House sitting, living in a car
SARANAC LAKE — Matt Barkley moved from Naples, New York, to Saranac Lake in March to work at St. Regis Canoe Outfitters, but he couldn’t find anywhere to live.
He stayed with some friends for a bit but had to move out. He was homeless for a week-and-a-half, living out of his car, sleeping at campsites and in parking lots.
“I picked a horrible week to be homeless,” Barkley said. “It snowed one night; it rained for two.”
Getting clean was also a challenge; it was too cold to bathe in the lake.
Barkley said he’s been smart with his money, so he had enough cash to eat out on some nights.
He had a night of reprieve when he cat-sat for some friends.
Barkley joked about it at work and tried to keep the stress from getting to him.
“I try to look at things very positively,” he said. “I was like, ‘That’s life.’ You know? Life is life and you’ve just got to roll with it because if you’re freaking out or getting upset or letting it get you down, you’re not going to find those open doors.”
Barkley searched Craigslist and Facebook for listings every night. The only apartment he scored a walk-through on was $650 a month, plus utilities, but he’d have to cook his dinner on a hot plate on the floor.
“I feel like if I’m paying that, I want to be able to cook something not on the floor,” he said. “I have a job here. I have a life.”
Barkley’s parents helped him rent a hotel room for two nights so he could use the WiFi — he has limited phone data — and dedicate his time to his search.
Finally, he met someone who had a house that wasn’t being used. They made a temporary deal for him to live there and “house-sit.” He was finally able to relax for a month and not have to worry about where he’ll sleep at night. He isn’t sure how long this situation will last, so he’s still searching. He wants to stay in the area because he’s made a lot of friends and enjoys the wilderness.
Barkley is a fish and wildlife technician with the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s small mammals research project. He was supposed to move here for the job last year, but the coronavirus pandemic stripped state funding for his position. A year later, the job was available again. He had seen plenty of apartments in 2020, but this year there weren’t any.
“It was a lot more difficult than I thought it was going to be,” Barkley said of the housing search.
At one point, when he was living in his car, he considered paying for a short-term rental for a night so he could do laundry and take a shower.
“I looked up Airbnbs in the area and 150 popped up,” Barkley said. “I was like, ‘There’s all these houses? And I don’t have a place to live?’
“I never saw them as a problem until I was on the other side of it.”