SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
Naida Lavon is 67, a former school bus driver and more recently a part-time employee at a rental car company. In March, Lavon also became homeless. She's been living in her minivan in Portland, Ore. As part of their Hunker Down Diaries series, Radio Diaries brings us her story.
NAIDA LAVON: Good morning. This is Naida. It's Wednesday at 8:45, and I'm sitting in my minivan. I have everything but the driver and passenger window and the front windshield blacked out with insulating material that gives me a lot of privacy. I'm pulling out my plastic drawers, finding my clean clothes. I can open my van door and let the sunlight in.
So the third week of March, I think it was, the governor of Oregon started talking about lockdown. You know, there were warnings on the news about the social distancing, but my mind just wasn't there. My mind was on where to park for the night and feel safe.
My first night sleeping in my car, I drove around, and I did find a road in the industrial area. And this is one of the places I spend a lot of my time. It's a two-lane street completely lined on both sides with people living in their cars and their RVs and trailers. We really haven't interacted or talked or anything, but we kind of nod our acknowledgement of each other. There is one man that I feel really sorry for because sometimes he just starts yelling and screaming as if there's someone in the car with him, but I can see that there's no one in the car. I just hate to see someone struggling like that.
(SOUNDBITE OF VAN DOOR CLOSING)
LAVON: I usually just leave early in the morning.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAR ENGINE STARTING)
LAVON: OK, I'm going to do a U-turn in the street.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS")
BEATLES: (Singing) I look at you all, see the love...
LAVON: I used to work for Avis Rent-A-Car in Portland. But because of the coronavirus, they put everyone on furlough. I'm lucky enough I have Social Security and a small pension because I drove a school bus. You know, sometimes I feel like I don't look like a homeless person. I have a nicer car, and I always make sure I'm clean and nicely dressed.
Because of the pandemic, almost all of the public restrooms are closed. So I go to a grocery store and use their restroom, try to wash up.
It's 1:44 p.m. This is the hard part. The mask makes my glasses fog over.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Sorry.
LAVON: No, that's OK.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Thank you. Thank you.
I don't let myself panic about the possibility of getting the virus, but I take the necessary precautions. I don't know how people are expected to stay clean who live on the streets.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: $2.57. When you're ready.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "99 RED BALLOONS")
NENA: (Singing) Ninety-nine dreams I have had...
LAVON: I am driving to Tacoma to meet up with my daughter. She wanted me to stay with her, but she doesn't have a spare room. And it would mean I would be living in, like, the kitchen nook. And I'm not comfortable with that. It's hard for me to feel like a burden.
LAURA JONES: We are sitting in the Starbucks parking lot.
LAVON: I'm sitting next to my daughter Laura.
JONES: So my concerns are just for your safety. I don't want to see you taken advantage of, getting broken into in your car. And I would just like to have you stay in our house.
LAVON: I guess one of the things I worry about is that I cause problems between you and John (ph).
JONES: I can understand that. But I guess the hard part was seeing how your car was set up and the bed in your car. It just really - that's when it hit me. Like, what kind of daughter am I if I'm letting you live in your car?
LAVON: It's 8:54 p.m. I've returned to my overnight spot. I just realized I forgot to take my vitamins earlier. It was hard the first few days just living in my van, worrying you know, what's going to happen? What am I going to do? But I'm just one of those people that is always on the move, constantly moving to a new place - not necessarily willingly, but that's the way my life has gone. OK, there's my last vitamin. Good night.
MCCAMMON: Naida Lavon in Portland, Ore. Her audio diary was produced by Nellie Gilles of Radio Diaries. You can hear all the Hunker Down Diaries on the Radio Diaries podcast.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
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