Be housed or own a vehicle – pick an option, but you cannot have both. This dilemma first faced me in 2014. There seemed to be only one logical conclusion to this set of options: Live where you drive.
On the surface, this sounds like an elegant solution. Ditch the expenses of a home or apartment using a vehicle as a domicile and have a place to live while continuing to drive. Sounds simple, and back in some bygone era before surveillance cameras were everywhere, it may have been. Today, however, the problems with this “solution” are massive.
When you have so little money that you must choose between being housed and living in a vehicle, the decision is usually based on which thing you need more – the comfort of a working bathroom and kitchen or the ability to drive.
Paying for taxis or Uber are very pricey ways to go shopping, not to mention highly inconvenient. If you live in a big city with urban transportation systems, you can probably get away without a vehicle. However, for people living in more rural areas, a vehicle is essential unless you have a support system that allows you to forgo the vehicle and rely on others for rides.
If you’ve concluded the best solution is to “live where you drive,” the next step is figuring out what to drive.
If you suddenly find yourself homeless, you might not have time to weigh this out or take action. But assuming you have time to figure it out, there are a handful of options that might work for you, such as a van, a camper, or an RV.
In my case, I knew for sure that homelessness was in my future in 2014, and there would be no viable escape. Being disabled with chronic illnesses, I knew my fate was sealed. It’s not as though I could have worked six jobs to save enough money to avoid this fate. I’ve never had any savings or a credit card. I couldn’t even apply for an apartment if I wanted to, even if I had the money. Years ago, you could just hand a landlord a pile of cash and get a place (I know, I did it in 1995). Today, they won’t take a pile of cash without first doing a credit check.
Knowing I was about to become homeless (after the narcissist I was with for ten years kicked me to the curb because I was no longer of any use), I did what I could to make it a livable situation.
I started with reorganizing my storage unit. I got rid of six huge trash bags of household goods and clothing, books, and other items. Some I donated to charity, other stuff went to friends, and some stuff I sold. Once the storage unit was emptier, swept clean, and organized, I began bringing my belongings in plastic tubs and uniform double-walled cartons.
My efforts paid off because my things are stored safely, and I have retrieved most things when needed. I have storage for winter gear in summer and summer gear in winter. For example, I don’t have to drive around with ice-melt, snow boots, and shovels in July.
To survive in a vehicle, I have portable batteries for my van to plug in and run my CPAP machine. I have a solar generator and set of panels (donated to me) to power or charge other items.
Additionally, I have USB 10” and 12” rechargeable fans as well as small coolers that fit under my cot. I can charge my scooter from my van if I don’t have access to electricity. Thankfully, seeing and accepting that homelessness would be my fate gave me time to prepare for it, which was a huge part of the equation.
Initially, I’d hoped to obtain an RV.
It seemed like an idea that would solve many problems, and in many ways, it still could. However, that entire plan went sideways. I knew nothing about RVs and ended up with one that leaks. I have no idea what systems in it will work or not, though I know the fridge, lighting, and the air conditioner did work when connected to electricity as of 2018.
Because it leaks, my RV is in storage with a bunch of tarps on the roof. While I cannot live in it, it provides me with an additional place to store my belongings and a place to sponge bathe, take a nap, or just meditate, as I keep my Zen meditation cushions in there.
Without profound help, I’ll never be able to refurbish it and make it livable. I also know I’d never be able to fuel it. It cost a fortune to fuel it to run the engine for 15 minutes a few times a week now, much less if I were driving it. However, if I could have a small piece of land in an area that allows this, I could use it as a tiny house. But I can’t even afford to do that.
In the end, I knew I’d never be able to afford a place to live and also a vehicle at the same time. My meager monthly allotment usually leaves me broke before the middle of the month.
Not having a home means I have fewer expenses, but it doesn’t mean that I have zero expenses. Like so many homeless vehicle dwellers, we cannot afford to run our vehicles for climate control because running the vehicle idle eats up your fuel. So, you swelter in the summer heat. You never sleep well. You live in constant fear of police chasing you from your parking area or someone breaking into your vehicle.
If I chose to rent a place instead of living in my car, I could not afford it. My option would be limited to finding a room for rent in someone else’s house, which costs upwards of $700 a month in my area. That is nearly my whole month’s allotment! I’d have nothing left over.
And I certainly could not afford that while also maintaining a vehicle. There are no grocery delivery services here. Even rationing how often you go out, you have to go out sometimes.
Without a place, a room, or even using my RV, I have nowhere to work (crafts, sewing, artwork, writing, eBay). Therefore, I cannot earn more money to help myself. I am trapped in an infinite loop and have no way to reboot my life.
There is nothing glamorous about living in my van. It’s simply my only viable option when couch surfing at friends isn’t. I am a victim of poverty and disability. Our system is so poorly designed. It’s almost impossible to get back on your feet.