The Ris and the Prius

Courtesy of Marisa Twigg

Standing only five-feet tall, bent over the back seat of her 2010 blizzard pearl colored Toyota Prius, Marisa Twigg (aka “Ris”), was cleaning out her “bedroom.”

Peeking through her makeshift “closet,” behind the driver’s seat, she was pulling up the blankets to make her bed consisting of three sleeping bags on top of a sleeping pad with two pillows and a comforter.

Ris, a fourth year Ohio State student studying environmental policy, decided to live out of her Prius this past May when her roommate dropped out of their lease. She knew she wouldn’t be able to afford living in the apartment on her own and her former roommates already found someone else to move in with, leaving Ris with very few options for the upcoming school year.

She nearly jumped up bumping her head on the ceiling as I walked up. Right away she apologized for her messy home and explained how it gets messier 10 times faster than an actual house.

“Don’t judge me,” she said smiling as she tossed the large stuffed manatee her dad got her to the other side of the bed, underneath the blue and white beads that dangled off a small dream catcher.

Next to the bed laid a gently used tambourine. She chuckled and explained that she doesn’t actually play it but she brought it because it reminds her of her drum set she used to play a lot.

“I thought it was important to keep my personal style in here and stuff that makes me happy,” she explained.

Ris sitting on her bed in the back of her Prius- Courtesy of Marisa Twigg

She eagerly moved on to show me her library; this consisted of nine books lined up neatly next to her bed. After finishing her crib tour, she shrugged, smiled, and said “It’s quirky and that’s what I like about it.”

An article written by Dina Demetrius stated that there are about 214,000 homeless people in America that sleep in places that aren’t intended for sleeping, including vehicles.

There are many dangers to living in these places. Some of these dangers can include crime such as assault or robbery. Another danger can include infectious diseases or illnesses.

Being sheltered away in a car, like Ris, can help decrease some of these dangers.

One of Ris’s close friends, Katie Gorman a third-year studying forestry, fisheries, and wildlife, said when she first heard Ris was going to do this she was worried about her. “Being a woman in the city can make this type of lifestyle dangerous,” said Gorman, “but I knew if anyone could do it, it was Ris.”

Ris’s first night sleeping in her mobile home was July 30. She did all her research on the best location to park, how to cover her windows, and the best weapons for safety, etc.

Even though her dad said “that’s not ideal,” when Ris first told him, he still proceeded to help her find a Taser for protection. She said her parents definitely worry about her but they’re supportive.

She was excited for the first night of this adventure until she was woken up at 5:30 a.m. by a man pulling on the door. Too scared to sit up right away, she realized he was going down the street and doing this to every car.

“It was kind of scary, definitely an adrenaline rush. I wasn’t expecting that the first night,” said Ris.

Every night since then she has researched and tried to figure out the safest places to park and sleep but, “no matter how many boxes you can check, something can always happen,” said Ris.

4,000 undergrad students were surveyed during a study done by researchers at the University of Wisconsin.

This study found that 13 percent of those students were just like Ris. Homeless.

Ris’s advice for someone who is homeless and interested in living out of their car would be to “make a plan first.” Go in with a plan and do some research before fully committing to something as wild as this.

Make sure there are supportive family and friends around. That’s the one thing Ris has realized. “Without the love and care and support of family and friends, it’d be a lot harder,” Said Ris.

Ris hasn’t had many problems with parking her car on the street until recently and the numbers 17–17719 9/16/17 on the drivers window can attest to this.

Her car got towed from 11th avenue on September 16. Her friend Rachel McDevitt was there to offer her a place to stay for the night and a ride to the impound lot.

Gorman said, “I try to offer my home to her whenever car life gets tiresome but she honestly has been so self sufficient, I forget she just has her car.”

Ris has to be careful where she parks her car in Columbus. It’s illegal to park and sleep in a car on public property so this includes streets.

When Ris does park on the streets, she moves her car around quite often so she isn’t in one spot for too long. She also will park in private places that allow it, such as Walmart.

Ris had three main reasons for deciding to live out of her Prius.

First off, she realized she didn’t really use all the space that she had with her previous house. “…it didn’t make sense to me that I rent a ton of extra square footage that wouldn’t even be utilized,” she explained.

The Prius is a downgrade of square footage when comparing it to a house but Ris makes it work. She still thinks it is “so worth it,” even after living this way for a couple months.

Ris only spent time in her old house for the normal everyday tasks of cooking, sleeping, and showering. She’s still able to carry out these tasks.

She showers and cleans up at the Adventure Recreation Center (ARC) in the mornings or after she works out in the evenings. She does her laundry at her friend’s house. She either eats out, uses the microwave and fridge at work, or uses her two-burner camp stove wherever her car is parked.

Ris said she was self conscious at first about people thinking she didn’t keep up with hygiene but she’s still able to do all those things on a regular basis. It’s just not done all in one spot in her home.

The second reason Ris went with this decision was because she said, “I wanted to try and cultivate a lifestyle full of meaning and value.” She didn’t want to rely on material possessions to provide her life with meaning anymore, so she sold and gave away most of her things.

Ris said, “I am no longer distracted by useless objects that deter me from following my dreams and passions.”

She’s able to better manage how her time is spent with people, school, and work. Ris uses her time wisely but is still able to find time to do things for herself.

One thing she loves to do is go backpacking or hiking and she’s still able to do that with friends. Ris said she loves to take people places and can fit four people in her car when she wants to go out with friends.

The last main reason Ris chose to do this was because she wanted to challenge herself and learn more about herself. She wanted to try and value life more by actually thinking about what she was doing with her time and money.

She’s struggled with depression and anxiety and said this was one of the best decisions she could have made in helping with that.

It has been a huge learning experience for her because she’s been able to control how and who she spent her time with better than before, helping with her depression and anxiety.

Ris concluded with, “I simply want to live life more intentionally.”

And just like that my time with Ris came to an end. She strolled out of Kafe Kerouac on to the next adventure that awaited before her.