Tony Bozzo, 34, owned an insurance company and was making decent money — until he grew tired of his conventional life. So he let his company’s licenses expire and bought a van, which he named Bertha, and moved it to the Herron School of Art and Design's parking lot at IUPUI, where he's currently enrolled.
He now calls Bertha his home.
With the economy hitting many people close to home - and forcing many to downsize their homes - NUVO decided to ask Tony for advice on living in one's vehicle. Check out an interview with him below the tips.
Tony’s top five tips for living in your vehicle
1. Get the right habitat. If you see the experience coming in your future and you have the resources, buy a conversion van, not an SUV, not an RV, not a big car. The key is to maximize comfort and provide yourself with as much access as possible. You can’t just park an RV anywhere, you know.
2. Setting is essential. Settle in and examine your needs. You now have shelter; next, get organized and find a spot that is secluded, legal, and close to food, showers and bathrooms. Gyms are good, but so is the YMCA or areas surrounding shopping centers.
3. Creature comforts are important. If you’re lucky enough to be in the position of the unconventionally housed in a temperate environment, good for you. If not, buy a small generator or find a plug-in, and buy a small space heater that automatically shuts off if it’s tipped over or overheats. Oh, and buy some blankets. If it’s summer, take a look into small, in-room air conditioner units, which can work in vans.
4. Stay sustained. Focus on some basic wants and develop efficiency. Get a cooler for food, put it in the trunk and start eating dry foods that store easily, like nuts and seeds for snacks and canned goods if necessary. Get some vitamins.
5. Always keep a good attitude. This will not only help your peace of mind, but also help build and maintain relationships that are now vital. No more telling people to beat it. You’re vulnerable, and the bad ones will take off on their own. Just relax.
Most importantly: The van, SUV, car or RV isn’t your home — the world is. You just sleep in the vehicle. Engage in your environment and see your experience as a special one. Learn to appreciate the unappreciated and utilize your experience as a period of growth. Attitude is everything.
Tony Bozzo is Italian, bearded and moderately tall. He has an aura of Frank Zappa-ness — erudition and eccentricity. The van seems like a good place for him; he appears content and is more than willing to expound upon his experience. For the purposes of this interview, Tony took me down to the White River Parkway to, as he put it, “perpetuate the stereotype of the man in the van by the river.”
NUVO: How long have you been living in the van?
Bozzo: Bertha’s been around since the end of August. It was $1,300. Was asking $1,500, but without even talking him down, I told him what I was doing and he said ‘$1,300 and it’s yours.’
NUVO: Is this part of some larger movement, a statement, an eco-conscious choice or what?
Bozzo: There is a movement. It’s called “Home-Free” — somewhat like the retired generation buying an RV and hitting the road. Well, now it’s happening to younger individuals. But, I didn’t find out about it until after the fact. It’s almost like that, what’s that concept where little strikes of genius happen all over the place?
NUVO: Who were you and who are you now?
Bozzo: I was a salesman for 13 years. Put myself through school initially, before dropping out, by selling Chemlawn, and then I started making money with financing, financing cars and then I moved to mortgages and then hit insurance and owned my own company. Then the mortgage fallout happened. I started Time Line Investments LLC in 2005.
NUVO: Is that still around?
Bozzo: It is. I need to pay my taxes (laughs), but it’s still here. So, 13 years of sales, owned my own business, but the whole time I was never really satisfied. I never really found my niche. I never found the kind of contentment that kind of thing is supposed to give you. So, I went back to school and fell in with the nonprofit type crowd.
NUVO: What’s your major at IUPUI?
Bozzo: Anthropology, philosophy, geography. I’ll be done in August.
NUVO: What’s the plan with those?
Bozzo: This has really exposed me to more than just simply making money. The not-for-profit thing is fascinating. It’s a form of socialism that I can support. I’m not anti-capitalist or anything, but I do think we need a little more socialism injected in to our system. It’s a good combination of business and the implied aspects of anthropology, philosophy and geography.
