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Photo: Angie Smith/Redux/eyevine.
Bob Wells: ‘Then came the first of the month, and something clicked: he didn’t have to pay rent.’

Although many of us have yet to see the award-winning film Nomadland, we can get a taste of the characters’ way of life from this article at the Guardian.

Reporter Stevie Trujillo describes living off the grid in the back roads of America. “If you look closely on city streets, campgrounds and stretches of desert run by the Bureau of Land Management, you’ll see more Americans living in vehicles than ever before. It was never their plan.

” ‘I wasn’t prepared when I had to move into my SUV. The transmission was going. I had no money saved. I was really scared,’ said April Craren, 52, bundled in blankets atop a cot inside her new minivan, a 2003 Toyota Sienna.

“She flipped the camera on her phone to show me the camp stove she uses to make coffee and her view of the sun rising over the Colorado River. She has no toilet, shower or refrigeration.

“After separating from her husband, April found herself homeless in June 2020, exacerbating the depressive disorder for which she receives $1,100 a month in disability benefits.

“ ‘I could have gotten an apartment but in a crappy unsafe place with no money to do anything at all,’ she explained.

“Last year, where April lived in Nixa, Missouri, the average rent for an apartment was $762, slightly less than the national average. Like nearly half of American renters, she would have been crippled by the cost.

“It’s not surprising, then, that job loss, divorce or, say, the sudden onset of a global health or financial crisis can push so many over the edge.

“ ‘If the Great Recession was a crack in the system, Covid and climate change will be the chasm,’ says Bob Wells, 65, the nomad who plays himself in the film Nomadland. …

Today, he lives exclusively on public lands in his GMC Savana fitted with 400 watts of solar power and a 12-volt refrigerator. His life mission is to promote nomadic tribalism in a car, van or RV as a way to prevent homelessness and live more sustainably.

“Before becoming a nomad in 1995, Bob lived in Anchorage, Alaska, with his wife and two boys. He worked as a union clerk at the same Safeway where his father had worked until retirement, only to die two years later. … By his own telling, he was the living embodiment of Thoreau’s ‘quiet desperation.’ …

“Then, when he was 40 years old, the divorce happened. After paying alimony and child support, he was taking home $1,200 a month, $800 of which went towards rent.

“One day, fretting about impossible finances, he saw a green box van for sale and thought: ‘Why don’t I buy that van and move into it?’ The idea struck him as crazy, but with the prospect of homelessness closing in, he drained the last $1,500 in his savings account and bought the van. …

“Then came the first of the month, and something clicked: he didn’t have to pay rent. As his finances improved, he installed insulation, a proper bed, even a dream-come-true PlayStation fortress for his boys. He started working only 32 hours a week, and since every weekend was a three-day weekend, he spent more time camping with his kids, which ‘tremendously helped’ his mental outlook on life. …

“Realizing he had something valuable to share, he bought the domain name Cheap RV Living in 2005. He posted tips and tricks about better vehicle-dwelling, but what he was really offering was a road map to a better life.

“Four years later, when close to 10 million Americans were displaced after the Great Recession, traffic to his site exploded. Finding himself at the center of a growing online community, he decided to create a meet-up in Quartzsite, Arizona. He dubbed it the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR), and in January 2011, 45 vehicles showed up. Eight years later, an estimated 10,000 vehicles convened for what was said to be the largest nomad gathering in the world. …

“While Bob concedes the limits of his solution – it doesn’t address PTSD, mental illness or drug addiction, three main causes of homelessness – he does see it as a way to lower our carbon footprint and make ourselves more financially resilient in trying times ahead.”

At the Guardian, here, read why it’s mostly older women seeking advice and assistance from Bob’s programs.

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