Homeless America

Do you ever worry it could happen to you? I never used to, but I do now. My eyes were pried open when I began traveling the United States.

Homelessness isn’t an allusive problem, but a reality. It is no longer a problem that exists somewhere, out there. From the smallest of towns to the largest cities, homelessness is steadily becoming more prevalent.

Look around. Do you see it? Has it made its way to your town – to your neighborhood?

Anacortes, Washington:

During the summer months, tourists can be seen milling about the town moving from shop to shop. Once little more than a fishing village, Anacortes evolved over the years into a prosperous town thanks to the tourist industry. Ideally located on Fidalgo Island, Anacortes is the gateway to the San Juan Islands.

Commercial fishing boats can still be found docked at the Cap Sante Marina, but pleasure boats are now the majority. Sadly, the fishing industry has diminished over the year as costs and regulations have increased.

It was in this little, scenic seaport town that we met Perry.

Driving along R Avenue, we were headed down to the docks when we drove past a man slowly making his way down the sidewalk while pulling a metal cart behind him. The cart seemed to be filled with all his worldly possessions. Scuffed and worn, he looked like he’d seen better days.

Pulling off the road, I rolled down my window and offered him some money.

Smiling, he softly shook his head. “While I appreciate your generosity, I never accept something without giving something in return. Will you give me a second?”

Mildly surprised, I nodded in agreement.

Turning to his cart, he dug through it until he found what he was looking for.

Smiling, he held out a baby carriage for me, he’d built out of a beer can. “I saw your little one in the back, and thought you might like this. Be careful, don’t let her play with it. The edges are sharp.”

Taking the carriage, I admired his work. “Thank you. It’s beautiful.”

Visiting for a few minutes before parting ways, I learned that Perry had made the streets of Anacortes his home for the last three years. He loved the area, but would like to move somewhere a little warmer. The damp winters make his arthritis act up.

Washington DC:

Home to the President of the United States, Washington D.C. is a beautiful hustling city that lies along the Potomac River. Well-known for its monuments, museums, and galleries, the city is rich in culture. However, it is also well-known for its homeless problem.

It is here in our Nation’s Capital that 12,215 people were found to be homeless on January 28, 2016, by the COG Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee.

The problem is only too evident when you drive through the city. Tents and tarps set up under a bridge create a temporary community. This makeshift tent city is one of hundreds popping up around the United States.

Orlando, Florida:

This past Christmas was our first on the road. We spent our holiday season at Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake in Orlando, Florida. A hundred and eighty-three acres of rich green land adjacent to beautiful Turkey Lake, the park was a lovely change from the cold Alaskan Christmas we had experienced the previous year.

Exploring Orlando and the surrounding areas, we spent approximately a month at the park. While there, we came to meet a nice young family who also happened to be staying there. On the surface, their family appears similar to mine. Like us, they are a family of five and they are a mobile. However, that is where the similarities seem to end.

We are an extended family with grandparents, parent, and two teenagers. We made a conscious choice to give up our stationary lives and adopt a nomadic traveling lifestyle. Our home is a thirty-four foot RV that we navigate around the highways and back roads of the United States. We live doing what we please.

They are a traditional family with a father, mother, and three young girls. Their mobile life isn’t by choice. They are a homeless family who primarily live out of their car. They expand their home to include a small tent when they are fortunate enough to be able to afford the fees of a campground or park. They live in fear that someone will find out they live out of their car, and will tear their family apart.

How desperate would I have to be, to knock on someone’s door to ask for help?

I’ve turned this question over and over in my mind, but I still don’t know the answer. It is something I simply can’t imagine. Perhaps, it is one of those situations where you just need to be there to understand.

In the last year, I’ve heard that knock four times. It comes as a surprise every time. Although, I imagine it’s easier and less intimidating to approach an RV than it is the door of a two story home. We do what we can to help – providing sack lunches and warm blankets. It isn’t nearly enough, but I like to think it helps.

Homelessness happens easier and faster than many of us realize. The reality of it is, it can happen to anyone for any reason.

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U.S.A Traveling Tips and Tricks

 

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I’ve been on the road for a year, but people still don’t understand. I’m often questioned by people in my old life. Why? How? Their looks of confusion and sometimes derision are both amusing and annoying. They can’t seem to understand why or how I could give up my old life to live this way, but that is okay. They don’t need to. My journey is not theirs. However, for those of you who share my interest in living this way, I’d like to share with you a few things, I’ve learned along the way.

