Settling Into Homelessness

I’m living in my car again after house sitting for a friend on holiday for the past three weeks. Within a couple of days of arriving in town I’d already managed to find myself a place to stay so I haven’t really worked out where to find all the things here that I need to be comfortable.

A few years ago I lived in my car for about seven months I think. At the time I had a full time job while I lived in the beach suburbs of Melbourne. My situation is a little bit different this time. I don’t have a full time job and I’m living in a little country town. The differences are minor but I think it will be slightly easier here.

Sleeping

At first, the most difficult thing is finding a set of places where I can get myself enough sleep. I want places that will remain peaceful all night and the early morning. It can be hard to know if a spot is good until you try it out. Because it can be hard to know, I always get a bit sleep deprived at first.

I remember the very first night I slept on the street. I chose a quiet car park by the sea. At night it was beautiful. I arrived to sleep at about 11pm and fell asleep easily. The morning however was terrible. Beginning at the very first light at about 5am there were dozens of cyclists riding down the road and shouting conversations to each other. Another group would go past every few minutes. Then starting an hour later all the dog walkers took their dogs along the beach. They where shouting and whistling for their dog whenever it strayed too far. Then at about 7am the traffic started along the main road for the morning commuters to get into their offices. It was a great place at night but terrible in the morning. I never slept there again.

Sometimes the spot seems okay but you just chose a bad night. At one of the spots I used when I first arrived here in town, cement mixers were idling their engines and turning their cement all morning from about 7am. I used it again last night (three weeks later) and it happened again. I’ve decided that it wasn’t bad luck but a bad spot. I’m not going to sleep there again.

Ideally, I like to maintain about two weeks worth of spots and try to make sure I have two or three spots for each night of the week. I have a few rules that I try to follow too.

  • Never use a spot two nights in a row.
  • Try not to use a place more than once a week.
  • Try to not park where you can see right into someone’s house.
  • Be quiet if there are people that may be bothered.
  • Try and not arrive until it’s time to sleep.

I found that I would collect spots that couldn’t be used at times. Places near schools and factories were good on Friday and Saturday nights but unusable any other part of the week. Those places did attract hoons who came to do burnouts at 1am. Residential areas sometimes have parties on the weekends. Halls and footy clubs will have events on occasions. The times could be regular or they could be random. Parks and beaches were best when the weather was worst. Sometimes it could take a couple of goes before I found a spot to use on a given night. Sometimes it takes a few goes to decide whether a spot is good or bad.

It’s really hard at first but it gets easier as your collection of sleeping spots grows and your understanding of the circumstances that brings out the best of each of those spots develops. I did find that I was never able to get enough places because I was constantly needing to replace spots that had become bad or the spots that were never very good to begin with but needed to be used because I didn’t have enough. Although I tried not to, I would often break the rule of not using a spot twice in a week and would sometime break the rule of not using a spot twice in a row. I think I never had more than about ten or twelve places and was aiming to to have at least fifteen.

Relaxing

The second hardest problem I have living on the streets is finding a place where I can relax and be comfortable. I find it difficult to slow down enough to not be completely exhausted by the late afternoon. If I don’t have a comfortable place to stop I tend to just keep moving from place to place. Also the more tired I become the harder it is to become relaxed. I become self-conscious and anxious about drawing attention to myself. Having a job or something to easily fill your day makes it much, much easier.

Last time I lived in my car, I had a full time job. I found that most of my time was filled by that. I had a few hours each day between finishing work and going to sleep. Sundays were always hard. By the end of the weekend, I’d done all the walking and visiting and playing and thinking that I could take. What I really needed was a way to unwind. By the time I was tired, it was way too early to sleep. It was only for a short time that I found a place where I could hang out in my car in the afternoon and stay there until the next day. I lost that spot out of, let just say ‘circumstances’. After that I started going to see a movie each Sunday afternoon instead.

This time I think it’s important for me to develop a routine or at least a set of things that I like to do and the places where I can go do to them. Currently my routine goes something like this:

6:00
Wake up. Read some news. Brush teeth. Drop off car. Pack bike for day. Go to Café.

8:00
Drink coffee and read book.

11:00
Buy supplies for lunch. Make and eat food.

12:00
Find things to do…

18:00
Drop bike off. Get car. Buy supplies, cook and eat dinner. Have a shower.

19:30
Go to pub or go to bed or something else.

21:30
Find somewhere to sleep and sleep.

