Guess What? You Can Pay $600 a Month to be Homeless in San Francisco

Wow, it used to be that being homeless in California was perceived to be less terrible than elsewhere in the US due to the generally more temperate weather and I am told, better foraging in garbage bins (don’t ask how I know people who have informed views on this matter). San Francisco was already an arguable exception due to the fact that it can be pretty raw (but those of us who’ve done time in the Northeast, or in the parts of the Upper Midwest where you need to plug your car in at night in the winter to keep the engine block from freezing are not impressed). But this story shows that even homelessness in San Francisco isn’t necessarily cheap.

By Tana Ganeva, AlterNet’s managing editor. Follow her on Twitter or email her at Originally published at Alternet

In the past few years, San Francisco’s massive rents have displaced long-time residents and worsened the city’s already epic homelessness problem, sending more people into encampments or forcing them to live in cars or doubled up.

Now, residents have the opportunity to experience that glamorous lifestyle by paying $600 a month to live in a FedEx truck. The SF Weekly reports that an enterprising car landlord equipped an old truck with luxury amenities like a mini-fridge and fold-out couch, renting the truck out for $600. No running water or toilets. “I didn’t end up putting plumbing in it because I was going to get a gym membership and use their facilities to help motivate me to work out every day — awesome plan right?! — so if you don’t mind doing that then this is a GREAT match for you,” reads the Craigslist description, according to the Weekly. 

A student who rented the truck found herself facing the predictable problem of parking tickets and extreme discomfort:

Cinthia, a student at San Francisco State University, lived in the truck this fall. She would often park it near the school’s soccer fields and move it on cleaning days. But it wasn’t a flawless system — one night the battery died and the truck wouldn’t move. After class, she came back to a rainbow of parking tickets.

“The first time parking it was hard because I accidentally left the FedEx truck in a residential area and got yelled at,” said Cinthia, who asked that her last name not be used out of embarrassment. “I only move it at night when no one is around. The hard part is not being able to be at your house and relax. You don’t have a place to shower, and that can be tough.”

Yes, it can. The piece estimates that 268 people are living in cars in San Francisco and that number increases substantially if you include surrounding areas, where housing costs have also shot up.

According to the official count, 6,686 people in the city don’t have homes, and about half of those lack access to shelter. More than 2,000 kids who go to school in the San Francisco School District don’t live in stable, permanent housing, as AlterNet previously reported.

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  1. Larry

    This story would have been more emblematic of the SF housing crisis if the student had rented the truck through AirBnB and not Craigslist.

    1. Carolinian

      There was a story in the NYT about someone renting a van in Queens via AirBnb. The “landlord” suggested they try a nearby eatery when they needed to go to the bathroom. The joys of urban life?!

  2. Ulysses

    Our present day reality is sadder than the worst dystopian visions of sci-fi writers a generation ago. The most chilling note in this whole story– for me– is that Cinthia asks that her last name not be used “out of embarrassment.”

    Why are people embarrassed at the cruel, brutal lives they endure because our world is dominated by greedy psychopaths?? Why not be indignant to the point of actively resisting the kleptocratic regime? As Howard Zinn said so well:

    “As soon as you say the topic is civil disobedience, you are saying our problem is civil disobedience. That is not our problem…. Our problem is civil obedience.”

  3. JEHR

    I remember hearing about a middle-aged woman in California who hit upon hard times and rented a storage truck to live in. She had a kitten for a companion. She would move the truck around so that no one would become aware of her precarious existence. She finally ran out of money and committed suicide. That is one of the the saddest stories of homelessness that I have ever heard. I imagine these incidents are still occurring. We have created a cruel world.

  4. tegnost

    Yes, I’m guessing that 268 people in cars is a major underestimate. Unfortunately I have been a car dweller and it led me to get rid of the car because dealing with the car cost too much money and too stressful, after a couple of days the coffee shop people figure out you’re homeless, there’s nowhere to go… going to bed late so no one notices and getting up early for the same reason, no shower etc…it won’t end well and it happened under a democrat prez so the upper dems should brace themselves for a shellacking come election day. There’s not a lesser evil, there’s just two versions of evil, take your pick, for me it’s likely to be sanders, stein, or mickey mouse. As with most cynics I start out hopeful then just get mad at myself for it.

  5. Paul Tioxon

    Amazingly enough, local Philly TV news has been investigating this homeless problem for teens and young adults. And here is another timely article from today’s GOVERNING website.


    How Many Homeless Youth Are in America? No One Knows.

    Nobody knows how many young people are homeless in the United States. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) last year pegged the number of unaccompanied homeless youth at 45,000, but that’s widely acknowledged to be an undercount. The Department of Education says it’s more like 90,000, based on the number of students who self-identified as homeless during the 2013-2014 school year. Because there’s no universal definition for “youth” or “homelessness,” the actual number is anybody’s guess.

