Van-Lifers Struggle to Find Shelter as Authorities Push Them Around

Many have been kicked out of public and private grounds, and even treated as "carriers of the disease."

Nate Murphy on YouTube

In more prosperous times, increasingly unaffordable real estate pushed thousands of people worldwide to adopt simpler, nomadic lifestyles lived out of tricked-out vans. But in the age of coronavirus, according to CNN, not having roots in any one place is proving to be a big problem for these "van lifers," some of who are struggling to find places away from society to settle—even temporarily.

This is the premise: You buy a van and modify it enough so daily life, whatever that means to you, can happen within those walls. On one end of the spectrum, you have folks buy beat-up Ford vans and adapting them on a shoestring budget, while on the other end, you have folks dropping big money on diesel Mercedes-Benz Sprinters and then decking them out with top-shelf accessories. Now it seems, however, that regardless of your status in "van society," reality discriminates against no one.

"We have to be responsible for the betterment of society and make these decisions to stay put for a little while," said Matt Alexander, who is sheltering on Bureau of Land Management property in his Dodge Sprinter, to CNN. "You know, the freedom and flexibility to travel is amazing, but then you bring in health issues such as this and it changes everything."

BLM regulations permit "dispersed campers" to plop down in one location for up to two weeks, provided they remain isolated from other such campers. But in these locales, van-lifers typically have no access to electricity or running water, limiting options for cooking or hygiene such as the hand-washing that's crucial to slowing the spread of COVID-19. Van-dwellers can access these by booking into RV parks instead, but not all North American RV parks have vacancies and those that do carry the risk of close proximity with other people, some of whom may be carrying the virus that has brought the western world to a halt.

European van-lifers face even greater troubles, as documented by YouTube-vlogging van-dweller Nate Murphy. The British expat owns a plot of land in Spain, which he was reportedly sharing with the occupants of three other vans until police showed up and demanded that he shut down his "illegal campsite," and instructed those living on his land to "go back home."

"Police who come around, they can't imagine that you don't have a home somewhere. It's such a hostile environment for people who are living here in a vehicle," said Murphy. "Governments can't really understand them 'cause they're such a small segment of the population."

Closures of van-friendly campsites and borders alike have European van-lifers struggling to find places that will allow them to stay in one place for an extended period. Traveling constantly would be an option, were it not directly at odds with sheltering in place.

"If you're a van lifer and you can go home, or you have a home to go to, that's fine," Murphy said. "But let's say you basically live in your van, then essentially your lifestyle is outlawed."

Are you a van-lifer? If so, let us know how you're dealing with this situation.

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