Desperate Americans Who Can’t Afford Housing Are Becoming “Modern-Day Nomads” …But Not By Choice

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A recent story floating around mainstream media regarding “modern-day nomads” reads like a contemporary article on Henry David Thoreau. It shares stories of people looking to downsize their life and live simply and stories of people who have fallen on hard times, unable to afford rent. 

However, what is lacking is the exposure of the dark underbelly of the “modern-day nomad” culture. In other words, they neglect to mention the fact that the enormous growth of the “modern-day nomad” is rooted in the fact that the world economy has all but collapsed, now mired in a global economic depression of unemployment, low wages, and personal financial catastrophes.

While it sounds romantic, it’s often rooted in desperation.

Nevertheless, some of the stories begin in the following way:

If you look closely on city streets, campgrounds, and stretches of desert run by the Bureau of Land Management, you’ll see more Americans living in vehicles than ever before. It was never their plan.

“I wasn’t prepared when I had to move into my SUV. The transmission was going. I had no money saved. I was really scared,” said April Craren, 52, bundled in blankets atop a cot inside her new minivan, a 2003 Toyota Sienna.

She flipped the camera on her phone to show me the camp stove she uses to make coffee and her view of the sun rising over the Colorado River. She has no toilet, shower, or refrigeration.

After separating from her husband, April found herself homeless in June 2020, exacerbating the depressive disorder for which she receives $1,100 a month in disability benefits.

“I could have gotten an apartment but in a crappy unsafe place with no money to do anything at all,” she explained.

Last year, where April lived in Nixa, Missouri, the average rent for an apartment was $762, slightly less than the national average. Like nearly half of American renters, she would have been crippled by the cost.

It’s not surprising, then, that job loss, divorce, or, say, the sudden onset of global health or financial crisis can push so many over the edge.

Many Americans have found themselves trapped in a spiral of poverty from which they simply can’t recover.

It doesn’t sound so bad to those of us with minimalist persuasions

At 52, April Craren didn’t choose this life. It was thrust upon her by unfortunate life circumstances. Craren couldn’t afford the exorbitant rent that is now average across the country on a fixed income. (Partly due to inflation but mostly due to the housing crash in 2008.)

The coordination of lockdowns and COVID restrictions have plunged the world into a deep depression of which we are only beginning to see. Even Wall Street couldn’t have caused this much damage. 

“If the Great Recession was a crack in the system, Covid and climate change will be the chasm,” says Bob Wells, the nomad who plays himself in the film Nomadland. Thankfully, Wells was able to help Craren adopt her lifestyle so she can now survive as a “nomad” through his Home On Wheels Alliance.

Wells’s lifestyle was a choice. But the newfound interest in the nomadic lifestyle is not a choice for many.

From Yahoo:

Realizing he had something valuable to share, he bought the domain name Cheap RV Living in 2005. He posted tips and tricks about better vehicle-dwelling, but what he was really offering was a road map to a better life.

Four years later, when close to 10 million Americans were displaced after the Great Recession, traffic to his site exploded. Finding himself at the center of a growing online community, he decided to create a meet-up in Quartzsite, Arizona. He dubbed it the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR), and in January 2011, 45 vehicles showed up. Eight years later, an estimated 10,000 vehicles convened for what was said to be the largest nomad gathering in the world.

The event’s explosive growth is undoubtedly a reflection of America’s increasing interest in van life as an answer to the affordable housing crisis, an idea made accessible by Bob on his YouTube channel, also named Cheap RV Living, created in 2015.

The “increasing interest in van life” that Yahoo News refers to is not some petit-bourgeois fantasy being realized by privileged middle-class white kids, able to go home at any time. It is the necessity of formerly middle class, working-class, and poor people all across America who are out of work or are working but cannot afford housing.

