Homeless is a relatively new term. In the 1920s those without homes were hobos, tramps, bums and box-car riders. Homeless is a much nicer word for those of us who have found ourselves without a roof over our heads.
I have lived out of a tent while biking across the country. I’ve lived on a cot in the desert, sometimes sleeping upright in the seat inside an armored vehicle. I’ve lived a life of kayaking the Salish Sea during the day and living out of a van at night. I’ve lived on friends’ couches, spare bedrooms and in my parents’ basement after college. I’ve had roommates including a house of rock band musicians, which, if you have to get up anytime before noon, is always a bad idea.
Most of this transient “living” was by choice and took place in my post college days before I settled down on Orcas. For many years I was a freelance writer and my paychecks came in as a trickle rather than a river. I also worked out of the country in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. When in Iraq for a year-long embed, I carried a map of Oregon and I traced my finger over the wild places that I longed to see again like the verdant Three Sisters Wilderness with its snowy white peaks and Smith Rock State Park with its gorgeous sandstone outcroppings. I was homeless, of course it was an adventurous homelessness, but I felt restless and lonesome for a real home.
These feelings came back to me this month as I worked on a story about the housing crisis on Orcas and the people who are struggling to find a home.
Not having a home, especially when you are forced into the situation by finances or a lack of affordable housing, creates an emotional laceration that is difficult to describe. The life of a nomad can be freeing, but it comes with the fear of: “Where will I lay my head tomorrow, what noise will wake me up at 3 a.m. and will someone knock on my car door and ask me to stop sleeping in this parking lot?” The nature of not knowing what comes next takes a toll.
We can ignore the housing conflict on Orcas if we want to continue living in a place where the divide between working families that can’t afford to buy a home and the people who purchase their second vacation homes here widens. I want to live on an island where both of these lifestyles can thrive.
It’s time to start the conversation.