Homelessness is not some ‘quirky life-style’ choice no matter what hipsters tell you

How unaffordable are Auckland’s living costs? In fact, how unaffordable are living costs all over the world from England to Greece? Do you want a solution to the staggering rental prices millions of young people are struggling to pay? Cool. Me too. Well, the NZ Herald journalist Simon Collins has found it: just live in your car or van or whatever has four wheels. Seriously, it isn’t that bad! It’s an extended, fun-filled road-trip where you will get to see the countryside and meet (read: view) all kinds of interesting ‘vagrants’ and socially disenfranchised and marginalised.

Just ask couple Jesse Hamilton and Lorielle Vidot that Simon managed to find for his article ‘Living on the streets: this couple does not think it is that bad.’ Lorielle and Jesse, who intend to travel around New Zealand in their car, told Simon,

“They have discovered a whole new community since they abandoned their four-bedroom house in Auckland and took to the streets with their 10-month old cat Jango.”

Obviously, being able to bring your cat along for the ‘homeless ride’ is a real deal sweetener? Perhaps, living on the streets isn’t ‘so bad’ for this traveling couple because they haven’t been given no other option because of tragic and unforeseen circumstances or cuts to their welfare or been priced out of Aotearoa’s soaring rental market. Jesse and Lorielle gave up their dry and warm four bedroom house not because some property hoarding Baby Boomer landlord hiked up the rent by 10% so they could no longer afford to live there, they wanted to try something new and homelessness just looked “pretty cool” as Lorelle said.  So, they gave up creature comforts and their worldly possessions to ‘sleep rough’. Plus, this way they save money.

Jesse and Lorielle aren’t the only bourgeois people who have shunned a conventional life-style in favour of the great unknown:

In the book ‘Into the Wild’ based on the true accounts of a young man called Christopher McCandless who was the son of wealthy parents. Christopher decided to voluntarily give up his cushy white-suburban life and turn his back on the evils of consumerism and capitalism. He set out into the Alaskan wilderness where, due to utter lack of survival skills and being completely unprepared for what he encountered (like bad weather and Moose’s) ended up dying a pretty painful death, alone. It was determined Christopher most likely died of starvation.

Unlike Christopher both Jesse and Lorielle and of course their cat Jango, certainly aren’t starving (like the 280,000 children who live in poverty in this country) in fact quite the opposite. By going-it-homeless they have managed to save $3,000 bucks. Jesse went on to say,

“No one thinks about moving into a car as a good alternative. They think of setting up flats. But I like the idea of trying something different, it’s good to be put out of your comfort zone.”

Yeah, I guess most people wouldn’t see moving into their car as a ‘good alternative’, you know why? Because, it just fucking isn’t. Compared to living in a dry, warm house which isn’t filthy and mould ridden and has a reasonable and fair rental price (an almost unachievable feat in Auckland’s unregulated rental market).  Moving into your car is a last resort for the majority of people; it is not some ‘quirky’ alternative-lifestyle choice (which is exactly how journalist Simon Collins has presented it in his article) you can tell your other middle-class hipster and neo-hippy friends about in a few years on a summers evening over, a micro-brewed beer served in a Mason jar.

What pseudo homeless couple Jesse and Lorielle fail to recognise, is: if you purposely abandon a four bedroom house to travel New Zealand in a van and you have the economic means to return to a nice warm home when you want, you aren’t ‘homeless’ or ‘sleeping rough’ – which implies you are homeless.  For Simon Collin (who has done some really good reporting on homelessness recently so, this piece was a bit baffling) to present this couple as such, is not only dishonest it is miss-leading and more dangerously is coded in neoliberal rhetoric which pushes the belief and myth people – individuals – are solely responsible for their own circumstances; just like being poor, homelessness is a choice people make.

Homelessness is a chic option for Jesse and Lorielle, not, a grinding reality.

