Is Full-Time Van Life as a Choice Indicative of Homelessness?
In my time van dwelling I’ve found that the public perception has very much remained unchanged in the United States and I suspect as much that it is the case for most developed nations. In some cases, there may be slight variances regarding the attitude but not much. The perception is that if one does not have a specific version of a home that it equates to homelessness. If you’ve ever tried to live out of a vehicle by choice I’m sure you’ve encountered people as I have, that just default to treating you as a charity case. Alternatively you may be preparing to make the transition and find yourself faced with external perceptions similar to this from people that just don’t get it.
The Charity Case
While working full time jobs, even in instances where the company supplies my RV spot (for the camper van) and provides hookups to attract my work I have had people approach me as if I have somehow become unfortunately disadvantaged as a result of economic pressures. The result is to be treated as a charity case, as someone that has nothing and must be protected. Depending on the person their motive may be to build self confidence in themselves for doing good deeds through helping what they see as someone in an unfortunate circumstance. Alternatively they may need to reaffirm their way of life after you’ve shared your choice. No matter what the driving factors involved this is because of some notions that are driven into people early on, but we will get into that in a bit.
Power of Suggestion
First, in psychology there is a concept whereby one can be influenced greatly through the power of suggestion. For example, if I am to tell you that you are in some way laid back in my perception- or that you might be the most laid back person I know there is a higher chance that you would conform to my perception of you in your future actions. In the same way if someone begins to treat you as a charity case or disadvantaged, you may begin to express the characteristics associated with someone in dire straits, even when you are not. You may even begin to get down on yourself and question your choices. It’s a good idea to remain vigilant as to not internalize external perceptions when they work against you or your goals in particular.
The trouble is, not everyone is able to deprogram entirely or even slightly. Maybe you’re one of them? Let me posit this for the moment. Ask yourself- what is a home? For most people, this is a place where a person lives permanently. Beyond that there are additional cultural qualifiers, such as a place that remains in one location, has multiple rooms, specific amenities and on and on. By the dictionary definition of home you could technically live in the woods in a tent (or Tipi) and still have a home. Alternatively you could live in a single room Yurt, grazing your animals as people had done for thousands of years before the advent of farming and still be qualified as having a home.
What amenities should qualify a home as a home? The truth is if you reside in a traditional home and your neighbor has what appears to be a traditional house- but lacks some luxuries such as air condition and possesses a smaller footprint than yours it would be asinine and illogical to then conclude that they have no home. You would likely not expect to treat them as a charity case and surely not think they are homeless. In the same way it’s illogical to conclude that one is homeless because their home is able to move from place to place. There are many more substantive qualifiers for one being in dire straits that should take much more priority over the ability for a home to move. In fact, as I’m sure you have seen it is possible to build the functionality of an entire apartment or house into a van, bus, box truck- or even buy it readymade as a recreational vehicle from a dealer.
In many developing countries, the amenities and sheer luxuries inside of some of our van builds may rival their living standards entirely and even shatter qualifiers they have for the baseline of a home. The fact of the matter is the same preconceptions that fuel judgemental behavior in neighborhoods- the competition between having a nicer car, maintaining a nicer lawn, having newer things and this sort of thing is exactly what fuels the gatekeeping that happens with home ownership. This isn’t exactly a difficult concept to see in action when neighborhoods and cities have plainly begun to outright ban structures such as prefabricated tiny houses which I think at this point we can all agree are by far the least contrarian in their design.
The ugly truth is that people may never get it, they may reach their death-bed never understanding entirely why you, or anyone would ever choose to deviate from the norm and live in a vehicle. This person might be a friend, family or a complete stranger. Try as you might, facing the idea that you aren’t homeless would force some to confront much deeper driving psychological ideas of life and what drives their behavior. In life it is often easier to continue the sherrade and not act or think incongruently with the social norms and tribal values. Genetically speaking, breaking from a tribe is a very serious offense and deep down inside there are programmed consequences.
For much of human history this meant possibly being outcasted into the wild where you would likely fend for yourself and face a real possibility of death. If someone were to break from the tribe it is likely they would never pass on their genetic information and instead be sent to their death in the wilderness thus decreasing this tendency. In this way we should understand that we are not only asking people to understand, but to possibly break against their own programming entirely as we may have.
The good news is that there are tribes (or communities) doing this and community fulfillment can be attained. While important, that is a subject for another article.
The truth is, if you’re already a vandweller you are a trailblazer by pushing the envelope whether you want to be that person or not. What is being done can be boiled down to not just a departure, but a radical departure from the way people have been living as a default since the advent of farming. Even if you do everything to retain your self agency, live responsibly and utilize the lifestyle to reach self actualization- there will be people who treat you as if you are still at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. A charity case, if you will.
So to answer the question, no- living the van life by choice does not in any way shape or form constitute homelessness by itself. You can hold a job, put money away for retirement, build your business, follow your passions and operate at a high level and yet none of that will matter to some people around us. They will willfully look away to avoid rocking the boat. We should expect every now and then that it will not be recognized or understood if we’re doing this by choice. Just don’t make the mistake in thinking it has anything to do with you. Happy travels!