This anonymous essay was submitted to Open Philanthropy's Cause Exploration Prizes contest and posted to the Forum with the authors' permission.
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Hello, and thank you very much for providing an opportunity to share what I believe is one very achievable way to quickly address the swelling homeless population in the United States. My submission includes a brief introduction and bio, which I share to help describe how this vision came about.
Healing minds and bringing people back to life is the core of this vision. Admittedly, ideas for helping vulnerable people developed during my own experience as a stray. While trying and failing to get help returning to life, the painful truth I’m learning is there is no real help. Safe, secure shelter is the reason a mind can be well. Being actively homeless is akin to battlefield combat. Danger everywhere, no expectation for a tomorrow. The event/s that causes homelessness, plus being in a constant state of fight or flight once homeless is so intense, it seems to break a human at double speed. The essence of my vision, which is rapid shelter for any/all forms of homelessness to allow for a healing period and time to recover from the trauma of being in the streets, can be summed up in two small words: van life.
After a life of corporate jobs and raising two successful children as a single parent, it was during an 18-year stellar tenancy with a single landlord that staggering family losses and subsequent grief led me to lose everyone and everything I still had. Penniless, saturated in unbridled grief, shame and now terror, I was evicted with two senior pups to the street with the only form of protection I still had, a barely-running ’94 Dodge Dakota pickup truck. Thankfully it had an extended cab.
Since I had nowhere to go and no one to lean on in a truck on its last miles, I remained in the neighborhood where I raised my kids and made our life. While the familiarity was comforting, within a few days of living in the truck, I had two new unexpected pains: people in my community were afraid of me because I was obviously homeless, and I began spotting others like me in every corner of town. Both discoveries were genuinely devastating. It meant I had to become invisible, too. That effort only compounded the shame. This fragile period was when the ‘give-up’ was likely to happen. Yet with some cash from selling personal items and ongoing food stamps from the county, the pups and I found ways to hang on.
While trying to make sense of my situation, I developed a new philosophy: “Adapt”. Figuring out how to put this into action remains a work in progress for me. However, the two devastating realizations caused me to spend a lot of time thinking about how to thrive, and again be a confident member of society. How? How to turn this into a life with dignity, free from the fear that created our rules for “stealth camping”? I know there’s a way to adapt when good help is readily available.
The Vision – from Homeless to Nomad
Unintentional vehicle dwellers I’ve encountered in the wild as well as in organized programs range from teens to twilights. Far too many are whole families. Parents, children and even pets, all sticking together in a last stand before falling prey to the actual sidewalk, a tent or shambolic shelter.
Experts believe once a person is forced to live in a vehicle, their chance of resuming a ‘sticks & bricks’ lifestyle is close to none. Yet, within the struggle it takes to carry on as an unsheltered person, every act is a heroic effort to keep it together and return to “normal”. This is where adaptation makes rebuilding life via alternative routes truly possible.
Not just a van, but a home on wheels. No longer homeless, but a home-owning nomad. A place to nest, rest and experience pride of ownership. All manner of vans, box and bread trucks are already being converted in brilliant, unique and customized ways, both out of necessity, and for traveling and camping pleasure. Whole families are currently living their best lives in renovated school buses.
As America converts to electric fleet vehicles, retiring gas-powered vans, trucks and busses provide a low-cost, plentiful source for millions of temporary shelter units, easily movable to accommodate areas of shifting needs.
To a nomad, having a base camp is the next best thing to full-time house-dwelling. A surprising transformation occurs for many people who discovered great peace and are once again experiencing joy because of the nomad lifestyle, they would not choose to return to what we call “sticks-and-bricks” living. In my scenario, Basecamp is not a mere rest stop or parking place, it’s where the most critical services are rendered to bring people back to life. Medical, BH, meds, nutrition, therapy, education, art, library, re-socialization, music, nature, animals and hopefully, peace.
Since the objective is to fully support the healing of hurting, broken humans, my vision comes with Basecamps in the style of beautiful gated developments. Instead of a landlord, there’s land lots that I refer to in my thoughts as villages. Basecamps offer long and short-term stays for both vehicles that run, and stationary/non-running vehicles. Vans and trucks that don’t run can still serve as comfortable, private dwellings.
There are also many small businesses cropping up around nomadic lifestyle in carpentry, mechanical, electrical/solar, general vehicle interior design & construction, and water & hygiene systems.
With shelter established, I next thought about how nomads could generate income and also be of service to their communities. I’ve listed some possibilities below.
- Any remote office or phone work
- Self-employed consultant
- Traditional outside-the-home work
- Neighborhood watch (during parked hours)
- Rideshare driver
- Food delivery
- Festival & harvest seasonal work
- Pet care
- Domestic service
- Swapping skills and services for “moochdocking” on private property
- Vehicle advertising wraps
- Sponsored vehicles
- Camp site host
- Seasonal warehouse work
I believe new, and yet-to-be-created paths to a fulfilling life after homelessness can begin in a vehicle converted for living in, whether temporarily or permanently. I believe Basecamp is a place to either reassemble and launch forward into fixed housing, or just rest out the rest of their time. I have so many more thoughts on this, however I’m typing my submission on a very shattered and fragile cell phone and wanted to at least send the main points to your team. Should there be any further interest, I’m sure there will be a chance to share more.