I don’t tell many people that I live in a van. Most wouldn’t understand that I WANT to live in the van, and even those that I do tell, don’t fully comprehend my reasoning. But everyone I tell has the same initial reaction – What happens if someone breaks in?
Last night I dreamed that a bunch of people were shaking my van, and were about to break the windows. Since I’m no longer afraid of an encounter with the police, someone breaking in has moved up to the “number one concern” position. Even so, I’m not really worried that someone will break in, but at the same time, I do acknowledge that encounters with thieves is an elevated possibility as long as I live in my van. At least one night in the past four months, someone has checked my doors to see if the van was unlocked.
However, someone could break into an apartment or house too! In fact, I have one friend that was threatened at knife point when someone broke into her apartment, and another that was cut with a box cutter when someone broke into his. Having an apartment doesn’t remove the possibility of being robbed, even if car break-ins happen far more frequently than apartment break-ins. And there are important and relevant differences.
I think that an apartment break-in is far more likely to end in violence and bodily harm than a car break-in. When thieves rob an apartment, they do so knowing that a violent encounter with the resident is a possibility, and they use weapons more often than not. When someone breaks into a car, the expectation is that no one is around, and the possibility and anticipation of a violent encounter is diminished.
People break into cars for two reasons – to steal something from the car, or to steal the car itself. When people break into cars, they are looking for easy targets. They’re looking for cars with the doors unlocked, or parked in unlighted, out of the way spaces, and they are looking for quick getaways with as little notice as possible. What they are definitely NOT wanting, is an encounter with another person.
In all my years of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, my car has only been broken into by thieves 3 times. Two of the times I had left the door unlocked, and someone went through my items, stole my jacket, and some change. The other time, the car was locked, but I had left my purse in the passenger seat (for only like 10 minutes while I ran into my friend’s house) and someone smashed the window and stole it. For the most part, car break-ins are opportunistic. Someone was walking by my car, saw my purse, and decided to break the window to get it.
I get that someone could break into my van while I’m inside, or while I’m sleeping, but I don’t think it’s a high probability, and I think there are things I can do to lower the probability even further. First, use a theft deterrent like “The Club”. Anyone who breaks into a car to steal it will not choose a car with an obvious deterrent. As mentioned, they want the easiest situation possible. Second, I don’t leave anything that would tempt anyone to steal in a visible location in my van, nor do I ever leave the doors unlocked. I don’t leave things in the seats in front even if they are not valuable. Additionally, I always park on well lit streets in neighborhoods where a breaking window would cause notice.
Finally, I am prepared if someone were to break in, in spite of my limiting the temptation. I hang my keys right above my head, so that they are available, and I can press the panic button, and my car horn will start honking. That, all by itself, should cause them to run away. For all the effort that car and van dwellers put into stealth, when someone tries to break in, that is the time to make very clear that there is someone in the car. Remember, people who break into cars aren’t expecting an encounter with the owner. This will trigger their fight or flight response, and they will most likely run away.
Having said all that, I don’t want to downplay that there is always a possibility of danger, and of violence. Having mace or a taser handy certainly doesn’t hurt. But honestly, life itself is a risk. People die in airplanes, but if you never take an airplane, you never travel overseas! For me, the benefits and the adventure of living in my van far outweigh the risks.