This article has been contributed by Anne Marie Duhon. Anne Marie is a wife, mother of six and a full time off-gridder. She and her husband currently live in a totally off grid 200 sq foot “tiny home” and are in search of (again) that elusive perfect spot to call home. Besides being a wife and mother she, and her family, have raised many different animals on their various homesteads and have lived and loved being off the grid and many miles from the nearest paved road. She would like to share her first hand experiences and help others to learn to live and love living off grid and being as self reliant as possible.
I am not going to say that I am by any means an expert on this subject. I’m not really sure if there is even anyone that would claim to be an expert on ACTUALLY living and thriving as a “homeless” person or what that would even be! What I am going to try to do here is to share how we by choice and circumstances went “homeless”.
We have chosen to live in a small camper pulled by a truck and parked at various locations wherever our hearts and our wallets allow. I do want to apologize in advance if this comes across like I am preaching and telling you the best way in the world is to “go homeless”. For us and for now it is. For some, it may NEVER be the right thing to do especially if you have a medical condition or young children.
While being homeless may not work for everyone, learning to be self-sufficient and lessening your need for “civilization” and money WILL work for all, and I hope at minimum I can teach you some skills that you can use if your personal world should ever fall apart and being homeless becomes the ONLY choice for you.
When it comes down to it, skills you can never lose but you can lose your house. In your final moments you are not going to wish that you had spent more time at work but that you spent more time — QUALITY time — with your loved ones. In the end, your loved ones are all that matter and all the things you work so hard for you will have to leave behind one day.
Think about that while you hurry off to earn that paycheck. Like the song says I have yet to see a hearse with a trailer hitch.
WHAT IS HOMELESSNESS?
Let me define for you what I mean by homeless.
Homelessness is living without a stationary “traditional” home — be that an apartment, mobile home, or a house in the suburbs. I am not talking about living on the streets sleeping under cardboard but many of the ideas in this article could be used by those that are living on the streets and HAVE been incorporated into our lifestyle.
I aimed this at those of you that have chosen or are thinking about choosing VOLUNTARILY living without a home. This type of homelessness goes by many different names: camping, boondocking, RV’ing, nomads, hobos, escaping the rat race, what have you. For those of you who are reading this and facing homelessness through reasons that may or may not have been totally within your control I hope and pray that within this article you find some ideas and some hope.
Your level of homelessness depends totally on your comfort level. If you are the Bear Gryllis type you could probably take off to the woods with a knife, compass and a bottle of water and do quite well. And GOD BLESS YOU if you have that amount of skill! You are someone that I would LOVE to meet!
What I am talking about here is at minimum you have some sort of transportation and at the bare minimum a tent to sleep in, but you could sleep in your vehicle. Having said vehicle is going to leave you tied to “civilization” for at least the gas and insurance for the car. If you chose to go without insurance you are running the risk of getting a “home” with very sucky views and no choice of your companions but that is on you.
Also, for us the main goal of “going homeless” is to be as self-sufficient and as minimally tied to civilization as possible. We strive to provide for our own basic needs like food, water, shelter and clothing on our own with the least amount of money spent.
To accomplish that usually takes an equal amount of labor to replace the amount of money not spent. That exchange of labor for money usually has many great benefits in a healthier lifestyle and the satisfaction of knowing that you ARE capable of caring for yourself and your loved ones no matter what, that you are not dependent on the almighty dollar to warm you on a cold night or cook your food or bring fresh safe water to your family to drink.
This, I feel, is the BEST part of this whole “homeless” experiment.
WHY CHOOSE TO GO HOMELESS?
Why go homeless can be answered a million different ways.
For us, it was the challenge of pitting our minds and bodies against Mother Nature and not just surviving but THRIVING. For some, it is not so much a matter of a choice but forced on them by a job loss, illness, or some other personal Feces hitting the fan situation. For others, it was a conscience decision to leave civilization and all the trappings and encumbrances that includes, or it was the fact that even though they were working, the majority of their paycheck went towards housing expenses (rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance etc.) and they decided they would rather keep more of their money and give up the monthly bills.
This is where living in a tent or a camper at a campground really saves you money. Instead of several monthly bills that can and do fluctuate at a campground you pay a flat rate, usually about $10-$15 a day for electricity, water and lot rent. Many RV places will give you a better rate if you are going to be there for a month and some like KOA have laundry facilities, showers, WIFI and pools! A lot cheaper than an apartment!
<h2>DECIDING ON HOW HOMELESS YOU WANT TO BE</h2>
Okay so now you have decided for whatever reason you and yours are going to ditch your stick-and brick home and go on the road. The big question is how much are you going to reduce your possessions and how “homeless” do you want to be?
Here are some questions that you and yours need to consider before striking out…
- How much time do you have?
- Are you looking at eviction at the end of the month or do you have months or maybe years to plan this?