Minimalism is a legitimate lifestyle for some; others have no choice

For many, this culture of minimalism is genuinely how they wish to live. Nomads have a genuine desire to see empty overconsumption come to an end. However, we can not ignore that minimalism is being promoted to prepare the Western population who are used to high living standards to accept those that are much lower.

Why do you think we continually see articles promoting insects as a legitimate dining option? Why are The Great Reset promoters at the World Economic Forum telling the public that they will soon own nothing and learn to love it?

Being a nomad doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared.

For those who are already nomads, whether by choice or forced by economic circumstance, it might be helpful to know that there are many prepping options available to you. There is no need to be left to the mercy of wherever you are right now. 

I highly encourage you to access Daisy Luther’s article, “There’s Another Option Besides Hunkering Down and Bugging Out: Nomadic Living.” It will give you the perspective of someone who has voluntarily experienced and lived the nomadic lifestyle while also the mindset of remaining prepared for anything and everything. 

At the rate the Great Reset is taking shape, many of us may find ourselves embracing the nomadic lifestyle, willingly or not.

Have you considered nomadic living?

Have you thought about nomadic living? If so, is it because you want to or because you have to? Are you getting to the point at which you may not be able to afford your rent or mortgage for much longer? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Robert Wheeler

Robert Wheeler

Robert Wheeler has been quietly researching world events for two decades. After witnessing the global network of NGOs and several 'Revolutions' they engineered in a number of different countries, Wheeler began analyzing current events through these lenses.

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  • I just stumbled upon the movie trailer for Nomadland yesterday afternoon. I look forward to it’s release before the end of the month. In the trailer it is obvious they were using some real nomads and that piqued my interest. But the trailer gave me a sad and dreary feeling. Not dark or evil, but sadness.

    I went to Amazon and the “Look inside” feature allowed me to read the first several pages. I don’t know that I’ll really like it based on what I read so far. I went looking for the book at the library, long wait list for the print and electronic copies, so I settled for the audiobook.

    Now there’s this article first thing this morning, hmmmm, coincidence? I think not.

    • I forgot to mention that both the book and the trailer make it clear that some of these nomads will set up in a “workamp” near an Amazon distribution center and work in ungodly conditions for next to no wages, Where is the accountability by Amazon?

      • Tom, I read that also. Despicable leadership from the clowns that we voted into office comes to mind. I’m 71, and I remember reading when in my younger years that the national debt had gone up to 3 billion. I was gobsmacked! I wrote to all my congressmen bemoaning that debt. Well, well, well. I certainly had an effect. didn’t I? Now those same clowns who got us into this mess won’t miss a paycheck, will they? Of course not. Their corporate masters will see to that.
        I do feel the pain of the homeless. Many times it’s poor decisions that lead people there, like drugs or not saving money. Other times people are victims of circumstances, like divorce or disease or job insecurity. These are the people we should be helping with our tax money, not spending on illegals or bloated government staffs/fancy offices/ that the clowns have generously voted for themselves.
        I’m usually a gentle soul. But situations like these have me riled up.

        • The book, Nomadland by Jessica Bruder, gives a pretty good look into the reasons why some people end up living in cars and vans as a result of the Great Recession. I got a hardback copy last Saturday and read it in two days. (The audiobook didn’t work for me.) It was hard to put down, it held my attention. Yesterday the movie Nomadland was released based on the book. I went to see it. It was good, but I liked the book because of some of the statistics provided. Today I am going to start re-reading the book. Check out the movie trailer on Youtube.

  • My daughter wanted to get a place in Berkeley, CA so I checked Google Street View and told her there’s a derilect RV across the street. She told me it’s a rental, some guy owns them and parks them all over and rents them out. On was found to be full of laptops and tablets stolen from students.

  • My dream was to own a small homestead with a modest cabin. I used my limited savings to buy a tiny house on wheels and lived in it as a nomad, off grid, no water onsite in three locations, for five years until I could afford to buy a small piece of land (a half acre, for $10,000). The only way I could accomplish this on my limited income was by not paying rent. The system is stacked against us. In order to realize my dream I lived in extreme hardship in a poorly insulated tiny home through Canadian winters. I continue to advocate for affordable housing in our township, and write about my journey on my blog, MyTinyHouseAdventures, hoping to inspire others.

