Homeless used to be a term to describe those who had nowhere to build their lives. They were usually victims of misfortune, lacking roots, possessions and relationships.
However, a new class of homeless is now emerging. These individuals do not want a place to build their lives. They do not want roots, possessions or deep relationships. Their homelessness is by choice.
These new “uber-homeless” have everything except things. They are generally young people who prefer not to own anything. They are increasingly relying upon the rental or sharing economy for all their immediate needs.
Businesses have sprouted up to accommodate the young nomads. Everything can now be shared or rented including housing, cars, music, offices, furniture and experiences. None need take the commitment of ownership. Some are taking the lack of things to an extreme.
Perhaps the most radical expressions of this trend are those who choose not to have, or even rent, an apartment or house. They prefer to camp out in spaces with the bare minimum of comfort. One service, PodShare, for example, rents out “pods” which are glorified bunk-beds with built-in computer screens. The unenclosed pods are located in large rooms with little privacy or decor.
Residents need not even root themselves to their particular pods. The Los Angeles-based network of PodShare locations is open to any member. For one thousand dollars a month (or fifty dollars a day), the individual can occupy any available pod anytime. The network’s shared kitchens are stocked with breakfast foods. All its public bathrooms have clean towels, toiletries and toothpaste for residents. Storage space is minimal, although lockers can be rented. Some residents, however, own as little as two sets of clothes.
A Day at the Office
The sparse living space also extends to the office, if such it might be called. Although many uber homeless are burdened with student debt, others own their own companies and have good incomes. The quest to be thing-less is much more a mindset than anything else.
Thus, even “offices” can be frugal. They might well be coworking spaces where they can rent desks and share networks, monitors and convivial places in communal space much like the pod spaces. Their work might also involve one-time “gig” jobs that mirror their lifestyles.
Of course, for some, the “office” need not even be a rented desk. These digital nomads can work at any place in the world from their laptops or phones.
Getting Rid of Everything
In the new homeless world, there is no need for cars as one can rely upon ridesharing, Uber and other services. No need for appliances or washing machines since outsourced services take care of most household chores. These individuals eat out since there is no eating in.
For physical exercise, they go to the gym. Even friendship and social life can rely upon social media apps that promise to get people together without major commitments.
Ironically, getting rid of everything can be very expensive as outsourcing usually involves specialized services.
Curiously those engaged in this lifestyle often do not stand out from others in the culture. They live the typical young adult lifestyle glorified by media and entertainment and take it to an extreme. They minimize commitment, responsibilities and morality. They maximize pleasure, experiences and fun.
Selling and Displaying Excitement
Marketers who target the uber-homeless report a new kind of consumer. They are no longer selling material things that used to convey prestige but instead renting out experiences that enable gratification. These young people crave inspiration, adrenaline and excitement on their own terms without major commitments.
Thus, camping supply rental is booming as millennials take to the great outdoors. They will also try new foods and dining experiences or visit new and exotic places. Indeed, they will tend to define their lives by these experiences, which they prominently display with photos posted on their social media accounts.
In their desire to appear happy online, the uber-homeless prove that they do own stuff—only in a different form—since scholars studying the phenomenon report that they will hoard thousands of pictures, selfies and Instagram or Facebook posts stored virtually in the cloud.
Reflection of the Times
The appearance of the homeless by choice is not surprising. It reflects the existential philosophies that are so much a part of postmodernity. If experiences define life, the restrictions of property, morality and commitments are obstacles to the free flow of life.
The present culture favors a life tragically centered upon the individual who moves about on the world’s stage without meaning or purpose. All this is done in the name of a pursuit of happiness that has resulted in so much frustration and loneliness, especially in today’s younger generations.
The uber-homeless world is an impoverished world devoid of everything that can give meaning and purpose to life. It glorifies the selfie and not the selfless devotion to marriage and family. People “friend” and “unfriend” those who make part of their superficial tribes yet fail to form meaningful communities that could provide them with context and support.
God and His Church are notably absent from this world which ensures its failure. For when sanctification is no longer a goal, people cannot develop their full potential and find purpose in giving glory to the Creator. They will not understand the correct use of material goods as a means for living a life of virtue. Through the Church, the world becomes intelligible, and life’s horizons expand beyond the narrow scope of the pod inside an uber-homeless world.
John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author of the book Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Soceity--Where We've Been, How We Go Here, and Where We Need to Go. He lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, where he is the vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.