- How much money do you have to put into this? This one goes hand in hand with how much time you have.
- Have you lost your job and are flat broke or are you looking at maybe having a big tax return or saving money up for this?
- How many people and animals are you going to have coming on the road with you? Do any of them have any “issues” that require some sort of daily care that will keep you tied to civilization?
- How old are the other people coming with you and what kind of physical shape are they in?
This “homeless” lifestyle trades work and very little in the way of “free time” for money and leisure. And now some more questions…
- What are your personal limitations?
- What skills do you already have that could be used for your life on the road?
- How are you going to finance your time on the road?
- Do you get a “check” each month for some reason or are you going to have to secure some kind of income somehow to pay your minimal expenses?
- And the biggy, how on board are the other people in your group with this?
There is NO WAY that this will work if only one person in a group wants to do this and all the rest expect that one person to do all the work. This has to be an all-in or all-out effort. That one person may be willing at first to do all the work in the hopes that the rest will fall into line but trust me that WILL NOT happens. What will happen is that the willing person will start to resent the rest of the group and the experiment will collapse. This is not something that can be forced on anyone except for maybe the very young who really do not understand in the first place.
WHERE CAN YOU GO HOMELESS?
Now it used to be that you could pack a backpack and hit the road and be relatively safe and do quite well. There used to be hobos all over that would watch out for each other and help each other. Ah, but the world has turned and not for the better. These days being homeless is considered ILLEGAL in many places.
Even though most cities do not provide enough affordable housing, shelter space, and food to meet the need, many cities use the criminal justice system to punish people living on the street for doing things that they need to do to survive. Such measures often prohibit activities such as sleeping/camping, eating, sitting, and/or begging in public spaces and include criminal penalties for violation of these laws.
Some cities have even enacted food sharing restrictions that punish groups and individuals for serving homeless people. Many of these measures appear to have the purpose of moving homeless people out of sight, or even out of a given city.
Depending on what your arrangements are for sleeping there are many different options on where you can stop and have minimal chance of being harassed by the locals and by the authorities. There are websites that you can get on like freecampsites.net that can give you lists of places you can stay for free or for a minimal charge.
Unless you are going out west most areas will have a time limit that you can stay and most of the free ones will not have any amenities.
If your home is now a converted van or truck with a slide in, you could even get away with parking near your work on the street.
This would work great for a single adult or maybe a couple. This kind of living can be hard on children because you have to fly under the radar and stay quiet. It also requires you to move your vehicle often so that the cops or locals don’t start wondering about it. If you are lucky you might have a friend who’ll allow you to park in their driveway but do be careful and check out local ordinances because more and more cities are making it illegal to sleep in your vehicle on public OR private property.
If your home is a tent, you have a wide choice of places you can set up at night. I have seen people camping behind or near Wal-marts or other large box stores in cities, or you can set up your tent in an open or wooded area on the outskirts of a town or in a park.
The best part about living in a tent is that it is easy to hide and easy to move. If you decide to make an overnight stop , set your tent up in an out of the way spot not easily seen by people (like behind or in some trees or behind a building) and plan on having the tent down very early in the morning.
This is called stealth camping. Of course, you could tent camp in pretty much all the same places that you could park a camper and be able to stay for a while.
If you are like us and have a camper and a separate vehicle your best bet is to stick to campsites.
We bought a full sized pick-up truck second hand, and a camper that needed work. Totally paid for with cash mind you. We did the fixing up the camper needed and set out. This is called boondocking.
Our camper is totally self-contained with solar panels and a generator for electricity, a wood stove for cooking and heat and tanks for potable water. We worked towards this for about a year discussing exactly how “rough” we wanted to live. We had tossed up getting a big tent or maybe a Winnebago but the tent would not give us the space for supplies and the Winnebago would be too hard for day to day driving.
This way the camper can hold our supplies and give us more cargo space while moving and having the pick-up gave us a vehicle to drive after the camper was parked. We also added a canopy to set up outside the camper to give us more living space. To accomplish this we had to learn many skills, like packing and weight distribution in the camper for ease of towing, how to wire for 12 volt for the solar and regular power for the generator, how to filter “wild” water for safe drinking, and of course how to cook more than hot dogs and hamburgers on an open fire.
All these skills make it so that we need as little as possible from the towns we stop at.
Do not get me wrong, “going homeless” is A LOT of work, but it is also very freeing. It is basic cause and effect with the middle man taken out of the picture totally.
You decide to have a “lazy day” and not gather any firewood then that night you are going to eat a cold meal. Totally your fault and totally your choice. You have no “they” to blame.
See how easy and freeing that is? It reduces everything down to the basics, from the amount of stuff you have to how you deal with the rest of the world but it does give you the assurance that you can take care of yourself and your loved ones no matter what and that is something many in conventional homes cannot say.