I just collapsed onto my air mattress bed in the back of my mom's old minivan, parked in an overly-lit gym parking lot, with rain pattering on the roof. I'm so exhausted from working a double today that I can't quite yet muster the strength to make the walk into the gym (that acts as my bathroom) so that I can shower and brush my teeth. Yet if I let myself rest here for even a moment I might succumb to sleep, and this is not a viable parking spot in the city unless I want to be woken by either thieves or the police.
In Santa Cruz, California, the varying degrees of homelessness can be observed everywhere. Vandwelling has become so glamorous on Instagram that most people have forgotten that there are actual homeless people living their lives this way out of necessity. Vandwellers generally classify themselves as "houseless" rather than "homeless," and tend to know how lucky they are not to be sleeping under a church awning that night.
That I have a roof and a door that locks and a vehicle for transportation fills me with gratitude. That I can afford a $30 per month gym membership so I can actually bathe is a blessing. That I can earn money — even if not enough to afford an apartment — is an advantage that I do not overlook.
On most days, the freedom of living in a van outweighs the challenges. Sure, I'm frequently cold and I can only eat fruit and snacks and I have had to learn the key-code to every business' bathroom in the city... But I can also park my home near where the waves will be best the next day or take off on a whim without ever having to pack or plan.
I honestly believe I will miss my van-home when I head back down to Central America and I'm bouncing from apartment to hostel to residency hotel. I think, in all likelihood, I'll be back searching for a new van sometime soon; a little home that follows me wherever my heart takes me. But maybe next time with standing room and a stove.