Sunday, April 02, 2006
Middle Class People Living In Their Cars
According to a recent article in The New York Times, enough middle class people are living out of their cars these days that a whole culture has sprung up around "keeping up appearances" even if you have no place to hang up your hat. The Times focused on one gentleman who lost his trucking business to Hurricane Katrina and now shuttles his way across America as one of the "mobile homeless", spending his time in coffee shops and showering in gyms, and carrying a set of house keys with him to make people think that he actually has a home. He doesn't maintain this ruse just out of middle class vanity either. He does it for self-protection, as the homeless are frequent victims of crime, ridicule and police harassment. This is a man with a son in college. The article identified another man, homeless for nearly a year, who still lives out of his car despite occasional gigs as a Web developer.
I had an ex-girlfriend years ago who, despite having an M.S. in Telecommunications from N.Y.U., lived out of her car for months - so I know what this looks like and how it makes you feel. The difficulty of keeping clean, the inevitable bad diet, the physical exhaustion from the need to remain always vigilant when you live in an urban area virtually out of doors. The sheer challenge of surviving this way precludes the likelihood that people who live in their cars can be alcoholic, drug-addicted or insane. They are people capable of handling a full-time job for sure, but can't even afford something as fundamental as shelter.
I live in a part of the United States where a 2 bedroom slab ranch can cost you over 350,000, where a one-bedroom apartment in a shabby and crime-ridden neighborhood might cost you 1,500 a month. In fact, those figures are probably conservative, if not ludicrously out of date. What happens to families who fall victim to the untrammeled forces of the "market" so revered by the neocons? What happens to the 45 year old marketing rep or computer programmer who finds himself or herself rendered "old" by the precious "market"? What even about the educated young? I also live in an area where there are thousands of fresh college graduates floundering at the bottoms of vast Grand Canyons of student debt. How do these kids survive? And it's not like the cars themselves are cheap either. SUVs cost what houses did thirty years ago. Maybe that's not a mistake, maybe it's a sign - maybe the damn gas guzzlers are meant to be the McMansions of the future. Or at least once they've done enough global warming to make life on the street a little cozier...
"Keeping It A Secret As The Family Car Becomes A Home" from The New York Times
Without A Net: Middle Class And Homeless (With Kids) In America, by Michelle Kennedy