“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's millennials are dealing with the housing crisis.
“I’ve been living in my van for two years now. It’s the best choice of accommodation I’ve ever made.
A while ago I got a job in northern British Columbia. Whilst I was up there I had a bit of an epiphany. I spoke to one of the local campsites, and realized I could get a van and stay there for very little money. I knew I was going to be working the job day and night in a supervising position, so I would only be sleeping for about five or six hours, and then going back to work. That’s how I first adopted the lifestyle.
When I headed back to Vancouver, I kept the van. Before I realized that a mobile and nomadic way of living could be a possibility, I worked in an office every day. It was my life. Don’t get me wrong—I loved my work, but so much so that I was never home. I was paying heat and hot water and rent for somewhere I was never at. I showered at work, went home and slept for a couple of hours, and came back into work. I only needed a bed, so keeping the van made sense.
It’s one of those soccer-mom type vehicles, which I’ve modified pretty heavily. I have a great bed in the back, and it’s really cushy and cosy. Right now, I’m employed in the service industry part-time, and for the other half I work online as an audio transcriber. I’m very busy, so I’m only actually in the van for a couple of hours. And working from a computer means I can be quite flexible about where I park.
I love that I have no attachment to one place. If I want, I can set off immediately on a trip without worrying about paying my rent, or someone taking care of my apartment, or something bad happening to the building. I work six or seven days a week, but I only have five-hour days with my service job. So when I get any time off—even just two days—I’m gone. I get in my car and go out to the country, go on a hike, and just get out of the city. I don’t have to book a rental apartment, and I don’t have to sleep in a tent. That’s the advantage for me—not only can I go wherever I want, but I can stay there.
I save a lot of money. People expect parking to be expensive, but there’s actually a lot of free spots in Vancouver, which a lot of people just don’t notice. There’s some very cheap parking too in the sidestreets. Gas is my main expenditure, and that isn’t very much at all.
The trouble is that others don’t understand that this is a logical life choice for me, and for lots of other people in the community. I’ve found that Vancouverites make assumptions about who I am because I live in my van. I’ve been attacked a couple of times in my vehicle, because people think that I’m some kind of deranged psycho. And these aren’t individuals that are considered to be “dangerous”. They’re the nice, kind people in your neighbourhood.
The worst time was just outside downtown. The attackers obviously knew I was in the van at night, because they could see the lights. They shook the vehicle and yelled at me. People have hit the vehicle with their hands and big sticks. On one occasion, it was so bad that that my van was destroyed. I woke up one day and my tires were slashed so I couldn’t go anywhere, but then I had threatening letters telling me to leave. Another time, I went to work one day, and I came back to find that the whole engine had been wrecked. The letters they wrote to me said things like ‘we don’t want you homeless here’, and ‘drug addict’. That was in Strathcona.
I’ve always been in steady employment, and I’m well educated. I’m not a drug addict, and I’m not a drinker. I was actually in the final stages of putting a down payment on a house in Burnaby just before I got the van, but I stopped myself at the last minute because I realized I’d rather spend my money on experiences rather than a mortgage.
With social media, living in a van is becoming more and more mainstream as people publicize it. It’s not even a new idea. If you go to the much older generation, they’ll tell you that exactly the same thing was happening in the 60s and 70s. It’s a cultural idea that it’s unconventional. Now people are starting to live in their vans again, but for different reasons. Vancouver is unaffordable, and living in a vehicle is a viable alternative."
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