Last Update: 6/04/2016

Are You Homeless if You Live in a Van?

Smiling man sits on cooler in front of van by the Alaska sea shore. Is he homeless or not? You can’t tell.

Per Uncle Sam, if you don’t live in a code-approved building, you’re "homeless." That shit ain't realistic for van life nomads. It’s about being broke and short on options. Here’s a tale of two vandwellers, Vanholio and Vanholio Sr., to show you why.

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A Tale of Two Vandwellers


Vanholio Sr. (Pops) Was Homeless


Pops had problems. He could never hold down a job for one thing. I think he had major depression, along with some notions on life that didn’t help him none. Never could get a straight answer from family, and Pops died in my teens. Whatever his problems were, his life was a goddamn mess.

I remember a year or two that Pops lived in his old VW Bus. It was parked in the fenced lot behind his friend’s car repair shop. You know, where they keep the cars they’re gonna fix.

I’d visit him and stay in the old vanagon. Even in winter with four foot of snow. Even in sweltering, sticky summers.

He’d avoid driving the VW because he couldn’t afford gas and maintenance. Probably wasn’t insured, I bet. We’d walk or take public transport everywhere.

To get a shower, we’d walk to an old YMCA after dark, climb up the fire escape, and a buddy would let us in a window.

At the time, I didn’t think nothing of it. Didn’t realize Pops was homeless until I was an adult. He was out of money and short on options. He lived in a van as his best worst choice.

When Pops was almost dead, I asked him, “What do you dream about?” I guess I’d seen too many dumb movies and thought the dying had some spiritual wisdom. But what he said was, “All the shitty places I’ve lived.”

Vanholio Ain’t Nothing Like Homeless


Unlike Pops, I got options – shitloads of options. In America, that means cash. Hell, I’m better off than the average American, who can’t handle a $500 surprise bill!

Vanholio owns his comfy van outright and ain't got no debts. He’s got plenty of savings for a rainy day. He’s got an adequate income. He’s even got medical insurance!

Most important, thanks to cheap, effective antidepressants, therapy, and some good life lessons, Vanholio ain’t got Pops' problems. (Yes, I inherited the famil depression. Written the morbid poetry to prove it!)

Vanholio is living the good life: plenty of money, plenty of friends, a cheerful outlook, and decent health. Plus I wake up in beautiful places. Today that’s a Utah mountain forest!

I could live in gov’ment sanctioned bricks and sticks. But I don’t wanna. Vanholio has made the happy choice to live in a van, a choice uncoerced by shitty circumstances. And that’s why he ain’t homeless, whatever fucked up definition for “homeless” Uncle Sam uses.

A Better Understanding of 'Homeless'


Read a 2014 interview with Andrew Waits, photographer of “Boondock,” a collection of vehicle dweller photos. He looked at both those who didn’t embrace van life and those who did, those who consider themselves homeless and those who consider themselves lucky.

I observed that many times the deciding factor in whether an individual identifies as homeless has to do with whether or not that person has a safety net in place. This could mean money in the form of savings, a pension, health insurance, or disability. However, the impact is much greater when that safety net also includes family, friends, or a community of support.

So there you have it. In their own eyes, homeless people are those who can’t live in a place they consider safe and decent because they lack a safety net. A defining part of being “homeless” is being so broke and isolated that you’re short on good options for the necessities of life. Living in a van down by the river is almost despite the point.

Also See ...

Traveling Mailbox Saves Vandweller $$$$
Top 10 Questions About Living in a Van (YouTube)
Former Homeless People Explain What Really Helps (Warped Speed)

4 comments:

  1. Excellent post. People either get it, or don't. I find most people don't understand it if you aren't chasing the American Dream of more, more, more (or is it the Billy Idol dream?). But the farther I go to chasing my own dream, the less other people's opinion matters :)

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  2. I'm with you! I think this "Existential Comic" sums it up nicely:
    http://www.vanholio.com/2016/03/hold-your-fuckin-horses.html

    And thanks for the compliment!

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  3. this is the best post i've seen on this topic. most excellent. 👍✌

    ReplyDelete