Last Update: 2/16/2018

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.

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.

Gettin' mail on the road? Traveling Mailbox! (review)

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  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 :)

  2. I'm with you! I think this "Existential Comic" sums it up nicely:

    And thanks for the compliment!

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

  4. I live in a van in Australia best thing I have done I'm 50 now wish I done it when I was 20 I love the van life I use a gym to shower I find casual work here and there and get close to nature my van is decked out with tv ps4 and power hub with solar panels owning your own home is just a dream in Australia unless you have high paying jobs but on average I save about $500 aud a week depending on what job I have. I never considered myself as homeless as it is a regular place to sleep you live on staple food and cook healthy once a week paying for a house over 30 years is not the struggles I want in life I can go on holiday whenever I want and have money that I would never have if I had a house

  5. Absolutely agree I lived in a van for many yrs, it got warn out I bought a box truck and built a nice little home, then the motor blew... I lost my ass on it but now I'm saving up to get a van or small bus/RV it's hard I only get $770 a month and I try to use as little a have to... But I'm getting there I saved about $1050 as of now if anyone has any ideas or can help I would really appreciate it... I'm in the Dallas Texas area... Write me at and let's become friends, I'm now 60 yrs old and want to live free for the time I have left....