  • Miscellaneous thoughts

    This article says that it was a choice of Bob Wells to go nomadic. Wells said that a divorce made him discover that his remaining finances made it impossible to support two households … so that’s what forced him into van living.

    His 170 page paperback was copyrighted in 2013. It is titled “How to Live In a Car, Van or RV — and get out of debt, travel & find true freedom.”

    In contrast to the media-slurred “tin can tourists” of the 1930’s Great Depression era of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” where finance-broken farmers in the Midwest headed for California, today’s economy ejectees sometimes become digital nomads as a permanent lifestyle … or dependents of government. Some hang onto traditional jobs while living in parking lots or streets.

    On YouTube there is an enormous collection of how-to videos from Bob Wells in his CheapRVliving channel. It’s easy to pull up and dig through — but you can spend hundreds of hours with the immense amount of material there. On some of his videos he mentions the more compact online course that he offers for dirt cheap money.

    Wells makes the point that to go nomadic you probably will have to pare down your “stuff.” Either it owns you or you own your freedom. That means there’s a lot of prepper accumulations there won’t be room for. It is a minimalistic lifestyle.

    I recently ran a search on Mennonite and Amish history … mostly because I had one line of ancestors several generations back from that community. Many of them (not all) are still known for their “simple” clothing, mannerisms, equipment and way of life. The surprise to me was finding that such minimalistic living habits traced back to the hundreds of years of being chased out of one European country after another AND being forced to leave much of their “stuff” behind each time. In some ways there’s a similarity to some of my heroes who had to flee the 1930s Nazi Europe era with little more than a couple of suitcases.

    Unexpectedly the nomadic lifestyle is also good practice for those today who either want (or desperately need) to exercise the medical tourism option to get access to much less expensive but highly competent medical care and treatment options shut out to them by the medical cartel in the US. Some discover that they would then prefer not to come back to the US.


    • Yes. And never buy a new car unless you can pay cash and walk. Today’s women have made it painfully clear that they don’t need a man.

      • @Jay,
        In an ideal world, everyone would be able to pay cash for a car, college education, or home.
        But this is far from a ideal world.

        What problem do you have with a strong woman whom can make it on her own without a man help?

    • @EWM

      While that is true, many who are divorced did honor their marriage vows, only to have their partners force divorces on unwilling victims. Many times those unwilling victims are forced to make two payments.

      If a woman decides to divorce her man for reasons other than abuse (unfaithfulness is a type of abuse), that she’s strong and can make it on her own without the help of a man, then she should not demand alimony nor property, but make it on her own. She made her decision, she should not demand him to pay for it.

      If a man divorces his woman for reasons other than abuse, his divorce is abuse of his woman, and I have no problem with him paying for it. Even if that means he lives in a van because he can’t afford two households.

      Surveys I’ve seen indicate that divorce is a major cause of poverty.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if divorce is quite common among those who are homeless or nomads.

  • WELL THE HERO’S OF AMERICA HAVE ALWAYS PREYED ON THE POOR,THE POLICE GANGS,but there wasn’t much to take from them,and they seldom ever fought back they were just to poor,BUT HEY YOUR HERO’S HAVE NEW LAWS TO COME AFTER THE VEHICLES OF THE POOR NOW,..ITS CALLED “CAR CAMPING”,under the new laws they can TAKE YOUR CAR OR CAMPER AND THROW YOU IN JAIL TILL ITS SOLD,then they let you out,only Now your on foot and broke because they’ve taken everything you had,AND THESE PIECES OF SHIT ARE YOUR HERO’S,let hope GOD sends them all to hell…maybe you too..