The entire middle of the day is open for me to do whatever I please. It might seem relaxing to have so much time to fill, but it can be hard work. Each day I’m trying to find some time to do some writing. There are some other things that I’d really like to be doing too but I haven’t found a place where I can yet, mostly I want to do some more woodworking. I enjoy that much more that I expected.

Instead I’ve been riding my bike and walking a lot to fill my time. That is obviously quite exhausting and I begin to feel it by the end of the day. Sometimes I just want to lay down and put my feet up on a couch. I haven’t got one but I do have a bed in the back of my truck. I sometimes take that out to a nice quiet place on the outskirts of town and have a relax out there. Eat something. Take a nap. Read. Just be comfortable for a while.

When it’s raining, my options are far more limited. I don’t mind going out and being in the rain, but I can’t really lay on the grass next to the pond.

I have trouble tiring myself from being constantly on the go.

Hygiene

Last time I went to the public swimming pools and for a swim and a show before work each day. This time I’m trying to avoid the pools because of the cost. It’s $5.00 per visit.

One advantage of living here is there are some fresh-water rivers and lakes nearby. We are coming into the summer and the weather is warm enough to clean myself there. The last few weeks there have been a couple of thirty degree days each. I’m pretty happy to have a swim if it’s hotter than thirty. Less than that and I’ll probably end up paying for a hot shower. For the next three or four months it’s only going to get warmer.

I’ve got some friends here who have offered me the use of their shower. I’m going to take them up on it but I want to be careful not to stretch their generosity.

Washing clothes I’ve been doing at the Laundromat. That’s not too expensive. A load of washing washed and dried costs about $12.00. I do that a bit less than once a week, plus I really like the Laundromat. It’s something that I look forward to on rainy days. I doubt I’ll ever buy a washing machine again while I live near a Laundromat.

Travelling

I have some friends who are letting me leave my bike with them. I’ve been driving my car to their house in the morning to pick up my bike, then get around throughout the day on my bike until I pick up my car again at night before bed. I’ve only been doing it for a couple of days so far but it’s working pretty well for me. I think it’s even more convenient that a car.I pack my bags full of food and anything I’ll need that day and I keep it right by my side.

Cooking

Last month I was able to just light a fire on the side of the road in an out-of-the-way place. The total fire bans have began and I can no longer do that. Instead, I’ve been using public barbecues which are great for frying things but I doubt I could boil a pot of water (I haven’t actually tried). I don’t like the idea of surviving on only meat, sliced potato and stir-fried vegetables for dinner each night. I’ve been eating a lot of fruit to keep myself healthy. Ideally I will need to work out how I can steam some vegetables and make myself a cup of tea. Perhaps a solar kettle of some kind.

For now, this is working well enough. I may even offer to cook for friends so I can use their kitchen. I think we might both like that.

Conclusion

Eventually I still want to find a place where I can build my hut without being too far from town. First, I have the more immediate problem of my comfort to satisfy. Once I’ve got that organised then I can become a bit more ambitious about new endeavours.

If you’re interested in living in your car, it’s most hard the first couple of weeks and gets easier and easier as you go. If you’re anything like me and a bit introverted then expect to be sleep deprived, uncomfortable, exhausted, over-socialised and ready to crawl under a rock.

And one last word of advice. Be truthful. Never pretend you’re not homeless or avoid the question. If someone asks where you live, tell them you live in your car. There are two reasons for this.

  1. Because opportunities will present themselves. People generally like to help each other out. If you need the opportunities then that’s great, if you don’t need them it’s still great to know that people care about you.
  2. Because it will drive a wedge between you and everyone else. When I first began living in my car, I met an old acquaintance in the pub one night. She asked where I lived and I told her the general area. She was from near there and wanted to know which suburb. I told her where I most often stayed. She then was interested in which street. I eventually had to give in and admit that I lived in my car. I was more embarrassed about being caught trying to avoid the question than I was about admitting that I live in my car.

Overall, it can be well worth it. When I first tried it out I was motivated by money, the adventure and a determination to be self-reliant. I was presently surprised by some unexpected advantages I didn’t anticipate. I love sleeping outside in the fresh air. I love waking up to the sounds of all the birds. There is nothing like falling asleep to the sound of rain on a canvas roof, and that includes rain on tin. I especially love all the people you meet and opportunities that you get presented. It can be a really great lifestyle. Sometimes it’s hard, but everything is a compromise.