My car thermometer registered a blistering 90 degrees Tuesday as I rounded the corner of Water Street in Waterville’s South End, heading toward the ballfield.

I looked to my left where, on the edge of a large dirt parking lot, was a white van parked in the shade under a row of maple trees. The driver’s side door was open and there sat a man with shoulder-length white hair, white eyebrows and beard.

As I drove closer and parked, I could see through the open side door a makeshift home of sorts that included a bed and blankets, clothes, cans of food, stacks of papers, water bottles and other items, packed right up to the roof. Makeshift wooden shelves lined the sides and rear of the van, which was carpeted, and the front passenger seat was littered with plastic vitamin bottles.

“This is my eighth year of living in my van,” the man said. “I did it intentionally. I’ve been in Waterville five years.”

I wanted to learn more about him and he was agreeable to that as long as I didn’t identify him by his name, take a photo or say where he comes from. He said he is 82, was an electrical engineer for 28 years, married and divorced twice, had two kids with whom he doesn’t stay in touch. He decided eight years ago, when he was 74, that he wanted to know what it is like to be homeless, so he started living in the van.

“My mother always said if you want to understand other people, walk in their moccasins,” he said.


The man said he talks to homeless people to find out why they live on the street and to try to convince them to change their ways.

“They’ve got to heal from that,” he said. “It isn’t easy. I gave money to the homeless, and now I don’t have any.”

He also gives away food and water, he said. He doesn’t eat much himself and gave up red meat when he was 30 because he decided it’s bad for you.

He lives on Social Security income and gets his mail at a United Parcel Service box (he doesn’t go to the post office), he said. He likes Waterville because no one bothers him. At night, he parks his van at Walmart or near the Two Cent Bridge and tries not to drive around much during the day because gas is so expensive and he wants to save up for a piece of land.

“The cops are good here,” he said. “They leave me alone. They’re nice. They look at me and want to make sure I’m alright. That’s why I stay here. There’s a lot of towns I’ve been through. I like Waterville better, I just feel comfortable here. I feel there’s a peace here. I don’t have any worries here. Other places, you got to be looking over your shoulder.”

I noticed a shutter-sized structure on the van’s roof and asked what it was. He said it is a solar panel that charges his batteries, a power brick that he uses to power his phone, a tablet on which he watches TV and a small, black 5-volt fan attached to his steering wheel. I asked if he is very cold, sleeping in the van in winter.


“I have propane heaters if I need them but I usually don’t. I have a wool blanket back there, nice and thick, and a couple more blankets.”

He also built insulation panels for all the windows using poster board wrapped in packing tape. Each panel is cut to the size and shape of the windows.

“It makes a big difference,” he said.

To the left of his steering wheel was a small cardboard box, wrapped all around with gray duct tape. In it were scissors, pencils, a comb, hair brush, lens cleaner and a large stainless steel spoon he said he disinfects with a spray bottle containing apple cider vinegar.

“I spray it on, let it stay a few seconds and wipe it, and it’s done,” he said.

He is about 6 feet tall, with blue eyes, and he was wearing a clean pair of blue jeans and a gray T-shirt and sneakers. He was well-spoken and I could tell he was smart.


I asked him where he wants to be in five years.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Wherever God brings me, I guess. He’s the one who spends time with me. If I need to get something done, I say, ‘Hey, God, I need to do this. Is there any help coming or are you just going to kick the obstacles out of the way?’ That way, I do it by myself, with assistance. That’s the best way to do it.”

He told me he had good parents who taught him the right way to live.

“My mother’s love is what got my head and my heart straight,” he said.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 35 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She is the author of the book, “Comfort is an Old Barn,” a collection of her curated columns, published in 2023 by Islandport Press. She may be reached at For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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