We were living in a tent for 5 months because we couldn’t afford our $1200 rent. Now we’re getting ready for winter in Maine.

Lauren and Benji Baher live in a tent with their dog Ellie.Lauren Baher

  • Lauren Baher and her husband have been living in a tent for five months.

  • She said they are known as “homeless workers” because their low income does not cover the rent.

  • This is a sea story, as told to Jane Ridley.

This is as told the article is based on a conversation with Lauren Baher. Edited for length and clarity.

I used to work at a hair salon in our small resort town in Maine. Wealthy clients will talk away from the second home they recently purchased nearby.

They were saying they wanted a blast before dinner at a fancy restaurant. I was thinking, “I’m going home for a bowl of cereal.”

My husband Benji and I live in a tent. As we approach winter, we are increasingly concerned about homelessness.

I left my job as a salon receptionist in May. I couldn’t handle the stress of having to look stylish all the time. The owner yelled at me once for wearing open-toed sandals with sloppy feet. I had to choose between not showering or bathing in a 40 degree river. I couldn’t afford the nail polish, let alone the pedicure.

Benji and I are classified as “workers poor”. He’s a barista at Starbucks, and I’m now an employee of a cannabis dispensary. Hours – we earn $17 and $15 an hour, respectively – vary and are not guaranteed. Our average salary is $2,400 per month. It’s above the federal poverty line, but still not enough to make rent where we grew up.

We did not want an official notice of eviction in our records from the court

We don’t have a roof over our heads because we don’t have enough money to rent an apartment. Rent in our area runs upwards of $1,800 per month, plus utility bills. The cost has more than doubled in the past two years. Long-term leases are hard to find because landlords make short-term rentals on Airbnb. Homes are sold at the highest price to city folks who want a second home in a beautiful location.

Things started to get worse after my mother – who owned the two-bedroom apartment where we had lived with my daughter for four years – began formal proceedings to evict us. We could not pay rent for January or February. My mom and I’s relationship has always been choppy, but I never thought she’d fire us.

We were living from paycheck to paycheck. Then I lost my job at a bread store after being sick for a month from COVID-19. I ended up using the nebulizer because it gave me asthma and potential damage to my lungs. My husband got it too. He missed two weeks of work.

A blue canopy provides shade over a propane camping stove as Lauren and Benji cook their food.

The couple cook basic food, like potatoes and pasta, on a propane-powered camping stove.Lauren Baher

Mom said the next steps will be dealt with in court. We left the apartment in mid-March to avoid having an official eviction in our records, making it nearly impossible to find new accommodation.

But we couldn’t even start buying anything. One of the worst experiences of my life was driving my 13-year-old daughter to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to live with her father. My ex boyfriend is a good guy, but I had no idea when I would see my baby again. Gas was expensive, and my 18-year-old Subaru Forester needed a lot of repairs.

You feel weak when you have nowhere to turn

We dropped off my daughter and spent the night on breaks in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Then we moved to the Walmart parking lot. We put up car seats and used plywood as a bed base. We would pile on blankets until they were kind of comfy.

Signs say you can’t park overnight, but at least eight more cars will be parked nearby. We were using Walmart bathrooms, keeping it low to avoid suspicion. You feel vulnerable when you don’t have a proper place to retreat.

A friend loaned us a rooftop rack where we put our belongings, which we cut to a minimum. The biggest challenge was to be constantly humid. We stored our clothes in plastic boxes to keep them as dry as possible.

Lauren Baher's dog, Ellie, sits on a camp bed inside her owners tent.

Lauren Baher’s dog, Ellie, has some room to move around in a 10×10 tent.Lauren Baher

The weather began to improve at the end of April. A New Hampshire nonprofit called Way Station gave us a tent and other camping gear, like sleeping bags and a tarpaulin. We drove to the White Mountains National Forest and found a place. first come first served. There is well water but no facilities such as toilets or showers.

The rule of thumb is not to stay in one place for more than 14 nights. The guards will transfer you if you do not comply. After that, you are not allowed to camp within 10 miles. Some of the other campers are curious and ask why you are there all the time. The circle of guards has circled, and we’ve moved at least seven times now.

For cooking, we have created a small stove that runs on propane gas. We eat a lot of carbohydrate-rich foods, including pasta you can get for a dollar, macaroni and cheese, and almost any type of potato. Anything will not spoil.

There were moments when I couldn’t stop crying because of our situation

We’ve learned to make it happen – at least for the time being. There is a river nearby to be washed. We put our swimwear on to go in. But we’ll go naked if it’s hot and there’s no one else around. In fact, heat is more difficult to deal with than cold. It is exhausting to be outside when you have nowhere to relax. At least you can collect them in the winter.

Looking back, the first few weeks of camping were the hardest. It was a combination of being away from my daughter for so long and fear of the unknown. Moments passed – mostly on my way back from work – I couldn’t stop crying. I’ll think, “I’m done with this today, but I don’t have a home to go to.” I only have a tent.

My husband has been my rock and he has made me sane.

Lauren and Benji Baher pose in front of their tent with Lauren holding the couple's dog Ellie in her arms.

Bahrs and Elie.Lauren Baher

We didn’t really broadcast our status. When someone finds out that you are homeless, it becomes uncomfortable. It’s scary for them.

Benji and I have received a lot of advice from the nonprofit organization that gave us the tent. They said the latest census showed more than 4,000 homeless people in Maine. But only those who reported that they were homeless. We are on a waiting list for Section 8 housing, but they told us it would take five to eight years. We applied to the Public Assistance Fund but were rejected because our income was considered too high.

Right now, we’re having a daily discussion about what to do next. We hardly work hard, we don’t know how to pay even the cheap winter rent. At this point in our lives – I’m 36 and my husband is 30 – we might get an apartment to lose right away.

The stereotype of a homeless person is one whose drug use has resulted in violent sleep. But this is not our situation. It is more difficult than ever to be poor in this country.

In response to the numerous offers of donations, the guard created Go Fund Me.

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