Van Life Wrapped Up

Winona in Adams Point, Oakland

A couple of months ago, I embarked on a spirit quest to live in a van until I got married and moved in with my wife. I had a couple reasons: (a) I wanted to enter into deeper empathy with the displaced and homeless, (b) I wanted to reallocate resources for said people group, and (c) I wanted to go on adventures in the van. As of today, I am a couple days away from our wedding, and I wanted to share some thoughts from the experience.

Picnic dinner of noodles near Lake Merritt

I learned several things with regard to homelessness.

  1. I am entrenched in privilege. Even in my attempts to lay it down, I experienced privilege — I would communicate what I was doing to my community, and subsequently had every opportunity to escape homelessness if I chose to. From friends offering garages, to others offering rooms and showers, it became clear to me that laying down privilege was not as simple as buying a van in living in it. My belonging in society was cemented through relationships, my skin color, and financial status. I wanted to learn and empathize, but I mostly learned that I don’t know a thing about being dislocated. I could’ve told you that before I ever moved out.
  2. Most people thought it was cool, but asked where I went to the bathroom the most. The answer was my office, the gym, or a Claire’s house.
  3. Overwhelmingly, people thought it was resourceful to save money on rent. It’s expensive in the Bay Area.
  4. Another experience I had was how easily it was for my “home” to be absolutely cluttered. It required a great deal of organization and consideration to be able to have all my belongings go in there respective place. I empathize differently with people who push shopping carts or carry bags full of stuff — keeping track of possessions is hard when you’re confined to that small of a space. There’s just no way out of looking cluttered when you don’t have a place of your own.
  5. Not having an address is makes it really difficult to operate in society. I had an office address that I could forward mail, but it was pretty ineffective and had a lot of mail mix ups for months after I moved out — I am very thankful to have an address to return to once we get married. Claire and I will be living in Oakland when we return from our honeymoon.
  6. Even though I didn’t have a home, finding the same place to sleep at night (near West Berkeley) helped me sleep. I tried East Oakland a couple times and felt unsafe, and other places were too remote or noisy. Even in my “homelessness”, I had mobility to choose the most ideal place for sleeping in privacy.
  7. Using a gym for a shower was unexpectedly great for me, because I felt healthier — I would go to the gym to shower but would work out first. I liked having an excuse to exercise every day.
Paul and I taking a break to enjoy some coastal views

As for the financial gain of not paying rent, I think I came out about even. I definitely won out in terms of life experience and I now have a vehicle that I plan on keeping. The cost of the vehicle, as well as repairs and gas probably came out about the same or a little more than three months rent + cost of living. To those that participated, thank you for donating to the GoFundMe. With your help I sent money to refugee relief funds internationally and locally. I am thankful we could contribute financially to companies practicing justice and compassion in the world.

Mikey and I coming down from Crater Lake

I went on lots of adventures in the van. It was great for small trips, like to Anthony Chabot with my fiance. I took it to Yosemite with my family, up the northern coast with my friend Paul, to Portland with my friend Mikey, and other places around the Bay as well. I’m sure it’ll see more of the US in the years to come.

Mikey and I made the most of a break down in Northern California. Late night McDonalds

Overall I feel that my experience was successful, but very limited. I still don’t really know that much about homelessness — I feel that I know more about how surrounded I am than what it’s like to be abandoned. I am praying and hoping for brothers and sisters living in the fear or reality of deportation, abandonment, or dislocation. I am saddened by how drained of care and compassion the world seems right now.

Clairey “supervising” a new bed build about halfway through the whole experience

I have been sleeping in the van up until our marriage begins, and I suspect I will escape there sometimes as well even after our wedding day. My hope is that Claire and I continue to explore and adventure, pushing the limits of home space, traditional living, and pursuing empathy. Maybe we’ll come to your city next summer.