In 2011 when I first came to Dickinson, North Dakota to work, I stayed in my camper on the company property where I worked. Because of the housing shortage, every kind of housing and lodging was very expensive. If you could find a one bedroom apartment that was available, it cost about $1,500 per month. The cheapest and most run down motel in Dickinson would also cost about $1,500 per month. At that time, about 1 out of 10 oil field workers in Dickinson stayed on the company property in a camper, trailer, or motor home.
After work, I would take my laptop computer to the Tiger Truck Stop in Dickinson to use the internet. The Tiger Truck Stop was a very busy place in 2011, especially in the mornings beginning at about 5:00 a.m. But in the evening through later at night, the truck drivers would socialize, especially the drivers that were sleeping in their trucks over night at the truck stop. There were about two hundred tractor trucks parked at the truck stop at night. But there were also about thirty cars parked in different locations on the property at night.
People would arrive in Dickinson from out of state looking for work, and find that they could not afford even the least expensive motel in town. They also found out that the privately owned RV parks in Dickinson would not allow campers in vans, cars, old buses, old motor homes, or old trailers. These people with very little money would wind up at the Tiger Truck Stop parking lot or the Wal-Mart parking lot at the end of the day.
Though the Tiger Truck Stop parking lot was very full and crowded, the truck drivers did not complain too much about the people in cars, vans, buses, and motor homes taking up spaces at night. The Tiger Truck Stop owner tried to not notice, because these people obviously had no place else to go. There was no homeless shelter in Dickinson. The Tiger Truck Stop owner in Dickinson allowing people with no where else to go to remain on the property at night, was the most charitable thing that I have yet seen in North Dakota.
The people sleeping in their cars at night in the parking lot, would come inside the truck stop to use the bathroom, buy something to eat, or use the internet. I got to know many of these people, some of them were even life long residents of Dickinson.
I could probably write a book about the people that I met living in their cars in Dickinson, but this is just a blog post, so I will keep it brief. Most of the people that I met living in their cars in Dickinson would go to the temporary labor company in Dickinson in the morning, the Command Center. They would get what they could get. Usually they would get some work each day that would allow them to buy some food and gas for their car. On any given day, many of these people living in their car would have $5 to $100 in their wallet, and that was all the money they had in the world. Everybody who came to work in North Dakota was not making $100,000 per year like you read about in the newspaper or heard about on television.
Some of these workers that I met who were living in their cars in Dickinson had valid current commercial drivers licenses. They would go to trucking companies to apply for jobs, but the office ladies didn’t like the looks of them or their beat up vehicles that they were living in. Some of the older men living in their cars had had wives and children that they supported for years by working in a trade, but bit by bit they earned less and less as the economy got worse, and cheap labor from Mexico lowered the wages of trades people everywhere.
At night at the Tiger Truck stop, I talked to many of the older men who were living in their cars in the parking lot, who had gotten work that day at the Command Center, moving furniture, cleaning up a construction site, flagging traffic, and were now “home”. They had provided a home for their wife and children for twenty years. Had made sure their wife and children had food and clothing. Saw their kids off to school every morning. Bought everybody birthday presents, Christmas presents. Paid for everyone’s doctor visits, dentist visits, eye glasses. Their kids were out on their own now. Wife wanted to be on her own too. It was incredible to me, that these men had provided a home and everything for others for many years, and now their fate was to live in their vehicle and be broke.