    • @Arizona,
      God texted me.
      She says she is busy right now, that whole universe thing.
      When she gets a chance she will address how the priests got what she actually said and put into their book was so very wrong.

      Granted for her, a few moments are a few millenniums for us mere mortal humans.
      Dont hold your breath.

      • Hey, 1stMarineJarHead, I thought Arizona’s comment was over the top, but I decided to ignore it. I also checked some of her claims, and they are not totally accurate.

        But then your reply is deeply offensive to many people.

        Usually your comments are thoughtful and I look forward to them.

  • I know a guy, a well-paid engineer, but a renter, living in Silicon Valley. What he found was that even at his high salary, he could not afford an apartment living by himself, rather he’d have to get a roommate. A roommate to share a small apartment. He ended up getting a van. Because he’s a designer, he found he can work from about anywhere. He now prefers van living.

    Being a highly paid engineer, he was able to pay cash for a decent van that he could fix up just the way he wanted to have it. Unfortunately, that’s not true of many van and RV dwellers. Especially those on fixed or low incomes. There are many eyesores on city streets. If not in the eyesores, where are those people to live?

    When even highly paid professionals are being forced to live in vans, something is seriously wrong with the housing market.

    • @R.O.
      As Charles H. Smith has pointed out, stagflation has been with us since as much as the early 80s. Some would say when Nixon went off the gold standard.
      Who is right?
      Who cares.

      Fact of the matter is the top 10% is doing well, and the bottom 90% is not.

      To a degree, some of the middle class woes are by their own making, the desire of the 2,400sqft McMansion for a family of 3, a smart TV in every room to include the bathroom. Marble counter tops. All stainless steal appliances. Where as 30-40% of their take home pay check goes towards their mortgage
      They put themselves in that position.
      But they are the “victims.”

      • @1StMarineJarHead

        “ To a degree, some of the middle class woes are by their own making…”

        Totally agree. I say exactly that in my book, because I’ve been saying that my whole life. We can cast blame on everything and everyone, and a lot of blame does indeed belong to politics and elites and so and so.

        But this never works, the only thing that can mold and change reality is the opposite, that is taking responsibility and matters into our hands. We the people have our share of responsibility for things being as they are. Maybe now we’ll wake up to that.

        (I don’t say that to you or me or others who don’t act like that but the fact is that we belong to the “we the people” group all the same…).

    • I was a technician at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station for three years, 82 – 85. I was a contract worker but I applied for a permanent job. Turned out the offering pay was quite low for the area and I learned from my coworkers that some of them were living in a garage etc. I decided not to accept the job. Got a job in Texas instead and bought a house and raised a family. The whole nation has been sliding down the slope of poverty for decades now. It isn’t a new thing but it has continually gotten worse. My story would not have worked out so well in today’s economy and I expect it to get even worse. SUVs instead of a garage and then completely homeless for many. The saddest thing about it is that this is all part of the plan for the elite and the government.

  • Very good text. The way things are, I’d say the romantic way today is to NOT live in the streets or in a van. Because it’s getting harder and harder to live in a nice house or apartment. And it can get worse.

  • Now you now why the elites want to brainwash the youth with the idea that American workers might just be “privileged”…its a way to get people to shut up about sinking standards of living. Why should anyone with “privilege” complain?