  • This is a life not a vacation. 
    • Before deciding to take this step, I read everything I could on the subject of full time travel. Like a sponge, I absorbed information and advice from all directions. It was one of these articles, in particular, that resonated with me. It was about a powerful executive married couple who gave up their stationary lives to travel the world. However, in less than a year, they were broke and working ‘menial’ jobs, so they could eat and have a place to sleep at night. Instead of living within their means, they blew through their money on extravagant activities, four star hotels, and elaborate meals. Bemoaning their new lives, they warned people in the article not to do what they did. No, they weren’t warning people not to blow through their money as if there’s no tomorrow, they were warning people not to become full time travelers. This couple’s irresponsibility served me well. I continuously remind myself this is my life, not a vacation. It is important to budget accordingly. It also made me question myself on my dedication to do what was necessary to live this life. Would I be willing to stop traveling if needed to re enter the workforce, and take on ‘menial’ jobs (as they put it) to build up my travel fund if needed? The answer came only too easily. Unequivocally “YES.” There is no shame in a hard honest day’s work. I’ve done it before, and I’d gladly do it again to be able to be a full time traveler.
  • Cutting costs from the very beginning, we did everything we could to eliminate extravagant monthly bills that would prevent us from traveling.
    • Shopping around, we found a second-hand RV within our means. Paying cash for it up front, we bought it outright. Working together, we invested hard work and sweat equity into it to making it a comfortable, accommodating home that is distinctly ours. By doing this, we were able to increase the value of our RV while saving ourselves from having costly monthly payments.
    • Debt can be destructive to freedom. We avoid credit cards. If we can’t afford to pay cash for what we need, we simply do without.
  • We rarely eat out. Cooking at home is economical, healthier, and simply tastes better.
  • We avoid buying snacks or drinks from convenience stores when filling up our vehicle with diesel. It is an expensive convenience, we do without.
  • We are a family of five which can become expensive very quickly when traveling and sightseeing.
    • Fortunately, the United States has a wealth of free and low cost fun, entertaining, and educational attractions and activities. Doing my homework ahead of time, I google each state we travel in, and notate what is available.
    • I keep my eyes peeled for discounts, coupons, and offers that may make sightseeing more affordable and accessible.
      • The America the Beautiful: National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is one such amazing deal. For a low yearly cost, this pass provides entrance or access to more than two thousand Federal Recreation Parks and Sites through out the United States. It is definitely a great deal, and has saved my family a ton of money.  Find a Federal Park
    • Get off the beaten path. I love big cities, but small towns have their own distinct charm. Explore what is out there.
    • For those attractions that may be more expensive, we simply do as other families do. We save until we have the money to go. Disneyworld may be the happiest place on Earth, but it is definitely not the most affordable.
  • Campgrounds and RV parks are often spendy. Boondocking is a great way to combat this expense.
    • Wal-Mart’s, Home Depot, and Lowes are usually pretty accommodating if you park at the far end of their parking lots. However, I always call and speak with a manager to receive permission beforehand. There are some cities whose ordinances forbid boondocking.
    • Free Campsite Interactive Map is another wonderful tool, I frequently use. This interactive map is a great way to locate various free and low cost campsites in any area you happen to be in. Providing reviews and coordinates, this map is easy to use.
  • Always be safe. 
    • Trust your instincts. image
    • Do NOT catalog where you’ve been on a map you adhere to the side of your RV. This is a dangerous practice. By doing this you are notifying everyone that you are a full time traveler who has everything you own in your RV (electronics, jewelry, and personal documents). While it is fun to document and record your adventures, just keep it to the inside of your RV.
    • Invest in a weather radio. These radios will alert you to storms along the way that you may not be aware of. There is nothing worse than driving into something you could easily have avoided.
    • Joining AAA is a travel service that is well worth the money. If you have a breakdown on the road, help is only a phone call away.
  • Be friendly and meet the locals. They often know about the best places to go, to shop, and to eat (when you decide to splurge).

I’ve only been on the road for a year, but I can’t imagine going back to my old life. Why would I? This is the life, literally. I may have had a large home with four bedrooms, two and a half bath, but I was never there to enjoy any of it. 70, 80, 100 hour work weeks were the norm. I saw my family in passing on my way to work or my way to bed. Now, I live simply but the rewards are far greater.