For most people, a car is a means of commute, a way you can arrive at your destination. However, for some people, it is also where they live. If you are keeping up with the news lately, you must know that more and more people are starting to reside inside their cars with each passing day. Why is that? Is living in a car worth it? What are the compromises you have to make? And, can a car even be considered as a substitute for a home?
Well, there are two sides to the story. Some people do live in their modified vans, buses, or RVs because they choose to. However, for some, the reason is far more devastating. You might have heard of the new “van life” and “bus life” trends as of recent. Some people do want that kind of lifestyle, and you might too. But you need to have either a van or a bus. But most people have no choice but to live inside regular cars. A fairly affordable car like the Hyundai Palisade is decent to drive around in but imagine living in one. It all started before the pandemic, but COVID did accelerate the crisis.
See, even before COVID struck, there were a lot of homeless Americans. However, with the entire pandemic raining down on the economy and with people losing their jobs, the entire predicament got a boost. Nearly 1 in every 500 Americans is homeless, and this number of homeless people are more on the West Coast and the Northeast than anywhere else. However, the number might even be higher as people switch spots so often that they get lost in the count. So, the true number of homeless Americans might be a lot more than you think.
As we mentioned, COVID struck and many people lost their jobs. Without a stable source of income, most couldn’t afford a home and were forced to live on the streets. However, we do see tons of people choosing to live in their vehicles rather than live on the streets, since that is probably the wisest decision to make. Living in their cars and doing odd jobs to somehow make ends meet is a painful reality for few Americans, as the housing crisis is just growing worse with time.
Graham Pruss, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California with the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative states “We have seen more people moving into vehicles and more restrictions on public parking for them over the last decade, and then COVID hit. I am concerned that we may be facing a population increase in mobile sheltering and vehicle residence at unprecedented levels.”
He uses the term “vehicle residence” to naturally describe the situation. Another notable figure, Sara Rankin, associate professor of law and director of the Homeless Right Advocacy Project at Seattle University, said, “Vehicle residency is one of the fastest-growing forms of homelessness”.
With COVID’s new variant, Omicron, causing widespread concern once again, the situation is less likely to stop and more likely to keep getting worse. While the situation is worse for almost everyone, this trend also follows some racial bias. A study at National Alliance to End Homelessness found that Black Americans, Hispanics, and Latinos are more likely to be homeless than white Americans. Minorities are the ones who tend to lose a permanent home more often.
While we do empathize with the situation, we must also point out that the decision to live in a vehicle is much better than living on the streets or in a shelter. In a vehicle, you can have your personal space, with you being able to move wherever you want and pick up minor jobs faster. You can use your car as a source of income. You can also carry your family if you live in a larger vehicle like an RV. Privacy is another benefit and so is the ability to live in peace.
However, we know there can be no substitute for a home and the reason why people are living in their vehicles in the first place is that they cannot afford a permanent house. The situation is pretty grim and something we should certainly not take lightly. This housing crisis will only continue further if the situation doesn’t improve and we will find more and more people living in parking lots.
Though there is a whole other dynamic to this story. Some people choose to live in vehicles, voluntarily. Some people love to travel, without any specific destination in their mind, and they want to carry their entire home with them. That’s why the entire life in a van or a bus thing is becoming more and more common. However, these are the people who can actually afford to buy a vehicle and then modify it to make it livable. Oftentimes, you will easily be able to make a van or a bus your home at the fraction of the price of your actual home. In such cases, people are choosing vehicle residency voluntarily.
These vans or trucks need to be modified. Most people get a used van and then completely modify the interior by building stuff themselves. For example, you can have an entire kitchen inside your van with a countertop, sink, you can have a toilet, a tiny shower, a bed, a coffee table, and a seating area – all inside your van. Constructing it does take a huge amount of time, hard work, planning, dedication, and also money. But the end result might be worth it. People can drive wherever they want to and sleep on their beds inside their vans. They can cook their food, store their clothes, take a shower, and do virtually everything that you can do in your home.
This movement does cost money and is completely different from the situation where people are being forced to live in their cars. However, it is also a pretty great alternative for couples or people who are single. They can move around, without having to spend a ton of cash in buying a home. They can run off solar power and live off the grid in the middle of nowhere for as long as they have the supplies.
While a vehicle can never be a substitute for your home, it surely can offer a great alternative to a new way of life. The reality is that living inside a vehicle is becoming a lifestyle and will keep on growing.