At this time last year, I was homeless, dealing with what mental health professionals call “unrelenting crisis,” and not knowing when or if I would be able to get my life back together. My choices were to be treated like a child in a homeless shelter or live somewhere on my own. Around this time, I started making plans to live in a tent regardless of how cold it might be. I had simply had enough of the New Horizons shelter in Manchester.
I could not have predicted then that I would make more money in the following year than I knew what to do with. By comparison, I had no way to get around at the end of 2019 other than my feet. At the end of 2020, I have a moped, a bicycle, and an RV. This post and the ones to follow are about my experiences living without an address in a motor home.
In my case, I have an old Class C RV from the 1980s. It’s mostly an analog, old-fashioned vehicle. I spent around $8,000 dollars to purchase it and have it transported from the south. Since then, I’ve spent at least $1,000 dollars fixing it up and getting it ready for a cross-country trip.
Although I like New Hampshire, I’m not particularly attached to the cold. Living up north during the summer and in Florida or California during the winter is an ideal toward which I’m currently striving. In this scenario, which admittedly has not yet come to pass, I would work 7 or 8 months out of the year, save my money, and live the rest of the year off whatever savings I gathered until the weather became fair enough to come north again.
When the RV came on a cold, blustery day at the beginning of winter, it wouldn’t even start. Some neighbors and I had to push it off a flatbed, where it promptly donked, the rear bumper colliding with the street. It turns out that, although a new battery was put in before it shipped nearly 2,000 miles across the country, the connecting cords to the battery were old and worn. The vehicle only started when a pair of needle-nose pliers were put in place to ensure that power from the battery made it to the vehicle.
To make matters more complicated, the vehicle operates on a manual transmission. I don’t know how to drive a manual. The thought of “going through a clutch” is a little bit frightening, but something I suppose will be a rite of passage at some point.
At some point, I keep telling myself. Sooner rather than later.
The RV’s heater did not work. There wasn’t a secondary battery installed, either. The water tank was empty. The battery I did find requires a recharge every 30 days. Trying to obtain a portable recharging device for a car battery is a lot more difficult than finding one for all my other devices – my phone, my Kindle, my PlayStation Vita, etc. I have a solar-powered device and eventually plan to meet all my energy needs this way.
Though a smoke alarm was present, it did not work. I had to purchase another one, and then open a byzantine set of instructions to figure out how to get it started. The use of propane for the vehicle is a bit of a question mark, since all tanks have to be kept outside living spaces while in use. While 20 dollars for a tank exchange at Home Depot is a lot better than on-the-grid gas heating, there are still several complications and issues surrounding this – the least of which is city ordinances.
So far, I’ve found all of Manchester’s city ordinances working against me and people in my situation. I know I’m not the only one who lives out of an RV in the city – yet a visit from city parking enforcement made me aware that my vehicle might not always be safe in a public space, even if I manage to move it during a snow emergency.
I have thus far found it odd that a city with an acute homelessness problem should make it more difficult for owners of property trying to pay their own way. Instead, the city should encourage and make easy any form of non-traditional living it can in order to reduce both budgetary strains owing to welfare costs and the human cost of people sleeping on the street while going to the bathroom in alleyways.
Tiny houses, bus living, RV living, any kind of living situation people can have that keeps off them off the street ought to be a positive. Instead, people like me who don’t have a permanent address of any kind are stuck skirting around rules and laws, never knowing when the next incident will flare up – never knowing when an enforcement officer will come to make life more difficult.
While I can’t speak for others, I chose to live in an RV because I can’t afford to live in an apartment. Despite the money I made in 2020, I don’t expect that to always be the case (most of it being due to essential worker pay). I also didn’t want to find a place to live for several months, blow through my savings, and then be homeless and broke at the end of it.
Apartments and houses are simply too expensive. People like me in lower tax brackets can’t afford a traditional means of living. I decided I wanted to reduce the burden I placed on others as much I could. I didn’t want to take up a social worker’s time. I didn’t want to be at the mercy of people donating food to an encampment. I didn’t want to shiver in the cold at night with heating patches stuck to my back and legs. I didn’t want to always feel miserable and hopeless, as I had before.
Any amount of money I spend today to avoid those outcomes in the future are worth it to me. I want to be free. I want to support myself. I’ll take whatever means I have available to me to do so, even if I must live in a motor home for the foreseeable future.
Winter Trabex is a freelance writer from Manchester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org