All over Aotearoa people are enduring desperate situations, families and the elderly are living out of their cars, cold garages and tents – economic disparities are at crisis levels. Recently Mervyn “Jim” Cross a 69 year old pensioner lived out of his car for two months before public out-cry saw him being placed into a small unit. Most people who are desperate for adequate housing in Aotearoa aren’t so lucky. Since 2007 (it is important to note National took power in 2008) the need for emergency housing has spiked drastically, as this Housing New Zealand list shows:

housing nz

It is rumoured MP Nick Smith who is the Housing Minister, is keen to change the very definition of “house” to include cars, garages and tents as the journalist Paul Little pointed out in his piece ‘Housing Minster loses the plot’ for the NZ Herald (now and then the ‘Herald actually publish journalists who do their jobs and hold power to account). Guess this way the shameful statistics for homelessness in Aotearoa could be jigged around and wouldn’t look so dismal and so irresponsible?

National lowered welfare numbers by pushing people (including those with a disability and serious mental health issues) off the dole and into low paid part-time employment – which often does not pay more than the benefit. The government now appears to be making progress on ‘welfare bludgers’. If they can make welfare numbers look good, surely, National can pull another magic-trick in regards to the rising numbers of homelessness? “Most of us have grown used to politicians showing us things that aren’t really there,” wrote Paul Little.

Despite the crushing realities of poverty for hundreds of thousands of people in this country and globally, for people like Jesse and Lorielle (who hopefully will never have to endure the injustice of being denied the basic human right of warm, dry and safe housing) it can be easy to romanticise the very real struggles of others. The hipster model Ricki Hall in a recent interview for the Sunday Times said,

“I use this time to think about my day. I take style tips from everything, even kids to homeless people. They can pull anything together and it just works.”

Ricki is a fanboy of the homeless ‘look’ – so vogue. Naturally twitter owned his off-the-cuff comments dubbing him the ‘real life Zoolander’. Comparing what he said to the Zoolander character Mugato who created an entire fashioned ranged called Derelicte: “inspired by the very homeless, the vagrants, the crack whores that make this wonderful city so unique.”

ricki 2

ricki hall 3

ricki hall 5

ricki hall 6

ricki hall 3

The very real experiences of those living in poverty or suffering homelessness are often trivialised and minimised by our media, by those who have been lucky enough to land a good job and a secure pay-check, and by famous people who are nearly always divorced from the 99%.  They cannot imagine what it might be like to be truly homeless; to suffer the injustice of being denied a safe place to sleep and enough food to eat. It is much easier to turn homelessness into some kind of ‘life-style’ choice or a fashion statement, then face the painful truth about the current state of things: that many people through no fault of their own, are being pushed with-in an inch of their lives.


12 thoughts on “Homelessness is not some ‘quirky life-style’ choice no matter what hipsters tell you

  1. I want to live like common people
    I want to do whatever common people do…

    Rent a flat above a shop, cut your hair and get a job.
    Smoke some fags and play some pool, pretend you never went to school.
    But still you’ll never get it right
    ‘cos when you’re laid in bed at night watching roaches climb the wall
    If you call your Dad he could stop it all.
    You’ll never live like common people
    You’ll never do what common people do
    You’ll never fail like common people
    You’ll never watch your life slide out of view, and dance and drink and screw
    Because there’s nothing else to do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are great at finding an angle chloe.. Ie finding a story. Happy to proof read for you or offer what feedback I can. I have an English degree and experience proof reading for e mags. Don’t need payment. This is that tall guy kina was dating by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey thanks, yeah my proofing skills are not the best. I get friends to help and have two good people with degrees in english that giv eme a hand but obviously, they aren’t always avaliable! I know this blog isn’t well proofed compared to my last three… I’ll grab ya email?

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  3. Yeah I was following Ricki Hall on the gram for a while and began to suspect he was a bit of a cock, but when he said that I dumped him. I mean. What?

