Category Archives: Frugal Living

my various attempts at living a greener, kinder to our earth lifestyle.

So This Happened: Car Free to Car Lite, and Why

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About three and 1/2 years ago (June 7, 2013), I sold my car and decided (after much thought and research) to live a life that was car free. I lost some weight and saw a different side of my city. I saved a lot of money. My stress level became palpably lower. I proved that despite all the cliches (which are class-based cliches, by the way), one does not need a car to survive in L.A.

Yes, I found that it’s possible to get anywhere in the L.A. area by bus, train, bike, walking, Uber, Lyft, taxi, Amtrak and the kindness of strangers. But here’s the thing: possible does not always mean convenient.

So this happened:

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Blogger in front of the red Chevy Spark.

I moved to L.A. originally in 1981, and this is the lifestyle we led: Say I lived in Pasadena, which was true for awhile. A friend a few miles away would suggest how nice it would be to go to Hollywood for a few drinks and then later on go down to the beach for a while, play in the dark waves, etc, or go bar-hopping out in Santa Monica. Or have a bite to eat there. We’d often do things like this — which actually involve a 40 or 50 mile round trip in a car. It was common then and it was nothing, really. Gas cheap. We were young and energetic. Traffic was not in any way as bad as it is now, especially at night. This is part of that Southern California Car Culture you hear about, ski in the morning, surf in the afternoon (which I suppose somebody did, not that this kind of activity was EVER anything you would call convenient).

Anyway, my point is, some of this lives on. At least in our minds, at least we’d like to think this is our coastal “lifestyle,” though age and especially traffic has made this all but impossible. I do think there is a bona fide Millennial movement to embrace an L.A. car free existence. But here’s the thing: I’m not a Millennial. Not even close. And I guess although it’s great to be a pioneer or a trailblazer in some way, it’s kind of lonely if you’re the only one.

I was the only one (in my age and class cohorts) who habitually rode the bus or the train and it was honestly getting a bit old and lonely.

Another thing is isolation. While my facility navigating L.A. without a car grew tremendously the longer I did it, my desire to be out and about actually diminished. While I could take an Uber to a hotspot at 10 at night from my home location in the Valley, say to somewhere “over the hill” in Silver Lake or West Hollywood, my desire to do that plummeted. My desire to do that on the bus plummeted even further. And this was not just hotspots, but things like events and other gatherings where the distance and inconvenience just made it too difficult. I didn’t want to be a hermit.

There’s something different about having your own transportation that’s about more than getting to point B from point A, and it has to do with comfort and safety and the ability to be totally spontaneous. I realized that I was willing to pay again for this occasional luxury.

So — I’m not abandoning public transport or my bike or my beloved walks, especially those in the quiet of the near dawn. I really liked contributing to a less polluted city in a really small way and will continue. But I will occasionally use the new car, for things like:

  • Socializing at night, i.e., seeing friends, dating and other activities
  • Road trips – Palm Springs and local places like that, especially where trains don’t go.
  • Camping! I still want to find a partner in crime for this.
  • The occasional event or possibly a job opportunity, like an interview, like tutoring, like background acting on a location (think Santa Clarita, where I used to have frequent gigs). Although for commuting to work, I’ll still use public transport.
  • Going to the Gym – sometimes that’s just easier to drive and I would work out more, quite frankly ,if it was easier to get there.
  • Shopping, sometimes. Sometimes you just want to do that Target run and get your own 30 roll packs of TP rather than have Amazon deliver them.

So there you have it. I’m grateful to have the luxury of the occasional car at my disposal again. I realize how lucky I am to have it. And I know, should it turn out that I really don’t use the car for much, I can always turn around and sell it. Again!

Car Free in L.A. for Three Years – and counting

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Three years ago on June 7, 2013, I drove into CarMax in Burbank, California, and sold them my car. They gave me a check for $6000.

The Blogger at an Orange Line stop, waiting patiently.

The Blogger at an Orange Line stop, waiting patiently.

I walked back to my apartment via Magnolia Boulevard. It took more than an hour. During the early summer walk, I had numerous moments of “oh my god, what have you done?” but I did not fall into the earth, wailing or otherwise.

