More Metro Vancouver residents turning to vans, trailers, RVs to avoid high housing costs

The Vancouver Sun, Nov 14, 2015- On Oleksandr Iaremko’s Facebook page is a poster of an old brown camper van draped in clothes and parked in the middle of nowhere with a saying underneath by Foster Hunting: “Home is where you park it.”

It’s a message Iaremko, and others in Metro Vancouver, are taking to heart, by living in vans, trailers and RVs, as a cheaper alternative to paying high-priced rents across the region.

The vehicles can be spotted in almost every municipality — in clusters on industrial lots, on residential side streets or in parking lots of big-box stores. For some, the truly homeless, vehicles are the only option in this overheated housing market, which has resulted in record low vacancy rates and high rents. For others, they are a choice, a way to buck conventional society, save money and avoid paying for someone else’s investment. In some cases, the vans or RVs have out-of-town licence plates, suggesting they are also serving as cheaper forms of accommodation for travellers to B.C.

“It has its pluses and minuses,” said Iaremko, a 26-year-old roofer who has been living in a cargo van for more than a month. “There are some conveniences. You don’t have to go home after work and it forces you out more. You’re not staying in your apartment.”

Iaremko’s van is a tidy, cosy home, with a raised bed under which he has tucked his belongings, tools and food. An electric piano is strapped to the side panel behind the driver’s seat, while sheets of plywood are tucked in beside the bed, waiting to cover the insulation he’s installing to make his home warmer for the winter. He doesn’t have the luxury of his own shower, toilet, or even a sink, but Iaremko has creative ways to make up for such shortfalls by being creative.

A raw foodie who occasionally eats cooked foods, Iaremko uses a gas-powered camp stove to make coffee and the odd fried egg, while he always parks near all-night coffee shops for those late night pit stops or to wash out his mug.

A pass to Vancouver swimming pools provides him with swims and showers, while big-box stores have high-speed and super-fast Internet, especially at night when no one is using it.

“I’m flexible with this life,” he said, but noted it’s not for everyone. “You’re stepping outside your comfort zone and that’s how you grow.”

City officials say they have no idea how many people are living in their vehicles, either by necessity or choice. In the annual homeless count in Vancouver, such people are lumped in with the so-called “hidden homeless” — people who do not have a rented place of their own, but stay in “other” places, such as jail, hostels, hotels, or a friend’s place, rather than shelters.

Ethel Whitty, a director at the Carnegie Centre who oversees Vancouver’s homeless services, said there’s no way to pinpoint how many people are truly homeless, as many don’t want to be found. But the city will reach out to them, she said, in an attempt to get them housing and income assistance. Those who live in vehicles do not qualify for welfare.

“There are just more people struggling with poverty and homelessness,” she said. “There are probably places you can park where you won’t be noticed and can stay for quite awhile.”

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