GVSU student to live out of a van all year

GVL/Sanda Vazgec

Sanda Vazgec

GVL/Sanda Vazgec

Sanda Vazgec

Deciding on a place to live can be one of the most stressful decisions a college student has to make. Students typically have three options when it comes to housing: living on campus, off campus or commuting from home. However, one Grand Valley State University senior has found an alternative to the typical college housing situation.

For the next year, Jake Czerwinski will wake up every morning in his 1992 Dodge B350 van named Maive, which he has refurbished to make into a fully functional living space.

With the lease for his house coming to an end, two of his roommates set to study abroad for the summer and another spending the break at home, Czerwinski decided he didn’t want to spend the summer looking for places to live.

“I don’t remember the first time I saw someone living in a van and thought maybe that was an idea or if someone just said something as a joke,” Czerwinski said. “But it came up and I just thought that’s what I’m going to do.”

When Czerwinski mentioned his plans to his friends and family they didn’t think much of it or take it very seriously. That was until he actually bought the van.

His search for a van began in early March before his spring break trip to Fort Lauderdale. After looking on Craig’s List for vans in Florida, he found one that he liked, made a phone call and was set to have a test drive upon his arrival.

“My friends dropped me off to see the van and I went into the dealership to talk to the guy,” Czerwinski said. “When I looked outside I could see them looking at the van holding their heads like ‘what is he thinking.’”

Despite running well on his first test drive, Czerwinski said the roof was in pretty bad shape and when he went in to actually purchase the vehicle, the battery was dead.

After spending some time waiting for the battery to charge he was eventually able to negotiate with the owner to have a new battery put in. Czerwinski gave the owner $1,400 and officially purchased his new home.

“I kept asking him if he was sure about this, the car had weeds growing inside of it,” said Conor Penning, Czerwinski’s friend. “But at the same time in the back of mind I know how much of a hard worker Jake is, so I figured if anyone can pull this off it’s him.”

Subsequently, the van served as the group’s main transportation during their spring break trip. But the ride wasn’t so pleasant once the van embarked on its 1,450-mile long trek back to Michigan. With open vents and no insulation, the ride was cold and uncomfortable for the next 24 hours of driving.

Once they arrived back home, Czerwinski started researching ideas and making blueprints for his project.

Living in the van comes with a deeper meaning than just saving some money for Czerwinski. His journey is fueled by living solely within his means, his religious beliefs which center around helping others and proving to himself that he can live and be happy with having only the things he needs.

“Everyone wants everything they can have, and that’s just not how I see it,” Czerwinski said. “I look at helping people as the No. 1 thing, not spending all of the money you make on yourself.”

While he said he cannot contribute to the community financially, he spends his time volunteering at local ministries and hopes to do more in the future with helping those in need.

“He’s always had this minimalistic lifestyle and he lives by his word,” said Alex Tollis, another friend of Czerwinski. “This whole experience shows a lot about his character. He’s the most humble, genuine guy and when he says he’s going to do something, he does it.”

Czerwinski said his friends and family were concerned at the beginning, but are now supportive and excited about his decision after seeing the progress he’s made on the renovation.

Studying math and engineering combined with his job as a machinist helped Czerwinski plan and execute his project.

The van is equipped with LED lights on the ceiling so the area is fully lit at night. There is a sink with running water from a hand pump where he can brush his teeth, wash his face and hands.

A solar panel on the top of the van charges a battery inside, which then goes through a converter to ensure the correct voltage is being output. There are electrical outlets throughout the walls where he can plug in his phone and computer.

Czerwinski built a storage unit on one side that houses his entire wardrobe, and one of the doors also folds down to act as a workspace for homework.

His meals are usually eaten at work, but he also has a small propane grill for when he’d like to make meals from home.

A twin-size futon mattress lies on an apparatus made from a garage door, which lays flat with the pull of a pin.

He showers daily at the YMCA and does his laundry at nearby Laundromats.

Czerwinski plans to live in his van for the rest of the school year and the journey will be documented by Tollis in a short film.