I’d planned to go car free, and had been thinking about it, reading about it for years. There were lots of reasons, from wanting to be more environmentally conscious to wanting to save money to frustration with driving and especially with parking.

I made lots of dry runs with LA’s Metro system, did lots of bike riding on streets with bike lanes (and others without them, but rarely) and started figuring out places I could walk to in my neighborhood of Valley Village.

Still, it was very strange to arrive back at my apartment and leave my parking space empty. That voice in my head would say, well, you’re crazy, you’ve finally done it buddy, what are you thinking, Jim? You can’t live in L.A. without a car, everybody says so!

But then I have lived in L.A. without a car, and for three years now.

Benefits:

  • more money for me (I save about $5K a year on car costs)
  • easier for me to keep weight stabilized, as I get so much aerobic exercise
  • stress level is lower, and blood pressure readings are more in the normal range
  • I see the city on a more human, sidewalk level. I notice people and buildings and plants and . . . that I would have missed before, speeding by.
  • I don’t get road rage.
  • I don’t have to deal with road ragers.
  • I don’t fret over the price of gas or car insurance or car repairs or any of that.
  • I can still be spontaneous — hello car sharing services, Uber and Lyft. That’s one of the missing pieces to this puzzle, and it’s been filled in.
  • I love just showing up at a venue and walking through the front door, shaking my head when someone asks if I need to be validated.
The donut stand on Magnolia and Keystone in Burbank. That's my bike, but the guy is someone else.

The donut stand on Magnolia and Keystone in Burbank. That’s my bike, but the guy is someone else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are really no cons to being car free, but I have learned some things about myself and the whole idea of “car free” from a white, middle class perspective.

Some of these things are:

  • Public transport is really a class thing in L.A., still. Regardless of the new Expo line, which everyone wants to ride, because it goes to Santa Monica and the beach, most people ride the Metro because they can’t afford cars. A decision like the one I made to be “car free” was born of privilege (similar to Voluntary Simplicity or New Frugality movements) — because I can afford a car if I want one, if I wanted to return myself to that misery. I imagine that most of the people who have no choice but to take the trains or buses would consider me a silly old fool. I hope that perception will change and we’re making headway, but we’re not there yet.
  • Speaking of that Expo line or the Wilshire 720 Rapid or any of the other public transport ways to get to the Pacific Ocean from the San Fernando Valley: There’s no quick way to get to the beach, other than a car, and even that’s relative. At like, 4 am. On a Tuesday. It would probably take about half an hour at that date/time. But at any other time, rail makes the journey a lot more palatable, i.e. there are no potholes on the rails. And you can read, you can access WiFi or a cell tower (Expo is above ground). You shouldn’t read while driving.
  • When you have a car, you go to lots of places just because you have a car to get there, whether it makes any sense to go there or not. It SEEMS purposeful, but I think that might be an illusion. Because I’ve found that with just a little bit of resistance (the resistance being not having an easy transport option at the ready 24/7) you make lots of different choices.
  • Driving also serves to mask boredom and loneliness. You’re part of this stream of humanity, all GOING somewhere, or at least seeming to, if really not. Listening to the radio is part of it, too, feeling connected to the music or the DJ or the newscaster makes it all a little less lonely.

Just as I started this post I saw that yet another bicyclist had been killed in the LA area, this one in Compton, today, June 6, 2016. RIP.

Be careful out there.

How the blogger lights up his ride

How the blogger lights up his ride

End of the Car Age: We Can Always Hope

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“Cities around the world are coming to the same conclusion: they’d be better off with far fewer cars. So what’s behind this seismic shift in our urban lifestyles?” Stephen Moss investigates

Source: End of the car age: how cities are outgrowing the automobile | Cities | The Guardian

Why? Because cars hugely degrade the civilized environment. So read this Guardian story.

I’ve thought a lot about this – and the paradox of freedom – which is how cars have always been marketed. Tell me, looking at this photo of L.A. freeways, this is freedom?

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Well, if so, save me from that method of being free. Some gems from the story:

“In many cities, the era of the suburban commuter, along with the era of the car, is drawing to a close.” – we can only hope this could become the ideal in places like Los Angeles, as well. (Which in my mind is always perfect for biking.)

