Homeless and Living in a Car

The purpose of this website is to collect and share personal experiences of homeless people in North America who live in their van or car (aka vandwellers). Another purpose is to conduct a survey of their abilities and struggles.

Below you can read their stories. You can also add your own story of vandwelling and read about the benefits (financial as well as other) of adding your story to our collection.

If you would like to help any (or all) of the individuals who have shared their stories below, please read this page for suggestions.

In the News: In March 2019 I received, through this website, an email from a CBC assistant editor in Vancouver (who included her CBC office phone number and email address in her message). She wanted to interview me about my vanliving in a podcast. I declined the interview, but emailed the editor's contact info (after discussing it with her) to one of the other homeless individuals featured on this website.

To view a summary of the jobs people held while being homeless and living in a car, as well as other statistics, please click the tab below.

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Jobs While Homeless

Job #1
Job type: Construction
Gender: Male
Job location: Hotel (privately-owned)
Hours per week: 40 (full-time)
Job duration: Two months

Job #2
Job type: Tutoring high school kids mathematics
Gender: Male
Job location: Public libraries (for the tutoring) in rural cities
Job duration: On and off

Job #3
Job type: Customer service/Cashier
Gender: Female
Job location: Grocery store
Hours per week: 10 (part-time)
Job duration: One year so far (the last six months being homeless in a car)

Job #4
Job type: House Manager
Gender: Female
Hours per week: Part-time
Job duration: Six months

Statistics

Percentage of people who...

Live in a car (vs a van): 86% car (14% van)

Are females (vs males): 71% females (29% males)

Have a substance abuse problem: 0%

Have a mental illness or disability: 43%

Receive social assistance (e.g. welfare): 57%

Believe they will move into a fixed home in the foreseeable future: 43%

Already moved into a fixed home: 29%

Live in a certain province/state: 57% British Columbia, 43% California



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Case #1

Age and gender: 53 year old male

Location: BC (e.g. Victoria, Powell River, Vancouver)

Type of car: Passenger van (i.e. not an RV). I purchased it when it was 12 years old from a dealership and it only ever had one owner before me.

Car is parked mostly at: Mostly RV campsites (very expensive but some are super nice). Sometimes on the streets (difficult and very unpleasant). When I do park "on the street" I always park near a 24hr Tim Hortons and I sleep in the driver seat (so it looks like I am just taking a quick nap) and use their washroom during the night. I did it so many times in many different Tim Hortons and never had any issue from anyone. Whenever I park literally on the street (e.g. near homes of people) or in large parking lots of shopping centres, I always get kicked out by people or security guards.

Do you have a substance abuse problem? No

Do you have a mental illness or disability? Yes

For how long have you been living in a van/car? Two and a half years

Why did you originally start living in your car? I was renting the same apartment in Vancouver BC for 14 years but then a new manager was hired for the building and we didn't get along so I had to move out. I started looking for a new place, but just like now, I had no job to show on the applications, I had no friends to give me references, and the building manager I was leaving would not give me references for a new apartment. Some apt managers I was speaking to told me "Every day I get phone calls from 30 new people for the one vacancy that I have, so don't even bother filling an application." Eventually it was time to get out of my home and I had nowhere to go. I didn't even have a car, so for the first 10 days, while I was looking for a used van to buy, I rented and lived in U-Haul vans (which are much cheaper than renting a car), and I parked the U-Haul vans on the streets of Vancouver, and some days I stayed in cheap hotels. I was very fortunate within 10 days of being homeless to find a super nice used van which has been my home for the last 2.5 years, and I feel I couldn't be happier or more lucky than this van.

Jobs you have held during your life time: Engineer (lasers and optics), technician (electronics component repair), and many years of warehousing. Because of my mental disability my life has been riddled with periods of work (1-2 years per location) and even larger periods of looking for employment.

Job related skills that you have: I worked in warehousing for many years, and I have a university degree in physics, but socially I have always been and felt like a misfit at every workplace.

How do you survive financially? Mostly credit card debt but also the occasional short-term job when I can find one. As far as jobs, I have had two types. One is construction jobs. Sometimes you get paid cash and the foreman/supervisor doesn't ask for references or resume or where you live. They just try you out for a day after you send an email with your abilities and experience. I even worked like that doing renovations in a large privately-owned hotel for 2 months full-time.
Another type of job in rural cities I have been somewhat successful with is tutoring high school kids with mathematics. I post paper ads on community message boards (e.g. in Safeway or laundromats) and I meet kids (usually accompanied by a parent) in public libraries for the tutoring. Again, no one will ask you where you live or for references, and I give the first lesson free, and after that $15 per hour which is much less than most tutors.

