This post contains spoilers for the TV Show Atlanta on FX.
The critically acclaimed television show Atlanta ended its 10 episode first season in an unexpected place, but one that is dear to our hearts: a self-storage unit.
The episode ends with the main character, Earn (portrayed by show creator, rapper and comedian Donald Glover), retiring for the night in his storage facility holding on to the only money in his name: two $100 bills.
The series follows Earn as he struggles to make ends meet by managing his cousin Paper Boi’s burgeoning rap career. Earn’s main motivation is taking care of his baby daughter, and maybe getting back on good terms with his daughter’s mother, Van, while he is at it.
In the last episode, Earn made his first payday from managing Paper Boi, but gives all but $200 to Van. Instead of staying at her place or on someone else’s couch as he usually does, Earn makes his way back to this self-storage unit to spend the night.
Why Does He Do It?
He has a light and a makeshift bed already there, so we know it’s not the first time. As Earn himself says, he’s broke. But he doesn’t want to borrow any more money from his parents, or mooch off of Paper Boi’s success. And he definitely doesn’t want to stay at Van’s until he can establish himself as a steady provider for his daughter. For right now, the only other option within his means is a self-storage facility.
Part of Earn’s character arc through the first season is going from being a moocher who would stay at Vanessa’s house even though he himself doesn’t feel like he deserves to be there, to being someone who would stay in a cramped room not fit for human habitation because he no longer wants to rely on other people to support him.
(For more on the scene check out Bustle.com’s thoughtful review)
But What Is It Really Like to Live in a Storage Unit?
As a member of the self-storage industry, we know that this is a really sensitive issue for facility owners and the people that attempt to live inside of a storage unit. Storage units are meant for your stuff, not for living in—and doing so is not legal.
There is no running water or ventilation, and electricity is uncommon. A lack of these amenities creates unsanitary conditions when someone is living in a unit, not to mention an increased risk of a fire that could affect other people’s belongings.
But for those who do live in a storage unit, they often feel as though their only other option was the street.
“Finding safe, dry, warm, affordable housing is a problem for the homeless,” said Becky Blanton, a freelance writer who lived in a storage unit for four months in 2006.
Similar to Earn, Blanton’s journey of rebuilding her life started in a self-storage unit, despite how illegal, unpleasant and risky it was.
“I found out a lot about what it takes to live in a storage unit. The key is remaining invisible. And you can’t tell anyone what you’re doing,” Blanton told SpareFoot in a 2013 interview.
A Bad Solution to a Real Problem
Blanton had to move once winter started approaching and temperatures started to reach freezing. In the years that followed, Blanton overcame depression, got a job at a newspaper and even gave a TED talk about her experiences with homelessness. She has her own apartment now, too.
While the manager of the facility turned a blind eye to Blanton, many responded to our article saying that they wouldn’t allow it.
One storage manager wrote:
As much as I wish there were more I could do for them, there’s no way I would let them live onsite. I would make phone calls for them, help them find services, as I have done for other tenants and do whatever I could but if I let them live on site, I might be living in the unit next to them when it was discovered.
Another commenter shared their own experience living in a storage unit:
I am in a storage unit, climate control right now. It is very short term I hope but hard to come and go without being noticed as so many of the storage places around here have cameras and motion dectors etc. I pray its OK just for now. I lost my home and almost all I have in a fire. The shelters nearby are all full. American red cross gave me food vouchers and some clothes that’s it. I work PT at an IHOP, have a bike I peddle 6miles to work and 6miles back. It is hard! Non perishable foods, a sleeping bag on concrete floor. I pray I don’t get caught, I would be terrified to go to jail, but it is safer than in the streets.
How Common Is It?
It is hard to gauge exactly how widespread the practice of living in storage is. An informal survey conducted by SpareFoot found that five out of 41 homeless social service providers across the country were currently helping clients who were living in storage. One respondent said that they estimate about seven percent of the homeless population attempt to live in a storage unit at some point.
We frequently come across news stories about people living in storage, and it doesn’t always end well for them. In Colorado this year, a man living in storage was found shot dead inside his unit. In Texas, a woman was arrested for endangering her 7-year-old by living in a unit.
So while we congratulate Earn on his new found independence and dedication to the grind, we can’t condone his choice of sleeping quarters. I hope he stays safe until the next season debuts.