On the future of the smart phone vis a vis car ownership: “Consumers will, so the theory goes, use their smartphones to check ultra-detailed travel news, locate car-club cars or bikes, check for parking spaces,call up Uber drivers, and arrange shared rides. Who needs a personally owned car?”  — I’ve found this is true in my now 2 years plus of car-freedom in Los Angeles.

Truth is, I’m not very optimistic that the vision shown in this article will become a reality here in California, at least in Southern California, at any time in the remote future — but I have hope for the Millennial generation, who appear to be much more interested in changing the car culture than the Baby Boomers and older are.

The Guardian story is a long one, but worth it.

Trump and Bernie are resonating for the same reason, IMO

Car Free, Two Years and Counting . . .

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I sold my car to CarMax in Burbank on June 7, 2013.

This is a picture of my bike, a few months ago, at a stop for donuts. It’s called Don_t Time. (cause the only thing missing is U) The person in the photo is just someone else stopping for donuts, it’s not me. I took the picture.

The donut stand on Magnolia and Keystone in Burbank.

The donut stand on Magnolia and Keystone in Burbank.

Ironically, yesterday I had to make a trip for which the clearly most appropriate way to get there (to West Hollywood from my house in Valley Village) was by car. So I called Uber, and the driver that picked me up had the exact make and model car that I sold two years ago (a Scion Xa).

So, an update, how’s it going, you ask?

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes I make plans in my head to buy another car. I’ll tell myself, yes, you should just grow up and buy a car, by the end of the year. I mean, you can’t ride your bike forever, what are you, 60? Yes, I’m 60. But then again I don’t ride everywhere. I do ride around the neighborhood, but I also walk a great deal, take a good amount of buses and trains.

And sometimes, like yesterday, a car is the best option and I’ll call an Uber or a cab. Still, even a pretty liberal use of services like those is so much cheaper and better for the environment than actually owning a motor vehicle is.

So I tell myself, along with the plan to buy another car, to do a month of car-sharing before I’d ever actually pull that plug on the car-free experiment. If I’m truly not happy using, say, Uber for those destinations that are just too late or too difficult then, sure, go ahead and buy that car and have all that misery refunded (sorry, 12-step, I’m borrowing some of your language).

What I suspect will happen is that I’ll still be car free when 2016 rolls around. Because I love saving all that money. Cause I really do like to walk. Because the lower amount of stress in my life (from not owning a car) is something I feel deep in my bones.

It is eminently doable, for those of you on the fence. Try it, what have you got to lose? You can always get a car again.

In the meantime, it will be me still ordering those 40-roll packs of TP from Amazon and using my Uber app when I just have to get to Santa Monica in a hurry for tacos or something.

Gotta go – riding the bike over to my neighborhood movie theater. They have a special free bike parking section out in front.

 

 

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs (from STRIKE! Magazine)

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The Little People

The Little People

“jobs have had to be created, that are, in effect, pointless.”

is that you? Here’s an interesting rant.

I always thought this of most jobs, they were just invented because people needed to be busy doing something. Not that everything has an inherent need or value, though. Many, many jobs are just busywork, and I’ve had a few. I guess that farming vegetables and livestock is pretty important, and up till about 150 years ago that’s what the vast majority of the human race actually did each and every day.  You know, to keep from starving to death.

But is, say being a doorman (main duties: opening the door for people coming in or going out) on the same level of importance in the grand scheme of things? This is not to disparage doormen (or doorwomen) — I chose that because it’s something I actually did for awhile in my way-younger life. The easy answer is it’s no, not necessary. People can open their own damn doors, I think this was a left over from a more Downton Abbey-style world, even though it was right here in the U.S.

Another example: On a business trip to Japan a few years ago, I went shopping for family gifts in the Ginza district. In the store where I bought some items, there was one person to help you pick it out, then a cashier, a wrapper-upper, a bagger, and then a greeter/goodbye-er person. It seemed excessive even then, and that was long before the Crash of 2008. I work part-time in a store right now, and guess what — should we be lucky enough to have a paying customer in the flesh, I serve all of the above functions, and more.

