who are disabled as well.

I can tell you this: the 50-year-old and older crowd priced out of housing do not see living in their vehicle as a fun and exciting life.

It’s hard on the body, not just for the obvious reasons of exposure to heat, cold, fumes, no running water, no bathroom, or often decent bed. It is also highly stress-inducing to live in a constant state of fear of getting caught living in your vehicle, especially now as the push for criminalizing homelessness is growing stronger

Sure, there are videos of relatively young, healthy people living well in an expensive, customized van who have physical challenges, such as paralysis of the lower body or missing limbs. However, those people are often featured traveling the land to participate in unique sporting events!

There is a quantum difference between that scenario and somebody living with chronic illnesses that cause chronic daily pain, extreme fatigue, and risk of organ failure, for example.

Having lived at one time with an amputee and having lived most of my adult life with chronic illnesses, I would gladly take the challenge of a missing limb if it meant I had excellent health otherwise.

Please do not misread me. I’m not downplaying the challenges of having a missing limb, as I saw them up close. It’s hard to be different in a world that expects everyone to have two arms, two legs, two hands, and two feet. But I have seen firsthand how much of that can be mitigated with suitable accommodations.

For fragile people who are either chronically ill or perhaps elderly, living in a vehicle (or tent) isn’t sustainable for long. Sadly, in the case of Anne, I learned that around 2021, she was hospitalized for some reason and didn’t make it. They thought it might have been pneumonia. 

Criminalizing homelessness is turning the sick, elderly, and people with infirmities into criminals in a world where it is already nearly impossible to survive if you are not well enough to work and earn a living wage.

I would say that years from now, people will look back and be disgusted by the inhumane treatment of the most vulnerable people in this society. But I suspect that part will be erased, and the story will read that all the homeless people were substance abusers and criminals. A new narrative will be written in which those who committed the criminalization were heroes who cleaned up society.

In the age of artificial intelligence and the weaponization of disinformation, it’s not hard for the rich and powerful to rewrite the story in any way they choose.

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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