Thursday, April 29, 2010

I Don't Count

My nomadic way of life for the past 5 years has been quite worthwhile and interesting. But one casualty--me. I will likely not be counted in the 2010 Census. 

Since selling my home so I could buy "Tillie," this venerable, now road-weary motor home, I've relied on a series of old and new friends for a place to park. My home is literally this 27' Gulfstream Class C recreational vehicle. But my use is far from recreational.

Tillie is headquarters for my nonprofit organization, HEAR US Inc., a unique and highly mobile effort to give voice and visibility to homeless children, youth and families, especially those off the beaten track. I've found I don't need much--a computer, a data card, and a cell phone; video and still cameras to do my work. Paper--I try to do without. My board provides essential support services, faxing mail to me as needed, handling bank transactions, and keeping our efforts in front of the folks back home, or what used to be my home territory for over 40 years, the western suburbs outside Chicago.

Among the casualties of this roving is a sense of stability. I awake early morning struggling to answer the question, "Where am I?" Of course, sometimes I get to park in some pretty cool places (like this picture, from a PA state park). But more often I'm in a driveway, tethered to a friend's house by a heavy-duty extension cord. I will happily stay at shelters if feasible, feeling the psychic connection and often getting grateful hugs as a bonus. Or I "boondock" (RVer lingo for parking without any connections) in a WalMart parking lot.

My mode of travel has several perks: preparations are quite simple--make sure Tillie is in shape. My stuff is in my "house," so I don't have to pack! My food can be my choice instead of depending on road kill, er, fare. And I have that bathroom handy--clean if I cleaned it!--for those times when ya gotta go! 

Five years ago I was shaping this crazy plan. Five years, 48 states and 92,000 miles later, thanks to some incredible support, I'm still rolling. Homelessness, among families, teens and single adults, has skyrocketed. The economy has tanked. Gas prices have soared. Economic devastation, while some signs of recovery are being touted, continues to destroy the most vulnerable. 

I'm heading off next week for a fairly short trip--Macon, MS, Sheridan, AR, and Baton Rouge, LA. Not areas that make the must-see lists of travelers. But I consider each stop an opportunity to share the voices and faces of those who courageously shared their stories with me via film. The homeless children and their parents in "My Own Four Walls," and our new documentary, "on the edge," offer powerful insights into homelessness.

Seems to me that being semi-homeless is the best way for me to represent this disenfranchised population. It sure has made me think about not counting. I'm glad the Census Bureau doesn't jail scofflaws.

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