Would you have the ability to move into a fixed home (room, apartment) if you wanted to? No. I don't have a job, I don't have personal references, and I am struggling financially even without having to pay rent.

Do you believe that in the foreseeable future you will move into a fixed home? No.

Address of your personal blog or website: http://usefuladvice.org/living-in-a-van/page-1.htm

Case #2

Note: The individual has since moved into a fixed home.

Age and gender: 18 year old female

Location: Surrey, British Columbia

Type of car: 2002 Honda Accord

Car is parked mostly at: Walmarts, public parks where they don't close the gates, quiet neighbourhoods without much traffic.

Do you have a substance abuse problem? No

Do you have a mental illness or disability? No

For how long have you been living in a van/car? Six months

Why did you originally start living in your car? My only parent died suddenly and I have no other family here. I wasn't able to pay rent and had to sell what I could to buy a car and live in it.

Jobs you have held during your life time: Currently employed at Safeway (one year).

Job related skills that you have: Cash handling and customer service.

How do you survive financially? My part time job.

Would you have the ability to move into a fixed home (room, apartment) if you wanted to? No

Do you believe that in the foreseeable future you will move into a fixed home? I really hope so.

Address of your personal blog or website: N/A

Anything else you would like to add about your experience as a vandweller? Things happen for a reason. I believe God is testing my strength, and each passing day is one more day closer to sustainability and peace of my mind. I'm okay with living in my car, I work only about 10 hours a week and it's enough to get me by. I'm still so grateful to be alive and healthy.

Case #3

Age and gender: 36 year old female

Location: Burnaby, British Columbia

Type of car: Jeep

Car is parked mostly at: Public parking lots with free WiFi.

Do you have a substance abuse problem? No

Do you have a mental illness or disability? No

For how long have you been living in a van/car? About two years off and on.

Why did you originally start living in your car? I was renting a basement suite and my landlord was bullying me. He would say a bunch of mean things to me through my windows loud enough for neighbours to hear and he would send me horrible msgs on facebook. When I took him to the tenancy branch he told them I didn't pay rent (which I did) and I lost so I had to move out. When I found a new place it just so happened the landlord knew my previous landlord so I went through the same thing over again except I wasn't able to make it to the hearing because my mom died in another province. I also found myself a control-freak boyfriend who kicks me out whenever he doesn't feel like dealing with me.

Jobs you have held during your life time: Administrative assistant and Case coordinator. I currently don't work.

Job related skills that you have: Office skills, Legal assistant skills, Conflict resolution skills, Customer service.

How do you survive financially? Social assistance.

Would you have the ability to move into a fixed home (room, apartment) if you wanted to? I think so.

Do you believe that in the foreseeable future you will move into a fixed home? Yes

Address of your personal blog or website: N/A

Anything else you would like to add about your experience as a vandweller? It's a horrible experience. I am not even from British Columbia. People here aren't very nice. I have been lied to, ripped off and used by almost every person I have met here. Living in your vehicle is not only hard to do, it's hard to get out of. It's the worst feeling ever.

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Case #4

Age and gender: 30 year old male

Location: Los Angeles, California

Type of car: Hyundai

Car is parked mostly at: Studio City
(Note: Studio City is a neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles, California.)

Do you have a substance abuse problem? No

Do you have a mental illness or disability? No

For how long have you been living in a van/car? Two and a half years

Why did you originally start living in your car? Because I wanted to live like a normal person without negative roommates.

Jobs you have held during your life time: Plumber, Server, Trucker, Actor, Security, Sales Person. Almost any possible job out there.

Job related skills that you have: High quality customer service. And I am also well read.

How do you survive financially? General Relief, and I am using my friend's car.
(Note: General Assistance (also known as General Relief) is a term used in the United States to denote welfare programs that benefit adults without dependents.)

Would you have the ability to move into a fixed home (room, apartment) if you wanted to? No

Do you believe that in the foreseeable future you will move into a fixed home? Yes

Address of your personal blog or website: N/A

Case #5

Age and gender: 25 year old female

Location: Surrey, British Columbia

Type of car: Honda Civic

Car is parked mostly at: Any park

Do you have a substance abuse problem? No

Do you have a mental illness or disability? Yes

For how long have you been living in a van/car? I lived in my car off and on in 2016.