NUVO: Do people say you’re foolish for living in a van?
Bozzo: There are individuals that are constantly humbling you and then there are jackasses… either because they don’t understand or it’s out of fear or it’s some weird form of jealousy. doing. (My friends), they’re all supportive, the circle around me now is just fantastic. You just end up in a good place socially and internally. It’s almost spiritual. I’m following my bliss and you end up attracting individuals that are there to support that. I wasn’t forced into this like a lot of the homeless that are out there now.
NUVO: Would you technically define yourself as homeless?
Bozzo: In the conventional sense, yes, but I don’t believe in that. I have a home. I have a sense of home. I have a sense of the people around me that help create that feeling of home. I think that a lot of homeless people do, too, which is where the definition gets a little iffy. It’s not always just about having the conventional place of what’s defined as home.
NUVO: How long are you going to stay in the van?
Bozzo: I promised myself to stay here until next August, but, hey (laughs), it’s working out.
NUVO: Can you see yourself staying longer?
Bozzo: Yeah. But, don’t let ‘her’ hear me; I might have to update Bertha one of these days.
NUVO: What was the transitional process from apartment to Bertha?
Bozzo: I tried to prep myself. My friend and I had a contest to see who could go without electricity. He lasted two a half weeks and I followed through. The whole point was I was trying to make my apartment as miserable possible, so getting into the van would be a positive experience. So, in the middle of July, I had no electricity. It was a hundred degrees in my apartment and it was just miserable, dude - cold showers, that kind of stuff. So, when I got in to the van, it was relief and it’s been positive the whole way. The only negative lately has been the outside social pressure that’s coming.
NUVO: Outside social pressure in what sense?
Bozzo: With the police on campus. It’s interesting, you know, because I’m not even doing anything.
NUVO: Have you moved the van?
Bozzo: Yeah, I moved it to the parking garage. You know, I don’t want to get nailed because right now that’s the only thing I have. So, I went in to the garage for a night and then I came back and it stopped. Right now, I like the parking lot because I feel open. You’re not confined. But, it’s not the same feel, dude. You’re in this built structure. I’m not doing anything illegal. I’m not mooching at all. I paid for everything I’m consuming. I’m suckling at the teat of the university. And thank God for them, you know. I’m not a religious guy, but without these guys I wouldn’t have the opportunity to make this kind of transition.
NUVO: What about everyday things?
Bozzo: It’s all about the institution, IUPUI. I pay all my dues. I pay all my fees. So, in the morning, I get up and I go to gym. I take a shower and the bathrooms are there when they’re open. Then, I rely on individuals like (my friend) Angela and do laundry over there. It’s all about relationships. The gas tank has become a mailbox. I’m eating better now than before. Stuff that I keep in the van can’t spoil. A lot of dry goods; your nuts, seeds, berries. No more microwavable dinners. The next thing is to be able to eat off the environment. Wild onions are great. I don’t see myself being that needy for food really. This is a choice of needs over wants.
NUVO: How well do you sleep?
Bozzo: I used to sleep all sprawled out, but now I’ve ended up in the fetal position. It’s fine. I take melatonin on occasion if I’m really stressed out. I’m really not a sound sleeper. I’m pretty jumpy anyway, but it hasn’t been a problem. You’re in your little capsule. It’s been getting cold lately, but I’ll warm it up and make it super hot in there and then I have a down comforter and all that kind of stuff.
NUVO: What’s your primary source of income now?
Bozzo: Student loans and work-study. I still need money. Let’s say I run out of gas or I need to pay for parking. You couldn’t make it in an urban environment without cash.
NUVO: How much do you estimate you save a month as compared to when you were living in an apartment?
Bozzo: Oh, $1,000 a month not including the blow out on food every once in a while. Money to me is like a personal form of autonomy. The value of it is what you can buy. And I’ve recently been seeing somebody.
NUVO: So, you have a girlfriend? How does she feel about the living situation?
Bozzo: She actually met me after I moved into it, so she didn’t know my previous life. It’s really, really good. She gets it.