No vacation for the homeless

Earlier this week a couple from Florida couch surfed with me for a few days while on a biking trip from Florida to New York. Both had spent a portion of their lives homeless. She lived in her truck for a time while she was in college. He spent much of his childhood on the streets, living as a squatter. So I wasn’t surprised to hear that they were truly roughing it on their trip–often pitching a tent in the woods along the side of a road.

But, after seeing them a week later at a happy hour for Couch Surfing, an international travel group that shares accommodations among its members, I wondered if they were really on vacation, or traveling homeless.

Certainly I would not be surprised to find a few homeless in my travel group. Members of the group, Couchsurfing.org, open up their couches to each other as both a low-cost way to travel and an opportunity for cultural exchange.

“Amy” told me she’d become homeless in college when her situation with her roommate didn’t work out and she consciously decided to live in her truck. Being homeless helped her save money since her family had made it clear to her when she turned 18 that if she wanted to go to college, she was on her own. For a while she got by sleeping in her truck, showering at her gym in the morning before heading to class or to work. But it came to an end when a car smashed into her parked truck.

“Matt” found himself homeless at a young age after the family that adopted him decided to move and left him behind. As he’d already been paying rent to the family–he earned money at the age of 8 bagging groceries–he just decided to live on the streets. Eventually Matt helped organize squatters and several homeless shelters.

After spending two days with me they told me they were staying with a friend in the northern suburbs of D.C., and then biking onward towards New York City. Learning that they were still in the area made me realize their trip wasn’t vacation, they were just doing what they could to get by, living on the edge of their means.

–by Jennifer E. Cooper