If there is a bad place to lose a job, it’s the San Francisco Bay Area, where it’s not uncommon for a one-bedroom apartment to cost $3,300 a month.
That’s what happened in March 2016 to Kristin Hanes, a reporter at a large San Francisco radio station, when she and many others were laid off with no warning. Suddenly Hanes was facing homelessness.
“There was no way I could afford my room in a Sausalito (permanently anchored) houseboat at $1,450 per month, and my fancy gym membership at $210 per month,” she wrote in a blog that appears on sfgate.com, the San Francisco Chronicle’s online site. And “there was no way I wanted to go into debt … so something had to give.”
Hanes purged her belongings for a second time (more on that later), stored a few things and took the rest to her boyfriend Tom’s 41-foot sailboat, anchored in San Francisco Bay. It’s been a drastic change of lifestyle, but it has allowed Hanes to spend more time doing what she loves — traveling, exploring, having new adventures and meeting people who share her values.
“I’m really excited now because we’ll be able to explore other areas — Mexico, the San Juan Islands, Vancouver, Baja California,” said Hanes, a native Oregonian who earned a degree in journalism at the University of Oregon. “Luckily, my boyfriend can take a couple of months off because he has a flexible work environment.”
But how does one living in a high-rent district and with no regular job manage to buy groceries and pay for life’s other necessities?
By cobbling together a string of jobs, Hanes said.
She does some freelance writing, monetizes her blog (“I hope to do more with this in the coming year”), does voiceovers for a tech company and pet-sitting, which has dual rewards.
“Over Thanksgiving, I had 10 days in a beautiful house in Berkeley, and they paid me, too,” she explained.
Still, when she and Tom are on the boat, it takes some ingenuity and patience to live comfortably in 150 square feet.
“You have to get along,” Hanes said. “Luckily we get along really well and can live in a small space. We are 15 feet apart at the most. And I didn’t know anything about sailing. My boyfriend is teaching me.”
The couple also has been resourceful when it comes to life’s basic needs.
“The dock has bathroom facilities,” she added, “and I joined a gym for showering, Wi-Fi and desks. It doubles as my work zone.”
Adapting to this lifestyle hasn’t been as hard as some might think. This is actually the second time Hanes has moved from traditional housing to, well, an alternative. The first time around it was her choice.
In 2015, she voluntarily vacated her $1650-a-month studio apartment in Mill Valley (north of San Francisco), jettisoned much of her stuff, and moved into a rent-free tent on Mt. Tamalpais with her boyfriend. The goal was to pay off a $4,000 “lingering debt.” She tells of this adventurous and sometimes dangerous endeavor in a feature written for Marie Claire Magazine. (http://www.marieclaire.com/culture/a27792/homeless-on-purpose/).
And Hanes’ blog at www.thewaywardhome.com explores “living minimally.”
“The main reason to start the blog,” she said, “was to inspire people if they are in debt or the rent is too expensive, they can think outside the box to get the budget under control.”
So for now, Hanes is focusing on the present.
“I love being financially free, debt no longer weighing me down,” she writes. “I love anchoring the boat off a forested shoreline, feeling like I’m deep in the wilderness, knowing I could find a way to survive anywhere if I had to.”
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E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.