On the New American Dream

In the New American Dream, mobile life is about more than just phones. It's about vans, too. 

A white G20 van parked in a sunny lot in front of colorful trees
Any van could be hiding a home 

When it comes to glamorizing a traveling way of life, there is often a lack of real discussion about the socioeconomic conditions that lead people to live in vehicles, the stereotypes they face, and almost no reporting about what it is actually like to live in a vehicle. There isn't a cohesive place to learn practical steps and warnings.

Millennials, specifically, are often mentioned as a group that is embracing a vehicle living lifestyle. 
Many millennials have convinced themselves that living out of vehicles is the new American Dream partially because it's so far from the previous ideal. They reject rent seeking behavior more strongly than previous generations. Not being able to afford a house, having useless degrees, working for free, taking up as little space as possible, living in a van, sleeping in the parking lot at the office… that is a stereotypical Millennial. No doubt, lots of people choose such a life for fun, travel, because it sounds cool, to reduce their footprint and costs, or because it IS their dream, but often, the reality of why and how most people live in their vehicles stands in stark contrast to the stereotype of a young, healthy Millennial embarking on an adventure.

A 2011 report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness found that among those not living in shelters, almost 4 in 10, or 243,701, were living on the streets, in cars or abandoned buildings. It's hard to get an accurate count of how many homeless are living in cars, due to the way that homeless surveys and counts are conducted, and the obvious reluctance of people to self identify as vehicle dwellers.

There are a lot of children living with a parent, often a single mother, out of sedans and minivans.  A lot of displaced people, many with disabilities,  and otherwise disenfranchised people live in vehicles and a car may be their last choice of how to live. Industrious people with larger vans and the skill sets needed to make upgrades to their vehicles are way better off than three people in a sedan, but reliable information about how a person or a family actually goes about improving their vehicle living situation is hard to come by.

There is no appropriate infrastructure to support people living in vehicles, either. People have little idea how to go about vehicle living, since there are few resources to learn from. Cities desperately need public bathrooms, shower facilities, optional designated parking areas, and garbage collection, for both people who are homeless and vehicle bound people alike. Some places are attempting to work with their local communities to supply designated parking, though it is often presented as  a mandatory place to park, with a non compliant occupant being subject to fines, impounding, or other legal measures.

A blue and white sign shown in front of a row of parked cars displays an image and text that says "No Sleeping".
© Copyright Chris Downer
Many cities across the country have passed laws making it outright illegal to sleep in a car. A 2014 report by the National Law Center found, in a survey of 187 cities,  a 119 percent increase in such laws since 2011. There is plenty of hostility towards van dwelling culture, and vehicle living in general, from those in traditional dwellings. There's no better way to spread shame than making people feel like their existence is unlawful, or worse, immoral. Some attitudes are changing, with the tiny house movement has somewhat changed the cultural outlook on mobile living, but unless they are driving around a trailer that looks like a miniature version of a standard house, or are vacationing in a decked out RV, people are looked down upon for going about their lives the only way they know how.

(In response to: Living Out of a Van Is The New American Dream )

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