  • I have lived the Nomad lifestyle (with travel trailer) twice, once voluntarily and once involuntarily. Now its beginning to look like I will again, about 50% have to & 50% want to.
    The first time was voluntary. I had just retired from the military after 20 years. My daughter, who was then 8 and I traveled around the country, homeschooling, learning history “on location” & visiting every relative on both my then late husband’s & my side. This was a wonderful experience for both of us, but we could always go back to my sister’s farm until I could get a new job. (My daughter, now 19, says it was the best year of her life!).
    The second time I was unable to work due to a traumatic brain injury from a bad fall on ice. For 3.5 years I was unemployed/unemployable. They foreclosed on my house, repossessed one of my vehicles. We barely survived on my military retirement (It took 4 years to get my VA disability to kick in). Eventually I was able to work part time again.
    Now I am unable to work again for physical reasons, my daughter is a freshman in college (on scholarship), and I live in very expensive location with a high mortgage. Unfortunately, between losing almost everything in Hurricane Dorian (2 weeks AFTER I closed on my house) followed closely by COVID, something has to give. I will probably be able to sell the house eventually, but there is no equity in a VA loan. My trusty travel trailer & vehicle were both totaled by Dorian & I haven’t had enough $$ to buy a new one. I dream of leaving it all behind, but know from experience, it will not be a piece of cake.

  • It saddens me that circumstances have degraded in this once-great country to the point so many find it necessary to move into a nomadic lifestyle by necessity and not by choice. Not doubt some actually like it… prefer it, even like some homeless prefer homelessness, believe it or not. But even transitioning to a nomadic lifestyle does not free anyone from the necessity of having money. Operating a vehicle has costs – fuel, tires, maintenance, tags, insurance, and often inspections, depending on state. Nomads can quickly discover in their wanderings that they can easily run afoul of local ordinances or state laws. They can become targets, both of local governments, employers, as well as criminals and they have no recourse to protect themselves of being victimized. No doubt many may have brought this involuntary lifestyle on themselves. But it government at all levels had not been so intent on picking our pockets though forced fees, licensing, and taxes on everything maybe they could have remained with a roof over their heads.

    • I was visiting California when Prop-13 was passed. The reason it was passed is because California was in a housing bubble where house prices were just shooting up. Property taxes were levied at a percentage of house valuations. People who could barely afford their houses before tax increases, and had expected their earnings’ increases to outpace inflation, suddenly found themselves unable to pay the quickly increasing taxes. News outlets had stories of people losing their homes because of the increased taxes. Prop-13 was passed to keep more people from losing their homes because of increasing taxes.

      • And the Leftist politicians in California would love to overturn Prop 13, it’s their wet dream. Fortunately I bought my house here in NorCal at just the right time, in 2001. But my husband and I always lived within our means and saved. The house is only 980 sq ft and in an older less desirable (but not dangerous) area then my keeping up with the Joneses friends were getting. So now that I’m a widow on his pension and my early SS, my mortgage is only 670 a month and I only owe 50K on it..had we bought a keeping up with the Joneses place I’d be struggling. If I had to rebuy my house at today’s market value the monthly would nearly triple..smh.
        I’m all for capitalism but these rent prices and house prices are driven by pure greed.

  • My location in southern California has over-inflated real estate prices, so we are seeing more RVs lined up on larger streets. Of course the neighbors don’t like it, especially if trash is laying around. Some large businesses in semi-industrial areas have closed, so why can’t the back end of those parking lots become RV camps? Maybe cheap rent can be charged that will pay for the communal dumpster.

  • This article is interesting. I’m in Colorado, where property taxes have gone sky high. On my home, I’m paying $400 per month just for property taxes on a home value of $700k, which it isn’t worth. In essence, I’m renting from the county. So I applaud the law abiding, clean living RV’ers who dodge these ridiculous taxes. It wasn’t like this around here until Colorado went blue. It might be time for me to look into buying an RV and selling my over valued house. Now, having to live out of a van or RV is a different story. At least I have a choice, I guess.

  • Please consider that often times we can offer something of great value to another traveler of this journey of life, regardless of what is in our pockets, our wallet, our purses. The roads we travel , the journey of life, is sometimes treacherous, unforgiving and dimly lit. Hard to see sometimes where we are going or even a place to go! Yet there are places that we can go, where we can be of great value. Going into our hearts and offering a simple hello and and a smile may not feed me, or cloth me or give me shelter, but it may offer me some hope. And some hope may be the start that ignites the fire that is still waiting to fuel all I might need to keep on keeping on.

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