    This isn’t a new issue. Seven years ago, Congress called for periodic national estimates of runaway and homeless youth between the ages of 13 and 26. The first count should have occurred in 2010. In fact, the Obama administration requested funding for a national count, but Congress never appropriated the money.

  6. JerryDenim

    My wife works dispersing federal monies for homeless programs in a very expensive small California city with an accute housing crisis and she came home fuming yesterday over a new meddling federal directive which requires local non-profits receiving federal monies prioritize those federally deemed as “chronically homeless” for housing first. What that usually means is an older single male who has been on the streets for twenty years or more. Younger homeless and homeless parents or guardians with young children who may still have the opportunity to salvage a life and a career are deemed as less worthy, although housing these types of families first takes multiple individuals off the streets and a generational cycle of poverty and homelessness is broken.

    I can find out more on who is responsible for this bad policy and post more if people are are interested.

  7. Gio Bruno

    I think this article also appeared in the LATimes (I skimmed it.)

    What should become clear is that Cinthia is a student and has access to student loans. The FedEx truck scheme was probably just an initial attempt at reducing expenditures. Students (even women) in my area actually do this sort of thing quite effectively; but they are much more discrete (a box truck doesn’t comport with resident vehicles). The campus environment allows them to access gym showers, use the Internet, and feed at the cafeteria (without appearing out of place). The campus administration realizes there is this student cohort and opens the gym at 6:30 am and the library and cafeteria at 7:30 am. (The bulk of the student population doesn’t arrive until 9 am.)

    That said, the US should be ASHAMED of the way it is treating its young and aspiring student population, in general!

  8. Max

    I live in the South Bay. I recently donated an old sleeping bag and tent to an organization and the guy told me that Santa Clara county has well over 1000 people living in their cars. The true number is unknown, of course. I read they recently kicked out 30 people from a short stretch of the Guadalupe River near downtown. Just this Friday I came home from work to a man sleeping in my doorway, completely unresponsive (he ended up being fine, just drunk).

    What’s interesting to me is that there is no lack of empathy or humane understanding of the homelessness problem in the area. There’s just nowhere for anybody to go. If even the upscale high roller stuff is competitive, how are normal people supposed to get by?

    The Super Bowl is coming to the Bay this year. Latest word from city government is that the homeless will “have to leave the street.” We want people to feel safe and welcome, y’know?

  9. Portia

    Call me squeamish, but I don’t even trust the hygiene in hotels with maid service these days. Do these guys who rent out the vans clean, change the sheets or even vacuum?
    Anyway. I think the Tiny House on Wheels craze has encouraged these two-bit hucksters to say this is charming.

    I have been temporarily without plumbing and had to use public facilities, and it really opened my eyes to the attitudes of people toward the homeless–they actually hate them polluting their space. Dealing with that alone 24/7 and having to feel ashamed of the space you are occupying is enough to make people suicidal.

    1. pretzelattack

      given that a lot of places won’t let the public use their restrooms, where are homeless people supposed to go?

  10. Ishmael

    Lots of people live in their cars in LA, you just do not know it.

    I was sleeping one night and in a dream I heard “Help me!”

    I woke up and thought isn’t that weird. Laying their again I thought I heard it again and then again. My wife did not hear anything.

    I got dressed and started looking around our place and then walking by the cars down the street. I saw a woman in one and ran in and called the police. Police and emergency people showed up. She had been sleeping in her car and had a stroke.

    And yes, I am the lightest sleeper you have ever met.,

  11. Elizabeth

    I’ve also read that homeowners are renting (via Craigslist) their grown children’s childhood tree house, no kitchen facilities, but the occupant is welcome to use the Bar-b-Que in the yard any time. Homeowners in Oakland are renting out tents in their backyards! I think the official estimate of homeless in SF is way under reported, as is the number of people living in their cars. What about people staying with friends and sleeping on the couch? They’re not counted either.

  12. Ken

    How many millions of illegals are renting the formerly cheap apartments and funky little houses that poor Americans used to be able to afford to rent? Entire families live in one bedroom and pay a correspondingly high rent. Supply and demand.

    You cannot address homelessness unless you address immigration, be it legal or illegal. Poor and even Middle Class Americans have been betrayed.

    1. Peter L.

      Using the term “illegals” to refer to people is nasty and bigoted. The idea that immigration is a major factor in the cost of housing is absurd.

  13. TG

    I am reminded of one of the first “Futurama” episodes, where a time-travelling present-day “Fry” is trying to find place to live in the 30th century, and not having much luck.

    ‘Do they still have refrigerator boxes?’ asks Fry.

    ‘Yeah sure’, replies Bender the robot. ‘But the rents are terrible.’

    Bottom line: supply and demand, people. Recently Singapore massively increased immigration. Wages immediately fell and rents immediately rose. Is anyone here surprised?

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