First Person - 'Sid,' homeless undergrad

'I think one of my big problems with American culture is what people call survival. At Emory, what people call survival is excessive luxury.'

Editor's note: First Person is a series of commentaries that gives voice to those not commonly heard in Atlanta media. In this instance, the subject's real name is being withheld to protect him from a crackdown on his unorthodox living arrangement.

Sid is not the typical Emory student. He spends most of his time studying and hanging out with friends, but unlike his peers he goes home at the end of the day to a van he parks at the YMCA. Considering Emory's tuition costs about $50,000 a year, a "kudzu leaguer" living out of his van and scavenging meals from dining hall leftovers might seem surprising, but Sid lives a Spartan lifestyle by choice. Sustainable homelessness is something to which he aspires, and he hopes to always live as simply as he does now.

I think it was by freshman year of high school that I explicitly started telling everyone that I didn't plan to own a home. My family's insanely wealthy. It kind of makes me angry sometimes, because my mom's always remodeling rooms that work totally fine. She got a Jacuzzi, and they have a big-screen TV they watch all day, and I don't know, I guess I'm very distanced from that consumerist culture. She just feels this compulsion to always try to improve the house.

By the time I got to college, I was interested in getting to know everyone, and dorms were great for that purpose. But unfortunately, along with dorms came the compulsory paying of $2,000 a semester. When I moved to Decatur to go to Emory, I got set up with a place in my friend's garage. It had two power outlets and no temperature management to speak of, which is something I loved since middle school, just leaving the windows open. In my old room, I did that a lot, because I always liked being on the same page with the weather – and in the winter just throwing a lot of blankets on top of myself. So in my new place, I didn't even have to open any windows or do anything. It was all wooden, and there was a mouse living in the wall for a while. It was cute.

I really turned it from this garage where people used to play beer pong all the time and had lots of gross trash all around it into an expression of myself. I kind of feng shui-ed it. It was cheap, like $100 a month. But my roommate got stolen from and so she decided she'd be moving out. And I couldn't find another person to pay the main lease. So I just put my stuff into my car.

I'm in a van now with a mattress instead of all the backseats. I buy a lot of dry food. For a year, I had made a point to not pay for food at all, to do the "freegan" thing, go through trashcans and stuff. I haven't really done Dumpsters, but that would have been cool, too. I still do the freegan thing a little bit. I pick up nuts and stuff. For a year I was living off of nothing. In the warmer months, I could get spinach and all sorts of leaves and dandelion roots instead of tea. Nuts and a lot of mulberries grow around here, and worms for protein. I was trying to do ants, but they're so hard to get a good handful of. I ate some crickets, which were great. They tasted kind of like hot dogs.

I've also eaten sea snails and clams in Maine. And Maine has really, really great foliage for eating, too. It's just fantastic in the summer. In the winter, not so much. In the winter, you can get vitamin A and C from pine trees and you can boil up the branches, which I didn't do. I did a lot more garbage – like freeganism stuff – in the winter.

I like to feel like I'm actually in Decatur. There's a certain taste or feeling to eating everything grown and living here. I think in modern society, not a lot of towns are very distinctive because they're not living off species thriving in their own areas. I think one of my big problems with American culture is what people call survival. Especially at Emory, what people call survival is excessive luxury. It's not, you know, getting your main nutrients everyday and sleeping (which Emory people don't do that much, anyway), and breathing.

Shelter is not survival. I mean, people call pre-historical people "cave people," because they can't imagine people sleeping under the stars, but people sleeping under the stars are out there. They're out there today.

After school this summer, I plan to bike across the country. And I don't plan to stay anywhere. I just plan to camp out and hunt-and-gather and stuff. I'm going with a couple of people from Michigan. I met one of them on Facebook. And I'm going to get a lot better at sleeping outdoors and hunting-gathering and that whole thing. I'm going to have to raise a little bit of money, at stops along the way, for water and emergency food supplies, but we're hoping to go kind of free.

After that, I don't think there will be much of anything that could get me to live in a house again, except for, I guess, the most obvious thing, which is a significant other. The whole thing about living cheaply is to show that all you need is love, but I mean, I don't need everyone to believe it exactly the way I do. I would hope that whoever I wind up with would come around to roughing it eventually, but you know, it's a big demand for some people. I don't know why. It's never been that huge a deal for me.