I also worked for a movie studio for a long time, and our entire department was deemed “makework” by the new muckymuck who hated anything the previous muckymuck did. All of the jobs were internal public relations functions, a job category David Graeber specifically mentions. And guess what – we all lost those jobs, eventually, they really did just go away.

So it’s all interesting. I do remember being in grade school in the 1960s where we were promised a future of almost unending leisure, as the automated world would open up life for so many people in a way never seen before. Europe largely chose to invest such wealth into creating that kind of a world for its citizens; here in the U.S. the powers that be decided they needed to have all the money and so the 99% would be required to work even harder than ever. I suspect that will change, one way or the other.

What do you think? Would you rather live in a world (like the author of this piece says, totally possible with today’s technology) where people only have to work 3-4 hours a day for survival, or do you like it as it is? This is mainly a political question. Does the thought of all that free time excite you, or does it scare you?

The Six Things I Like Best About Being CarFree — A Six Month Update

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The Blogger, with chariot at night.

The Blogger, with chariot at night.

I’ve now been car free for six months – that’s right, car free in L.A., living without owning a car in Los Angeles. Here’s a status report, and my favorite things about this major lifestyle change.

  • Saving money! Absolutely, my favorite. My last car, the 2005 Scion Xa, cost just about $400 a month to own and operate over the period of time I owned it (almost exactly 8 years). So that’s $2,400.00 right there. I did have transportation expenses, though, so I must subtract those. Metro fares: $280. Car rental: $200. Bicycle expense (a new seat): $25. So let’s adjust: $2,400 – 505 = $1,895 I’ve saved so far. And, that doesn’t even account for the sale of my used vehicle, which was $6,000 (thank you, CarMax!). So I’m really ahead $7,895.00.
  • Keeping fit! I lost about 15 lbs. doing WeightWatchers earlier this year and have been able to keep that off since going CarFree with very little effort, which I attribute to all the walking and biking I do now. My default modes of transportation in preferred order are: foot, bicycle, train or bus, taxi, rental car or ZipCar or other car share service. I live in Southern California, so it’s quite rare that any particular day is not a good bike day.
  • Not Having to Find Parking! There was a time, when I first lived in L.A., probably the early eighties, when it was fairly easy to find street parking in almost any neighborhood and there were very few restrictions on parking. That world is gone! Parking had become very difficult and most often expensive (if you just succumbed to the valet or a garage) but now I’ve never had to pay to park my bike against a pole.
  • Never Having to Deal with Angry Drivers/Road Rage! There are a lot of angry drivers out there, sometimes they’re armed, sometimes they’re just fracking crazy and dangerous. I’ve yet to meet a raging urban walker or a raging bicyclist (though hey, it’s a crazy world, perhaps they exist. Yet they don’t have 2-ton weapons at their disposal).
  • Not Having to Remember Where I Parked My Car, or Worry About that (Insert Expensive Thing Here) I Left Inside It! There was always this nagging feeling that the apocalypse was there, just out of focus, that total disaster could happen at any moment and this Thing I depended on (the car) would be utterly destroyed or taken from me on a whim. To not have this object to worry about at all is a great freedom all its own.
  • Finally: Exposing the Myth that “You Need a Car to Live in L.A.!” No, you don’t. You don’t need to own a car to live in L.A. What the people who say that really mean is that THEY need a car to live in L.A., i.e., they’re not giving advice, they’re talking about themselves. There are hundreds of thousands of people living in the city who don’t own cars. If you step out of yours for a few moments, you might meet the real city.

A great resource for me has been Chris Balish’s book, “How to Live Well Without Owning a Car.” It’s been my roadmap for much of this journey. Thank you, Chris!

Car-Free in L.A.? The list of where to live.

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Magnolia Boulevard in Valley Village

Magnolia Boulevard in Valley Village

I was happy this piece in Metro’s The Source highlighted NoHo (specifically the NoHo Arts District) as one of the places in L.A. where it is most conducive living Car-Free or Car-Lite.

I live in Valley Village, which I guess I’d call NoHo-adjacent, and by this proximity, can also boast to be a good option for the Car-Free.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised over the (now two years, how time does fly) time I’ve lived here at how convenient the neighborhood is to my specific lifestyle – as the referenced Walkscore website puts it, “most daily errands do not require a car.” What they don’t tell you is what the criteria are for walkability distance, i.e., I know from personal experience that what I think is a reasonable walk another person might think of as a death march.

