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I Was Homeless And Lived In My Car
I was Homless And Lived In My Car
This is a true story. My husband and I were homeless and lived in our car, a storage unit, and a tent for over two years. We were not homeless because we were alcoholics or drug users. We were the average young couple working hard, just trying to make it. Never did we think we could end up without a roof over our heads.
At the time, I was collecting worker's compensation due to a back injury. Six weeks after I hurt my back, my husband was involved in a serious car accident, which left him severely injured and unable to work. If only we had disability insurance, all would have been well. However, being young and carefree we laughed at the thought of buying something like disability insurance. Surely, that was for someone older with more responsibilities. Boy, would we ever live to regret that decision!
With worker's compensation being only 300.00 a week, it soon became clear that we could not pay for both of our vehicles and keep up with the other bills too. We quickly sold one vehicle, not making any kind of a profit, and still owing several thousand dollars in the end. Even after that, it was not possible to pay our rent and keep the vehicle we did have, which was a newer used SUV. Not wanting to lose the SUV, we decided to move out of our apartment, store our furniture, and live in our SUV. It was a gut wrenching decision at a time when the comfort of a home was much needed, but we simply had no choice.
At the time, my back was so bad that I could not even stand up straight. I walked around hunched over in horrific pain. It turned out that I had two herniated disks in the lowest area of the spine. My husband was suffering from severe headaches due to neck and back injuries from the car accident. Even though the accident was not his fault we would have to wait for a settlement before there was even money to pay for medical bills. It was a complete and total nightmare situation. My mind reeled in disbelief. How did this happen? We were HOMELESS, through no fault of our own. I was brought up to believe that if you worked hard and kept your nose to the grind stone this could not happen, but it was happening, and it was happening to me.
With millions of people losing their homes every year, I know that many of those people will become homeless. Homeless through no fault of their own, just like me, but homeless just the same. The good thing is we had no children, just one faithful little dog. I cringe to think of the people who are homeless and have children. Living homeless could scar a child for life.
At first we slept in our SUV, but as winter approached it was becoming more difficult. Then one day when we were visiting our storage unit we decided it would be a safe and warm place to sleep. Our bed was stored there already, so in no time at all, I had the storage unit turned into a bedroom of sorts. It felt so good just to be able to stretch out on a real bed for a change. That night my husband and I slept better than we had in the last few months.
After that, little by little our mini storage unit became our home. We got away with it because it was located in a remote area with few people around. We kept a low profile just the same, and made sure evidence of our existence was not found. As months rolled by and no one became the wiser, we became bolder. We lined the storage unit with insulation, and got a kerosene heater to stay warm. We had to make sure to crack the door, it was probably a very dangerous thing to do, but at the time we were so cold that we threw caution to the wind. The second winter we got an electric heater and plugged it into an outside electrical outlet, praying no one would notice the increase on their electric bill. Before long we even had a mini refrigerator for our food.
As spring turned into summer the mini storage shed started to feel like an oven, we knew we had to find a different place to live. We bought a tent and pitched it in a secluded area, and during the summer months we lived there. It was not as comfortable as the storage shed, but it was nicer to be in, because we could see outside. We bought a few air mattresses to sleep on, and a small grill to cook on. To be honest, I never want to go camping again. When big storms rolled in we had to flee for the safety of our vehicle, and hope that a stray tornado did not come our way. Bad weather is hard on the homeless, no matter if it is summer or winter, one is exposed to the elements.
Little by little we were trying to save money so we could get an apartment again, however there was no place we could afford and pay our bills too. And we also had to find a place that would take pets. Our dog was a great source of comfort through the entire homeless ordeal. We were getting used to our lifestyle and it was not all that bad, it was kind of like an adventure. We had a rain barrel and in the morning, summer warmed rain was what I used to wash my face and hair in. That did not work so well in the winter. We took showers at a local truck stop. No one would have guessed we were homeless by looking at us. Being avid readers, we enjoyed the endless reading hours at our disposal. We hung out a lot at local libraries for a change of scenery and the newest book releases.
You are probably wondering why we didn't go to family or friends for help. Our families lived in a different state and to this day they have no idea what we went through, and we certainly did not tell them. We were embarrassed. We avoided our friends for that reason also. Besides, our friends had their own financial problems. We knew we made a huge mistake by not having disability insurance, we just had to learn our lesson, live one day at a time, and hope for better things to come.
Our homeless days finally ended when I got on social security disability and my husband
received a settlement from the car accident he was in. We did not rush out and buy a house right away, we took our time and made sure we got a home we could afford if the unthinkable happened. That meant we could pay for taxes, insurance and upkeep, even if we both became disabled again and no money was coming in. We did not get our "dream house", but we did get a house that we could honestly afford. A dream house is anything but that if you have no peace of mind and are worried all the time how you are going to pay for it. That is not a dream house, that is a nightmare house.
To this day, I remember my homeless days more vividly than any other event of my life. I remember the total fear and horror of not having enough money to continue in a
lifestyle I was accustomed to. However in the end I learned lessons about life that I feel are invaluable. I see people going out on a limb financially and I just want to shake them to wake them up, but I know this is a lesson that each person must learn on their own. It is very, very easy to slip into a homeless state, more now than ever as the US economy implodes. People have no idea how close to homelessness they really are.
One other thing I tell people and that is, get yourself some disability insurance. No young couple would think of being without life insurance, but they feel as if they do not need disability insurance. All it takes is a minor car accident and not being able to work for a few months for people to lose their homes and vehicles and ruin their credit. And, the clincher is ....disability insurance it not even all that expensive and you can buy it right over your computer.
Being homeless was interesting in many ways, but I would never want to go through it again. I feel sorry for homeless people, even when they have no one to blame but themselves. With the mortgage debacle I have a feeling we will be seeing more and more homeless people in America. It is a very sad and distressing situation.
- National Alliance to End Homelessness
homelessness solutions policy research