Cara SantucciNews Editor
Andrew GallegosPhoto Editor
Cash strapped student lives out of car for months
Editor’s note: The source’s name has been changed to protect his identity.
His car was outfitted with two Coleman coolers filled with non-perishable food. He hid everything he owned under a tarp in the bed of his truck, or on the floor of the passenger side.
From April to November of last year, Chris lived entirely out of his car.
The geoscience senior began living out of his car in the summer of 2015, when his major required taking six hours of field camp, which entailed taking geoscience courses out in nature. When Chris saw the $9,000 price tag, however, he decided to take the credit hours with Oregon State. He packed up his truck and started the 2,300-mile journey from Houston to Corvallis, Ore.
To prevent paying for his on-campus apartment over the summer to keep his spot, Chris elected not to renew.
“Instead of paying for school and an apartment where I’m not going to be, I was like, ‘Okay, let me just duke it out (for the summer),’” he said.
From April 15 until school started in August, Chris travelled around the United States, living out of his car and attending field camp. When he came back to campus, the opportunity to live in the house he had planned to move into had closed. Because he was not employed, he had trouble finding another place to live.
“August through the last week of October through November, I was either in my truck or at the library,” he said.
Due to the money he was saving on rent, Chris had plenty of funds to put towards food. He said because there is often free food on campus, his biggest concerns became about sleep and hygiene.
Between the Activity Center and his membership to 24-Hour Fitness, Chris had no problem finding places to shower.
“If I really needed to, I probably could have found a place a lot quicker than I did,” he said. “I could have lived in McCallum, but I really didn’t want to deal with McCallum. … I’d rather hold out and stay in (my truck) than go somewhere I wouldn’t be happy.”
Around five times a week, Chris would spend the night in the cramped cab of his truck. By putting bags on the floor of the car, he was able to sleep in an “L” shape. He’d put the sun visor up on the dashboard to prevent people from seeing in, since sleeping in a car is illegal in Texas.
“I had two run-ins with UTD Police,” he said. “They were very nice. I just explained my story and … they understood.”
Chris usually parked by the baseball fields or in the parking garage. If he was feeling bored with campus, he said he would drive to rest stops in Corsicana or near the Winstar Casino.
He said he wasn’t sure if there were other students in the same situation. He has seen people sleeping in their cars, especially international students, but he didn’t know if they lived there.
Chris would stay in the library two or three nights a week. Sometimes he’d rent the study rooms there to get at least two hours of uninterrupted sleep in a locked room. After his time was up, he’d sleep on the couches in the Veteran Services Center, his backpack straps securely around his legs to prevent theft.
Going from sleeping in a comfortable bed in an apartment to staying in his truck took some getting used to.
“Your creature comforts are gone,” Chris said. “No climate control. You don’t have blackout curtains. … If you get too hot you want to roll down the windows, but if you roll down the windows it’s easy for someone to reach in.”
Although safety was one of his biggest concerns when starting out, he said he slowly took more and more risks for comfort’s sake. He eventually began sleeping with his windows all the way down to cool off the cab. At that point, he said, the biggest annoyance was not the heat or the humidity, but the mosquitos.
While this was going on, his family knew he was living out of his truck.
“For me, they always just know I’ll figure it out,” he said. “Occasionally on the weekends, I’d visit and sleep in a real bed. As long as I was healthy and safe, they weren’t concerned.”
Despite the confined quarters, Chris still managed to entertain. He’d invite friends over after class to hang out in his truck and eat out of his coolers.
“My truck was like my home now,” he said. “I could host.”
Now, Chris lives in a two-bedroom, two-bath townhome an hour away in Ennis. Although the commute is inconvenient, he said it was one of the only places that would take the profit he was making trading stocks as proof of income.
Although his time living out of his truck deprived him of certain comforts and stability, Chris said he was grateful he had the funds to feed himself.
“I don’t want to make my story seem really bad, because there are students far worse (off),” he said. “Not only are they homeless, but they don’t have the money for food.”