But truly, the usual places one needs: grocery, drugstore, movie theaters, restaurants, library, coffeehouse, yoga studio, park, gym, elementary, junior and senior high schools, public transit stops, farmers market, gay and other bars, etc. are all within easy walking or easy walking and biking distance.

The other neighborhoods The Source deems perfect for Car-Free living include Culver City, Koreatown, DTLA and Pasadena. I would also have included Los Feliz, my former neighborhood, which still has a huge place in my heart – and is very conveniently located to all amenities and is also a hub for Metro lines, bus and rail. And, it’s got Griffith Park. Hard to beat that.

C’mon, Share, Kids, You Know You Want To.

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photo thanks cleanairgardening

photo thanks cleanairgardening

Or even if you don’t, you can’t afford to not share anymore.

I wanted to share this NYT piece about sharing – even though it’s a couple of months old, I agree that the new sharing paradigm is important, and wanted to acknowledge Tina Rosenberg’s opinionator.

Access, rather than ownership, is what drives the future of commerce, according to this theory.

**ANOTHER UPDATE: Los Angeles Times ran a story today on Airbnb issues in Silver Lake. 

When I was a little kid, I never really understood why everyone on the block had to have their own lawnmower – mowing was such an odious task (I grew up before the explosion of the service economy, so dads and kids – and the occasional mom, to be sure – took care of the yard work). I hated cutting the grass. We tried to avoid it as long as possible. The truth was, though, the longer the grass got the harder it was to mow with those manual push mowers (see above), which is what we had. But I digress. The point I was trying to make is that the mower was used maybe once a week, once every two weeks if there wasn’t much rain. So the “block” we lived on probably could have shared one or two mowers if someone had figured out how to organize it. (I’m sure there were smarter localities that probably did. BTW, the photo isn’t of anyone I know.)

I previously posted on car-sharing your own car; in the end I opted to sell it instead and become car-free.

Rosenberg divides the new sharing economy into what are called full mesh schemes (like Zipcar) and own-to-mesh (like Airbnb, etc). Full mesh means a company owns something and rents it out (as in cars, for Zipcar) and own-to-mesh is a gazillion little owners renting out what they have, like Airbnb, or like the personal car sharing companies I talked about in my previous post.

I never understood why people didn’t share WiFi in small apartment buildings or areas that could be wired appropriately – like they already do in office buildings or hotels. Obviously, the telcos have much dinero to lose and that’s why they’ve “encouraged” everyone to lock up their WiFi. (For those of you who’ve been on it a long time, you know this was not always the case and most people didn’t password-protect their service when it was first rolled out.)

I’ve even heard of people who make their monthly rent by renting out a few nights on Airbnb and staying elsewhere – even, at times, in their cars (if they have them) – which seems a little extreme to me, but hard times can call for desperate measures. Maybe Airbnb is the 21st Century equivalent of the “rent party?”

But how does this all work in a system where the economy is dependent on consumerism and continued consumer spending, largely made possible by debt? Well, the answer is kind of simple. It doesn’t work for that kind of economy.

Perhaps we’re on the threshold of something new, both for the way we live our lives and for the health of our yearning to be sustainable, finite planet. (But expect a lot of wailing and gnashing along the way. It won’t be pretty.)

 

Living in L.A. Without a Car: Airport Connections — and Connecting

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photo by Victor L Antunez

photo by Victor L Antunez

I love cities where the urban planners have had the foresight to make the airport fairly painless to get to (thinking of Heathrow in London, right away).  Believe me, this is not usually the case, especially in the U.S., what with our still crazy dependence on the private automobile making us anything but independent (the very thing it was supposed to do, for all of us, was to make us our own sovereign masters of travel. But don’t get me started. . .)

I recently took a trip from LA to New York, and since it was relatively last minute, the best deals were from LAX (which I try to avoid) even though I live much closer to that easy Burbank Airport. So that was not an option this time.

This post would be more accurately described as the various ways to get to and from the airport, and certainly not specific to car-free folks – cause you’d have to be crazy to drive yourself to the airport for anything other than a weekend getaway. Right? Or am I just crazy, not realizing that people throw good money away on long-term parking fees that add up really fast?