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  4. I was in a tent and then on a couch nearly 8 months.
    I now have a cheap flat several thousand km from where I began but am payinf half my pension in rent.
    This article resonates with me a lot.
    There is even privelege amongst the homeless.
    couch beats Car beats tent t beats swag beats nothing
    The “nothing” are the stereotypes and in my country only 2% of the homeless.
    Whilst I did have an adventure that was mentally also my way of coping or denying the brutality of my situation.
    And I am at risk again.
    Of course public housing is on the decrease.
    When they talk about ice heads there they forget about all the disabled people.
    It is physically onerous to do this and mentally also. My body is still paying for it and probably will for a long time
    So the fact anyone has said to me “you weren’t really homeless” or “let’s try homeless that sound like fun” is really frigging hurtful.
    I was privileged amongst the homeless but so underprivileged it’s not funny.
    The stress alone can kill you.

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  5. This was a great article! Some of my own doubts and certain aspects of “the lifestyle” that I’ve needed to check myself for resonated with me here.
    I’ll try to keep this brief, as I’m feeling disorganized, so I’ll list a few main points:
    -I’m just another cis dudebro who has in the past, and currently choosing this “lifestyle” for short-term 30-60 day intervals. I work seasonally and converting a van to head to warmer climates sounds a lot more appealing to me than hunkering down in the northeast or northwest United States for the worst of winter. To a degree it’s the smarter choice, as I’ll save a lot on rent, but when folks tell me I’m “living the dream” or “doing what life is all about” I try to bring up some of the issues you mentioned here. To a certain extent my situation is financial, but unlike many I have a choice. If I didn’t have a few thousand in the bank I’d be at a parents house or a friends.
    -As a traveler…travelers are the worst. I can’t enjoy myself in hostels because they’re chock full of hipsters who want to passive aggressively one-up each other about “where they’ve been” and “life on the road”, without ever having any actual interesting stories to share, which makes one suspect that they can’t have anything other than themselves on their minds at all times. Travelers like to align themselves with Lewis and Clark, as if their the first white dudes to “go west” and try to use their “cool lifestyle ” to get women into bed.
    -I’ve known people who have done this with integrity. Usually less talk, more action is their m.o., and they’ve actually built up considerable skills along the way. Never identifying as “homeless” because they acknowledge their own privilege, helpful to others without showing off their alms.
    -Volunteer Volunteer Volunteer, if you’re going to appropriate a lifestyle, at least give back.
    -Telling the Story: Something I’ve thought about. Why do I feel the need to? How should it be framed? Is it my place? Blogs Blogs Travel Blogs, they reek of cluelessness, and usually consist of “how to” tips or blissfully unaware stuff about “you can do anything “. 99% of the time it’s good looking white people. They make good for click bait stories like the one you mentioned before. It’s been on my mind to make a sort of experimental documentary about the homeless experience across America. During my last trip, I interviewed some impoverished folks for a documentary about the state of the nation itself, and while they were always kind and helpful (as well as the most AWARE of those interviewed), our position of privilege always came up and led to interesting conversation. “You guys are living out of a car by choice? Not only are you stupid, you’re lucky to have so much “.
    So I have a checklist of rules to abide by if I am to try and make something honest. Here’s two: 1- Not about me…just don’t…too many documentaries with the filmmakers in every other shot, or too present in the editing. If that’s means no Netflix deals and no clickbait articles with my smiling face, so be it. 2-Exploitation: Fine line. People should be made uncomfortable and forced to think about subjects that matter. This is a very, very fine line. See: films of Pedro Costa. Something like this should be screened for free and if money is charged—given to a reputable charity.

    Again. I want to thank you for writing this article as it has been making me once again take an honest look at my current situation. I feel like I only touched the tip of the iceberg here. Now I’m considering including a juxtaposition of the pseudo homeless hipster in this project. Maybe that’s where I come in?

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  6. Okay something I should add here if my first comment gets approved.
    Avoiding exploitation in the case of this project I’ve mentioned doesn’t mean avoiding showing things as they are. It just means that picking random people off the street isn’t the best idea. It would be better to meet people and administrators though volunteering and writing.

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