November 28, 2020


Linda Longe came to the parking lot needing a place to sleep. She never expected it would become her home.

For decades, she had lived in a rented trailer in Stillwater, with geraniums and roses planted outside. But when mold took over the dilapidated home and its owner refused to help, Longe put most of her possessions in a storage unit, packed up her black SUV and drove away.

She parked for a time at a Wal-Mart but was soon told she couldn’t sleep there. So Longe, unable to afford something better, found a quiet parking lot in front of a shuttered store where people and the police rarely bother her.

She’s been there for two years now, she said. Her bed is the passenger seat. Her yard is the surrounding pavement. She is 63 years old.

“I had to get out of that place where I was living,” Longe said, sitting at the edge of the SUV’s trunk. “At least here, there’s no mold.”

During that first winter, Longe would wake up during the night to turn on the vehicle and blast the heat. She kept two parrots, Sunflower and Ladybug, with her then.

But by last winter, the SUV would no longer turn on. So Longe gave the parrots away and suffered through the cold alone. With no heat, she wraps herself in a sleeping bag, insulation covering the windows.

Saratoga County is generally a prosperous place, but there, like everywhere, people fall through the cracks. Pointing to a car across the parking lot where a homeless man seems to be living, Longe said she has watched many people come and go. She has seen families with children living in cars there, too.

“There’s been so many different ones, it’s hard to remember them all,” she said. “I’m the only one who seems to be stuck here.”

In the parking lot, Longe has built a life and a routine. She has a grocery store, Dollar Store and laundromat nearby. She can walk to her post office box and her storage unit, where she listens to the radio, microwaves food and charges her phone. She sweeps the pavement around the SUV and its flattened tires. She shovels when the snow falls.

When I first spoke with Longe, on a gorgeous afternoon this week, she had placed storage bins on the pavement and was organizing her clothes. Smiling shyly, she paused to tell me her story. For her protection, I’ve decided not to specify her location.

Plenty of people already know she’s there. Sometimes, they drive up and hand her money or gift certificates, or leave plastic bags filled with cans.

Otherwise, she relies on her $870 monthly disability check, money she’s been receiving since a car accident 23 years ago left her with a traumatic brain injury that still affects her memory and mental health.

“I don’t remember the accident, and I never will,” Longe told me. “But since then, everything’s been different.”

Longe grew up in Stillwater. Her