Getting Creative with Housing

Student builds his own home in truck


Michael O’Mahony travels all over to different nature reserves in his home, a Dodge RAM. His favorite location, Yuma, Arizona.

Isaac Gutierrez, Managing Editor

In Southern California, where housing is scarce and pricey, some students have found alternatives.

“I thought to myself, ‘Well, why don’t I take the money it would cost to pay rent for one semester and put it into making something that’ll last longer?’” said Michael O’Mahony, a 21-year-old Cal State LA film student.

So, he worked at a movie theater to save up $2,000 then he and his dad spent one-and-a-half months during the summer to build a home in his Dodge Ram. O’Mahony said he loves the self-sufficiency, and fondly calls his truck the “little box that travels.”’

“Everything is hand-built, for the most part, except stuff I added on later, like my stove,” he said.

Although O’Mahony, who used to live in the dorms, chooses to live in his truck, a growing number of students and their families live in mobile housing because they have no other choice.

In California colleges, the number of students experiencing homelessness is nearly one in every five — including about 2 percent who live in campers, according to a survey done in March 2019 by the Hope Center

The toughest part has been getting parking tickets when he was a housing as well as this semester: “I’ve been ticketed a few times. Parking here is relentless.” 

That may be so, but the bright spots outweigh the negative.  Aside from saving rent money, being able to go on road trips and spend time outdoors makes the trouble worth it. O’Mahony can literally drive to wherever he wants, his favorite destination being Arizona, live there a short while and come back whenever he needs to. 

When it comes to basic necessities, such as hygiene, O’Mahony has to be creative. He gets by thanks to student perks and being restricted on his diet.

“When I’m not traveling, I like to shower in the gym here at school or Planet Fitness,” said O’Mahony. “I can’t just eat fast food. My [truck] is too tall for drive-thrus [and] I can’t eat out past 10 p.m.” Saving money on utilities and food helps his budget throughout the semester. 

For leisure, a simple DVD player and some movies is all he needs. “Since I don’t have my own hotspot for internet, I’ve invested in a DVD player and when I have down time, I like to just chill and watch some of my favorite movies,” O’Mahony said. 

He said one of his top priorities after graduation is trying to sustain his nomadic lifestyle at that point and sharing his journey on social media to help others who are considering doing the same thing: “I’ve built this up over and over, learned from my mistakes and now I finally have something that works.”


This story was produced for JOUR 3910 University TImes.