When I was a kid, my family of five traveled by truck. In the cab of our Ford pickup, my parents rode with the windows down, the hot, dry air of the Central Oregon high country pelting them in the face. Meanwhile, my siblings and I played a game of chicken, trying to see how much we could open slim, horizontal sliding windows of the canopy before the wind sucked them out onto the highway. The whistling was deafening, but having the windows closed was worse. My two siblings and I (plus a dog and a week’s worth of Army surplus camping gear) were tucked into the flatbed of the truck with a fiberglass roof, trying to move as little as possible.
I will never forget the cramped, stale sweatiness that bloomed in the back of that tin can. It was inescapable and nauseating and I can still feel it, sometimes, when I drive past a row of campers parked alongside the road.
In the echelons of homelessness, having an RV is pretty good. There’s a roof (to some degree) and a way to stay relatively warm in the winter. Your things are safe inside somewhere, even if that somewhere does have wheels. It’s better than a tent or a doorway, but not as good as a tiny home or temporary hotel room.
But it’s not easy, especially not in the summer. And no matter how many housed people huff and puff behind their laptops, complaining that it must be nice to be able to just live in a trailer on the side of the road and never pay rent, they must know, in their cold, rock-hard hearts, that it’s not, right?
That it’s not actually nice to live in an aluminum tube with no air conditioning and windows that barely open?
That it’s actually extremely dangerous for people to live in those conditions — and that the alternative, whether that’s a shelter with unholy hours or a partner with a tendency toward violence — must be pretty bad to be out there sweltering on the side of the highway?
These are just some of the little ways that climate change is impacting the people who are already the most at risk. As summers get hotter and hotter, the ability to survive outside — or inside of a trailer — slips away. Our collective failure to act on climate change — while the 1% circle the skies in private jets that emit more carbon than an unhoused person could in a lifetime — has a punitive effect on our most marginalized neighbors.
You don’t need to have felt the claustrophobic heat from a camper in the summer to know that it’s not pleasant. It’s not a vacation.
And no one who had any better options would do it by choice.
Read more of the Aug. 9-15, 2023 issue.