Why did you originally start living in your car? I was sexually assaulted and experienced mental illness shortly after it happened. I became angry and everyone in my family distanced themselves to the point I was left to heal alone and had no address, so the hospital kicked me out onto the streets.

Jobs you have held during your life time: The year before I became homeless I was working at a law firm as a secretary

How do you survive financially? Welfare denied me for a period of time and I was 20 hours short of receiving Employment Insurance. I was asked to join gangs and sell drugs and also to traffic money across the border in the car I was living in. Luckily, my rich aunt came to my rescue before I did those things. I invested some of the money she gave me into risky places (stock market and bitcoin) but it was a gamble that paid off while I wasn't able to work or collect.

Would you have the ability to move into a fixed home (room, apartment) if you wanted to? I do now, yes

Do you believe that in the foreseeable future you will move into a fixed home? I am currently.

Address of your personal blog or website: N/A

Anything else you would like to add about your experience as a vandweller? Fortunately my experience was short lived and is now over. I finally did receive the help that I needed and my life is back on track today. I am an example of how our system is flawed and I want the world to hear my story as well as have compassion for the homeless.

Case #6

Age and gender: 46 year old female

Location: Agoura Hills, California
(Note: Agoura Hills is a city in Los Angeles County, California.)

Type of car: Mustang

Car is parked mostly at: Side of a street

Do you have a substance abuse problem? No

Do you have a mental illness or disability? No

For how long have you been living in a van/car? Six months

Why did you originally start living in your car? I moved to California from Arkansas for a job offer and after being here for 15 months and being taken advantage of by my boss, I inquired about labor laws of California and as soon as I did she fired me and evicted me from my living space. I then got a part-time job and bought a car so that way I at least have a roof over my head. I would rather not return to Arkansas because life is so much better here for me.

How do you survive financially? Part-time job as a house manager.

Would you have the ability to move into a fixed home (room, apartment) if you wanted to? No

Do you believe that in the foreseeable future you will move into a fixed home? Yes

Address of your personal blog or website: N/A

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Case #7

Age and gender: 33 year old female

Location: San Diego, California

Type of car: Honda Accord

Car is parked mostly at: Random parking lots/beach

Do you have a substance abuse problem? No

Do you have a mental illness or disability? Yes

For how long have you been living in a van/car? Off and on last year

Why did you originally start living in your car? I became severely ill and had to evacuate the home I had been renting for 2 years after environmental testing revealed the home was covered in mold and had significantly elevated concentrations of formaldehyde and my slumlords refused to appropriately remediate or compensate nor did San Diego code compliance enforce housing codes to hold my slumlords accountable. Although my health significantly improved leaving the home, to this day I remain too disabled to work or care for myself.

Jobs you have held during your life time: Psychologist

How do you survive financially? Social services

Would you have the ability to move into a fixed home (room, apartment) if you wanted to? No

Do you believe that in the foreseeable future you will move into a fixed home? No

Address of your personal blog or website: N/A


Comments



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Hi,
Often people are not aware of various outreach programs and Free/Low Cost Services available in their areas... Perhaps adding a section for such input could help those who are interested access such things.
I've been Homeless *without wheels* as well as being "Front Line" trained in the DTES (Down Town East Side).
Cathy

Hi Cathy,
Thanks for the thoughtful suggestion, and it's good to hear from you.
I think that the food bank and social assistance services are considered "common knowledge," but if there are any other services you think might be of interest, services that may be less known to homeless people, please let me know and I may create a section for it.

Ilan   vanliving@usefuladvice.org

Hello,
My friend J___ is exactly as you describe. He has shared his story before and is always looking for other people who want to share experiences and have helpful resources.
He doesn't have a phone at the moment but you can reach him through me.
I filled out the website link for my friend. Anything you can do to help him would be greatly appreciated.
Cheers,
Mike
Tel: xxx-xxx-xxxx

Hi Mike,
I think your friend J___ is lucky to have someone like you as a friend, someone who thinks about him and tries to help when he is not in a good place in this world.
There are many homeless people like your friend (and like myself) who are struggling to survive.
I am not sure if that's helpful, but if you tell me more details about the issues your friend is struggling with I may be able to locate an agency or a resource that you could then call.

Ilan   vanliving@usefuladvice.org

Hello, David in Vancouver. A story like no other. Eleven months on the street and I made it.

