4 generations of homeless families in one camper. That almost seems impossible. But I saw them with my own eyes.
Their ancient camper belonged to the great grandparents. Great grandpa died, and when things fell apart for his widow (Gen1), her daughter (Gen2) and their 4 dogs—eviction. The mother (Gen3) and her family—husband (who works), 3 kids and their dog also lost their housing. Eventually all the families moved into this little home on wheels. It’s safe to say they didn’t choose this cramped lifestyle because they like the togetherness of a 32’ camper.
When I met them, they were in a Washington state park. These parks aren't cheap and have time limits, usually 10-14 days, I suspect to keep the “riffraff" from moving in and not moving out. I could be among the riffraff on my HEAR US journey, but that’s another story for another day. This conglomeration of campers discovered that old RVs are not allowed in some parks, though state parks haven’t gotten that fussy, yet.
Dad works, 2 part-time jobs, lots of hours, but at $10 an hour, with no benefits and lots of schedule juggling, he doesn’t make that much. What he does make gets scarfed up by the sleazy auto loan people who enticed him into financing a beater van.
When the family's stability crumbled, they fell behind on the payments and it was repossessed. But they still must pay the loan, so his paychecks are garnished, $200 a week! This leaves very little to live on and the insult of paying on a vehicle they’ll never see again. One more big thing. Because of this ding on their credit, landlords won’t rent to them, and they can’t get into subsidized housing.
Their RV furnace isn’t working, and as cooler temps become the norm, that will be an issue. Everyone in this crowd has serious health issues, a byproduct of poverty. With my 11 years of full-time camping, I cannot imagine being in a camper with this many folks and having anyone sick, much less everyone.
Evidently the 2 grandmas will be moving out in a couple weeks, hopefully to an adequate place. That will give the family some breathing room, maybe easing the naturally-occurring stress when you have too many people in too small of a space with too many things going wrong.
As strange as it seems, the kids are being “home-schooled,” or “homeless-schooled.” I’ve encountered other families in similar situations trying this approach. Gallant efforts not withstanding, it’s not a good thing. But I understand why the families do it. Logistics are daunting, and sometimes schools aren’t that homeless-friendly.
The McKinney-Vento homeless liaison in this area is involved with the family and will get things worked out, eventually. No easy task, though the district recently received a significant state grant that should help. In the meantime, she’s delivered sleeping bags, coats, book bags with all the fixin’s, and clothes. And her direct phone number. And a heap of compassion.
The obstacles in front of this family are complicated. Their prospects for escaping this nomadic lifestyle are slim. They’re not alone. In one day I heard 3 stories from 3 Vancouver area families that made me so very sad, for them, and for the invisible families all over with stories like this and worse.
I’m not new to this horrible reality. For over 3 decades I’ve worked on homelessness issues. I ran shelters. I’ve interviewed countless families and kids who’ve experienced every form of homelessness possible. I’ve seen multi-generations, but never 4. Our country has yet to put enough effort into reducing family homelessness for one generation. Now we're up to 4G.
(HEAR US is working on a statewide film of family/youth homelessness in Washington, contracted by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, McKinney-Vento program)