I’ve been living in a van/RV for the past 11 years. I’ve traveled to 48 states, over 300,000 mostly backroads miles chronicling homelessness of families/youth under my HEAR US Inc. (www.hearus.us) banner.
I’ve been in blizzards (Snowzilla is the latest), dust storms, powerful wind and rain storms, and have lucked out avoiding hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires, with close calls. I’ve been in places cold enough to freeze all my water systems (thawing in a fire barn once) and in places hot and humid enough to scare me from any hell-earning behavior. I’m no wuss, but I’ve come to accept that cold is better than heat--not by much.
My latest projects is a trifecta--filming in Oregon, Washington, then Idaho--three separate projects focused on how schools work with homeless families/youth. I’ve been hired because, I’d like to think, I’ve gotten pretty darn good at making documentaries of this topic, perhaps a product of my 3+ decades of homelessness work.
When I made arrangements for this trip I naively thought “Great! A nice time to be in this part of the country!” Silly me.
I’m in the middle of my first heatwave, with temps hitting 105. Fortunately it cools off dramatically at night. I naively thought since this round of scorching temperatures is supposed to abate tomorrow, that I was done with the heat. But not so fast. Give it a few days and we’re right back up to the 100s again.
For me, the heat is inconvenient. I need to either sweat and film during the hottest part of the day or find a place to stay cool during the afternoon/early evening hours. It’s a challenge, but I’ve got resources so I can make stuff work.
What has been painfully evident to me--because I see it with my own eyes--is the number of infirm adults without homes, some very obviously seniors, who are out in this heat with no relief. In many cases, they have no place to go--few shelters, especially in the smaller cities and towns, much less rural areas. Oh yeah, they’re probably all hungry and quite thirsty, and often scorned.
The other reality--unlike my previous northwest area trips--is the absolute ban on anyone sleeping anywhere but a motel or expensive campground (most of which have been at capacity) or shelter (not always an option). I’ve joined the ranks of people without homes--though, again, I have resources--who are not wanted. For me it’s a good, albeit painful, experience.
I’ve scrambled to find places, tapping resources of friends and friends of friends (thanks Facebook!) who might let me park stealthily in a driveway. I’ve drifted into a restless sleep, pretty sure I’d be disturbed by the authorities (or booted, like I was in Atlanta a couple years ago).
Those not as lucky as me tough it out in a variety of abysmal situations--in the woods, in storage units, in vehicles that will often get ticketed or impounded--and all of those “solutions” are horrible for any number of reasons. Families often double up (or worse). Youth commonly “couch surf” or find abandoned buildings.
Homelessness is out of control--an assessment I don’t make lightly. Despite the gallant efforts of both those in this quicksand-like situation and those truly trying helping them escape, it’s getting worse, not better. I see far too many people on street corners or in doorways--way more than I’ve seen in previous treks through these same areas--to think we’re making progress. (My anecdotal observations are at least as valid as the inaccurate federal census of this nomadic population.)
I suppose it’s too much to expect that we’ll make any significant dent easing homelessness. It’s not part of the political priorities of either party. So our best bet is to build an underground railroad. It worked once. I’m sure it will again--if we can maintain some level of humanity. Let’s Make America Kind Again. Or something.
(Thanks to Mary Ann Parks for the design of this bumper sticker which you can actually order (for only $5 + shipping)!