Maybe they do. So OK, then perhaps this will be enlightening, or maybe it won’t.

I was gone for 20 days. So if I drove myself, I’d have that convenience, perhaps, and let’s just estimate the long term parking charge at $6/day, so that would cost $180, plus gas and whatever  your time is worth.

I’m sure there are people who do this and don’t blink an eye. I’m not one of them.

The other ways I know of to get to the airport include 1) asking friends for a ride 2) taking a cab 3) taking one of the shuttle services 4) taking public transport.

This trip my plane was wheels up at 6:15 a.m., so I didn’t even consider asking a friend for a lift. I live in the close-in Valley, so I figured a cab would probably be somewhere in the $80-100 range, again, not really what I wanted to pay for this.

I generally dislike the shuttle services – because they pick you up so far ahead of time – this trip because of the early early hour there was no viable public transportation option (unless I wanted to go very late the night before, and stay overnight waiting for my plane – ummm, no thanks.)

So I did take Super Shuttle – they picked me up at 3:35 a.m. for that 6:15 flight. It cost about $38, which included a 10% tip and a 10% discount (I found a discount code on the internets that actually worked). Oddly, there was no traffic on the 405 at that hour so we got there in about half an hour – before even the TSA is open. I always assumed they were there 24 hours a day, but apparently not.

Coming back, I was able to make use of my preferred method – FlyAway Bus, Red Line Subway, Orange Line Bus. It cost $10. I took the FlyAway from LAX to Union Station, the Red Line subway all the way to North Hollywood, and the Orange Line Busline one stop to Laurel Canyon, which is about 2 + blocks from my house.

Prior to leaving NYC, my father asked me, if cost wasn’t an option, wouldn’t you rather just take a car? (As in, I think he meant, a taxi) I had to think, would I? I think no, not really. Because it’s not all about the cost. It’s about the ability to actually do this kind of a trip using public transportation options. Since I’m a writer, I really see the value in the “closeness” to my fellow passengers — because I don’t experience too much of anything new in a closed up car all by myself. The subway is a never-ending panorama of life in the Big Orange, including its ugliness and unconventionality. I’m constantly striving to fill up that depleting well inside. Being an integral part of the city (and immersed in it) is a way to make that happen.

Empty House Syndrome

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Nation of Change

Houses are bigger, and we’re living with others less often. Not to mention all the empty houses in the country, that for whatever reason can’t be used to house people who live outside.

Doesn’t it all seem a little weird? Here we have both a terrible homeless problem and a terrible real estate problem. Empty houses on the one hand and on the other people who have no place to live. However, the people who have no place to live have no money to pay to live (either rent or buy) in those empty houses. So the solution – to let the people live in the empty spaces – can’t work, because of the “rules” we have.

We can’t have homeless people squatting in foreclosed upon houses – that just, I don’t know, just can’t happen? Why? Because it’s not the way “it” works. Blah blah blah. And the usual argument would follow, but then everybody would want to live in their house for free, etc.

But then again, just imagine the goodwill an organization like, oh, say, Bank of America would engender if it took a percentage of the vacant houses it now owns and allowed homeless people to stay in them till they got on their “feet.” Yeah, like you, I’m not holding my breath.

I’m sure there’s a million reasons why not to. I guess it all comes down to the kind of society we wish to live in and how we want to relate to our fellow human beings. Am I saying it’s wrong to deny the homeless shelter in vacant homes that someone else owns? Probably not. I know that’s not how the “system” works in this or other countries. I have a vacant porch and I have yet to invite a homeless person to camp there. However, I am curious as to when and how it got to that point, where an arbitrary economic model trumps compassion and extends misery.

Much easier to talk about the parts of the story which involve doubling up or living with friends, etc. Not only is there money and energy to be saved, there’s camaraderie to be had and loneliness to be stanched. There’s more people living alone today than ever before in history (myself included). Have you ever wondered why this is, and found it odd – after all, we are social animals. Cats and dogs have certainly benefited!

If you live alone, do you think you’ll always want to? Or would you like to live with other people, especially as a single older person?