Hi,
Why do you have to be homeless living in your car? I'm just homeless I have no car. I live in my camp on the side of a local highway. I have a part-time job but could use any extra income.
Roy

Hi Roy,
I started this website (http://vandwellers.usefuladvice.org/) after having lived in my passenger van for 2.5 years so that's what the website is about.

Ilan   vanliving@usefuladvice.org

I'm homeless and living in my van because I just don't have time and energy to go through all the process of renting my story. Society has shit on me and continues to do, so I find it very difficult to see the good in people now. But I'm in no sense a miserable person.

(From John)
You only have 3 stories? And they are from Canada, a GANG run country with massive taxes and no infrastructure. I live in a van in LA. I left Vancouver 10 years ago. Long story.

Hi John,
I lived in the USA for a few years but I had a good job back then and life was easy. I have only been homeless in Canada so not sure how the two countries compare for homeless people, except that being at the bottom of the food chain is never where you want to be in this life, regardless of where you live.

You are still very welcome to add your story if you like, and share the advertisement income of the website. I also have a bigger hope that if enough people add information about their skills/abilities and struggles I may be able to come up with a way to improve the situation of many people (including myself), given that we all have a car, and are homeless, and have skills and abilities that can be used. The odds are small but I am hopeful.

Ilan   vanliving@usefuladvice.org

Hi,
I would like to know more about the intention behind your website and your reason for homelessness outreach. I have always been fascinated with van life, especially with rising cost of living in South California. So I bought an RV. I don't like to use the word "homeless" for myself because I have it pretty nice in my 1986 Winnebago, four walls and a little electricity is way more privileged than a cement sidewalk.

Hi,
I agree that if you have no financial problems, and you live in a nice RV, and you could move into a fixed home if you only wanted to, then you are only homeless because that's what you want to be.

However, that's far different from the situation of people featured on this website. Many people living in a car or van are struggling to survive, have to use the food bank, and sometimes they appear to stay alive only thanks to generosity of strangers. If their van or car broke down their only option would be to be homeless without a car. All of the above is certainly true for myself.

Ilan   vanliving@usefuladvice.org

Hi,
I am all over the place (in Colorado). I went for a job out of town, as I was fed up with the area I was in and found work in Colorado Springs. So I have to say I did rather enjoy camping under the stars. I had to get a good warm sleeping bag. And the shelters are just disgusting. Just rotten actually. The bed isn't worth it. It was so much better to get a burger and turn the radio on under the stars.
Yes, a person feels bad about it, but as I said the shelters are just so bad. People also try – and do – get you in trouble, especially in the abused women shelters. Then having some young college person – with no experience – to shove it in your face that she can – and will – kick you out at any time. Just rotten. Most shelters and non profits employ young inexperienced uncaring snotty kids for staff.
If you want to learn about shelters you should go stay there for a while. Always some rule getting you in trouble. Then you have to share ALL your personal information with them. Then the psychiatrist who you cry to and they somehow use it against you personally. You would think in a shelter they wouldn't look down at people who stay there.
Okay well that's it, in brief.

So I did also go to college and am looking to work for myself these days. Sales and marketing – if you need any help from me please let me know.
You can reach me via email at ____@gmail.com.

Thanks and have a good day,
J___

Hi J___,
It's good to hear from you, and thanks for the heartfelt email.
Life can be difficult when you don't have money or a job. I completely understand your experiences.
I haven't had to stay in a shelter so far. And I haven't heard much good things about them.
I wish you all the luck in the world. You deserve it.

Ilan   vanliving@usefuladvice.org


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Homelessness and Low-Income Resources


Toronto, ON

Meals, shelters, street outreach, and many other useful resources:

https://www.211toronto.ca/

https://www.211toronto.ca/topic/homelessness

https://www.toronto.ca/community-people/housing-shelter/homeless-help/

Vancouver, BC

* "bc211" is a Vancouver-based nonprofit organization that specializes in providing information and referral regarding community, government and social services in BC. For example, if you click on the "Homelessness" icon (on the website) you will find resources for homeless people (close to your area) including shower and laundry facilities, meals, clothing, and emergency shelters.

http://www.bc211.ca/

* Another very useful information source for free and low-cost resources, community centres for low-income residents, rent bank, and cold weather shelters:

https://vancouver.ca/people-programs/homeless-and-low-income-resources.aspx

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