Record numbers of Americans are faced with the possibility of loosing their homes and finding themselves in desperate situations without a place to live. With the massive worldwide economic crisis and number of Americans who lost their homes due to the predatory sub-prime mortgage crisis, more and more people are resorting to living in their last personal possession - their cars.
The numbers of the so-called “mobile homeless” increase whenever there is a major downturn in the economy. The recession of 2008 is proof of this. While there are many reasons for homelessness, such as addiction and mental illness - which still make up a lot of cases, more and more people are being forced into mobile homelessness simply because of economic factors.
A car is a viable means of keeping yourself and your property safe until things turn around. One can live in a car for extended periods of time, provided one is careful. Not surprising with the growing erosion of many civil liberties in America today, many States are passing laws against living outdoors and homelessness.
How to live safely in a car:
- Choose where you park to sleep carefully. Do not choose to park in a crime ridden area. This goes without saying obviously, but at the same time, you don’t want to look out of place and park an old beater of a car in an upper-class neighborhood either. Use discretion. If you live in or near a rural area, you could find a place to park on the outskirts whereas not to attract too much attention. Using the help of a friend or friends where you can park in their garage of back of their shop might be an idea. Find a place where you blend in and do not attract any undue attention. Sometimes large big box stores encourage campers to sleep in their parking lots. This can be a safe option as there are usually others around and the places are well lit. Maybe get a map of all the National and State Parks and Walmart stores along your way. Most Wal-Marts let you park overnight for free and some even encourage camping, hence the RVs we see in many of their parking lots in the summer.
- Take advantage of the National Park system. Most allow free camping for around 2 weeks, but it is likely you might find a way around this. If there is an enforced limit on length of stay, then get a map of all the parks in your area and rotate your stays using multiple parks. Getting to know (or getting on the good side) the staff could be valuable to you. You could even set up your life like this: live in your car or van from May - October in a National Park and then when winter comes, move back to an urban area and rent a low cost room and work from November - April, saving enough to finance your park stay. Most, if not all parks have showers and flush toilets too as well as laundry. Take advantage of this. If you have a park with a swimming hole, then that covers a lot of your fitness needs. If not, a bicycle will do the trick.
- Eating on the cheap . Getting a Coleman camping stove and a few small pots and kettle/coffe pot and a plugin cooler might be the way to go toward eating on the cheap. It goes without saying to load up on free condiments at fast food restaurants and truck stops. Honey, jam, syrop, butter, ketchup, mustard, soya sauce, plum sauce, creamers, plastic cutlery, etc can cut your budget.
- Don’t keep all of your valuables in the vehicle. Keep the most valuable in a safe deposit box, or cache your valuables underground.
- Pick your parking areas wisely . Parking in a middle class neighborhood might get the cops called on you, and parking in an impoverished one might get you robbed.
- Get a cooler that plugs into the lighter. Extension cords, a Brita water filter, plastic one gallon water jugs, gas stoves, a small hibachi, clotheslines, Rubbermaid washtub, battery chargers, flashlights, multi-purpose Leatherman tools, broiler oven, small microwave, self charging radio, pay as you go mobile phone, are some the things that will be essential gear. Think of the exact things you would take on a camping trip. Look into getting a car cigarette lighter converter to power some small appliances.
- Think of your situation as temporary to combat despair and isolating depression. Keep looking for employment and affordable housing and anything gainful. Make this your “days work” and keep rolling the dice.
- Build a social network of people you can trust with knowledge of your situation. Social workers, employment agencies, religious organizations all might have an out for you one day when you least expect it. Join some online nomadic communities, like Couchsurfing.org. Sites like this are a great resource for people who think like us.
- If you are looking for a place to get a restful sleep, pick an area that has as little pedestrian traffic as possible. A street without sidewalks to avoid nosy people. And maybe one close to a washroom or source of water. Getting a good set of earplugs will help you sleep better, but then again you might want to rely on your hearing to warn you of any potential dangers.
- Maintain your hygiene. Look for free and accessible resources, such as places to shower where you can sneak in. Often this could be a college dorm or gym area in a university. If you still have a gym membership, use this to its fullest to maintain personal hygiene. It might actually be a good idea to get a membership at a 24 hour gym since some of them only cost $20 a month or so. The main benefit of maintaining your hygiene and grooming is to blend in. being dressed appropriately, you can even blend in in some of the nicer hotels where you could go unnoticed and even snatch a “continental” breakfast. There are so many guests coming and going, its likely no one would notice. Getting a pair of clippers or beard trimmer is a good idea. Avoid using one of those cheap car deodorants as they will make things smell worse in the long run. A car ozone deodorizer might be a good thing if you can get something like this with a neutral smell.
- Keep your nutrition up. If you are working and have an income, you can live off of prepared meals and take-away food. However if money is tight, you need a supply of non-perishable high quality foods such as tuna, canned meats, canned stews, etc. Bulk food stores are a great source of dry goods such as oatmeal, grits, nuts and other staples — even tea and coffee.
- Make sure your vehicle is as concealed as possible. Consider tinting your windows while you can afford it. If not, go to a Walmart and buy a tarpaulin car cover, or better yet, a camouflage car cover for parking in a wooded area. This can throw people off of suspecting your car if it is parked in one spot for a while. People will think the car is parked for the season, while you slip under the corner of the cover, and lock yourself in your vehicle.
- Deal with the police politely. If you are approached by the police or security, don’t argue, be polite and tell them you are merely sleeping for a bit because you are too tired to drive.
- Get camping gear. If you have access to year-round weather that allows you to sleep outside, consider getting camping gear, like a small tent or a camping hammock.
- Do not have any alcohol in your car. Should the police find you in your car and you have been drinking, or have any alcohol in your car, the vehicle could be seized.
- Find secure places to store your valuables. Keeping your most valuable possessions in a safety deposit box is a good idea. So is using a PO box or a so-called “mail drop” service.
- Keep connected to local and world events. If you can get a cheap laptop, you can even watch free DVD movies at night, as most libraries loan them. If you need a free operating system, throw Ubuntu Linux on it. WiFi hotspots make internet access easy when you are on the go.
- The best way to avoid being persecuted by anti-homeless laws is to avoid looking homeless. As mentioned earlier, our world is increasing its fascist tendencies. More and more laws, less and less freedom. Stay clean, healthy, keep your clothing and grooming up, work out, avoid unhealthy behaviors, individuals or groups.
- Faking it . Sadly, in America today there are many formerly middle class folks who are forced to live in their car or vehicles. But you could also “fake it” and enjoy a new freedom in your life if you are lucky enough to own property and just want to “drop out” for a while. Rent your house out as a sublet from Spring to Fall and then enjoy your vacation while the bills get paid.
Another thing to remember is The fourth amendment of the US Constitution, which states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”