Monday, December 29, 2008

Where Did They Go?

The couple claimed they lived in a conversion van. That loose description applied to the late model van converted from vehicle to house by virtue of a mattress wedged into the rear seat area.

They parked in a campground, drawing my attention because they appeared to be living in their vehicle. At $33 a night it is cheaper than even the cheapest motel. Their view was priceless, a lake and mountain outside their window.

Their possessions fit inside their vehicles except for 2 camp chairs perched by the concrete "dining room" table, standard with each site. I'd see bath towels hung on the van door to dry, but little other signs of life. Their van remained parked while their nondescript sedan took off every day, to work? I wondered.

Since they were around a long time by transient campground standards I kept noticing them. It became painful awareness when temps dropped to the low 20s. I've slept in a car before, years ago as a situationally-impoverished college student in search of travel adventures. The 40 year time span doesn't erase the chill-to-the-bone memories.

The couple, fortunately sans children, were fairly invisible. I never saw their faces. When I had to leave my dream campsite for a more parking-lot-style spot I ended up just 100 yards away from the van-campers. Me, in the lap of modest luxury--with heat, water, space and soft chairs. My neighbors lacked all of that and more that I can only imagine.

For homelessness to be so close and me to not be able to do anything to help was frustrating. They didn't ask for help. I don't know if they needed anything, or perhaps I was projecting my guilt on their situation.

But they are gone now, disappeared in the past few days as I visited with family for the holidays. I can only hope their spartan camping experience led to an improved situation. They helped me remember why I'm doing what I'm doing--giving voice and visibility to homeless kids. Homelessness should disturb each one of us who live in luxury while so many lack the basics. I miss them....