Living In Van-Couver – “There’s no way they can afford a mortgage in Vancouver. I know one emergency first-responder who lived in his van to save enough money to afford a downpayment.”

Mathew Arthur, a Vancouver-based designer, checks email in his converted 1987 Dodge Ram Prospector.

“Mathew Arthur ditched a renovated laneway house he shared with his two brothers to live in a cheap 45-sq. foot 1987 Dodge Ram Prospector for the next year. He’s part of the growing “van dweller” community in Vancouver, where sky-high housing costs have forced many to get creative.
The contemporary nomadic community describes itself as an “island of misfits, a family, a tribe” on a popular Yahoo! forum. Some have embraced mobile living out of necessity, while others like Arthur are doing it to challenge themselves.
“I had a good design job, but in no way found engagement in my life,” Arthur told The Huffington Post B.C.
The 30-year-old wanted to challenge his notion of comfort by engineering a personalized living space that would test his creativity.
“I iterated through ideas about living in a tent, a shipping container or a commercial space with no household amenities until I arrived at the idea of living in a van,” said Arthur in a blog he’s keeping to document his year-long nomadic venture.
In early December, Arthur bought a $500 used van off Craigslist from a farmer in the B.C. Interior. With the help of his family, the vehicle was gutted, cleaned of mice feces and rebuilt with $400 worth of furniture, wiring and insulation.
In the small space, the van has four main areas: the kitchen and sink, work space, storage and bed. Without a personal toilet or shower, he has a daily excuse to go to yoga for exercise and to use the studio’s facilities.
The difference has shown in his savings: his monthly rent has reduced from $850 to a $200 parking fee plus $50 for hydro.
The tiny living space has forced Arthur to be mindful of his use of resources; he’s producing less garbage by preparing simple, fresh foods, and is using less water and electricity overall.
“The one thing that I took for granted was the freedom to move room to room,” said Arthur of living in a house. However, the shift from a 700-sq. foot house to a van parked in an East Vancouver alley has its quirks.
More people go through the alleyway than he anticipated. He’s befriended a middle-aged woman named Edie who periodically strolls through collecting bottles from the neighbourhood’s recycle bins. The occasional drunk lovers’ midnight fight is also easily audible through the van’s walls.”

– from ‘Mobile Living: Vancouver Van Dwellers’ Nomadic Lives’, Zi-Ann Lum, Huffington Post BC, 27 Jan 2013. All photos Mathew Arthur.


“They’re a merry band of vagabonds, living in their vehicles not so much because they can’t afford rent or a mortgage — though that’s part of it — but to cast off the chains of mainstream consumer living.
They’re van-dwellers and RV gypsies, free as birds and believing that your possessions in the end wind up possessing you.
“I had all of this stuff,” said 30-year-old Shawn Linley, sitting in his Econoline RV in North Vancouver. “Stuff, stuff, stuff, so much stuff.
“I don’t want a gas-powered weed-eater any more. I don’t want a huge flatscreen TV. I don’t need ’em.
“I’m never going to live in an apartment again or buy another house.”
Linley, like many vehicle-dwellers in B.C., is a journeyman tradesman. There are no official numbers of how many people live in their vehicles in Metro Vancouver, but it’s probably more than people think.
There are little mobile squatters’ camps all over the Lower Mainland — beside treed North Shore creeks, in industrial zones, beside East Van and Burnaby parks and SkyTrain stations, and along the beaches of Kitsilano and Point Grey
It is a sub-culture that is by definition discreet and shadowy, moving every so often to avoid drawing attention.
“Basically, they’re untraceable, people who are good at flying under the radar,” said Judy Graves, advocate for the homeless with the City of Vancouver.
For the most part they have jobs, she said, at least seasonally.
“And some people just do not believe in paying rent, and there’s no way they can afford a mortgage in Vancouver,” Graves said. “In fact, I know one emergency first-responder in Vancouver who lived in his van to save enough money to afford a downpayment.”

– from Living in a vehicle confers freedom from ‘stuff’, Gordon McIntyre, The Province, 11 Feb 2013 [hat-tip Aldus Huxtable]


43 responses to “Living In Van-Couver – “There’s no way they can afford a mortgage in Vancouver. I know one emergency first-responder who lived in his van to save enough money to afford a downpayment.”

  1. Oh I do hope that this embeds properly, if not could you please correct VREAA?

  2. I have a friend who lives in a mid 90’s camper on the back of a newer full size pickup truck here in Calgary. His place is super clean, it has everything he needs except a shower, but that is why he goes to the nearby gym everyday, He has a small six figure inehritance in the bank and a full time job @ $20 an hour. Told me he saves $800 a month as the vehicle is paid for. Known him for 5 years……..

  3. [NoteToEd: We were ‘TrailBlazers’ in so many ways… I suppose you could say we were, veritably, the ‘VanGuard’.]

    • That’s a cherry van! Perhaps the truly outrageous Vancouverite could shop for a liquidation priced party bus south of the border.

      • Fond memories indeed, AH… mine was a ’76 Ford EconolineConversion with a 351Windsor FourBarrel notoriously christened, “TheRocket” by the BritishPressPack covering Liz’s ’83 YVR/HMS BrittaniaTour… It wasn’t ‘home’… but it could have been. You could actually see the fuel gauge moving while you drove it!

        In other news conventional housing related… everything you need to know about America’s nascent RE ‘recovery’ and your Quote ‘O TheDay, DearReaders…

        “The whale doesn’t get harpooned until it rises to the surface to blow.” – Billionaire B. Wayne Hughes

        [Bloomberg] – Billionaire Hughes Chasing Blackstone as U.S. Rental King

        …”Hughes, 79, has purchased about 10,000 properties through his American Homes 4 Rent, making the Malibu, California-based firm the second-biggest owner of single-family rentals after Stephen Schwarzman’s Blackstone Group LP. Hughes is using $600 million from the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. and other fundraising to buy real estate, mostly at foreclosure auctions, according to Paul Saylor, chairman of CS Capital Management Inc., who advises the Alaska fund.”…

        [NoteToEd: No, it wasn’t airbrushed. There was no ‘diamond-tufted’ upholstery, 8TrackStereo, shag (carpet), mirrored deckheads or aquatic sleeping arrangements… but in ’84 it served admirably to circumnavigate the GreatWhiteNorth from YVR to NFLD and back…]

      • Ralph Cramdown

        Ford knew what it was doing. One of the trim levels on the Econoline was the “Chateau.”

    • had a slightly different take … story recalled mad max … suppose that makes sense and will even more so in a post-nuclear xerox apocalypse … curious example … … ps. nem are you going to be gyro captain?

  4. Real Estate Tsunami

    I just saw a report a few days ago about people living in cages in HongKong.

    • Interesting post. Yes I have known one or two as well who lived that way. One friend camped out for years in a 12 foot two-wheel travel trailer at the back of the yard of another friend. He paid 200 a month for the benefit and peed in the woods which were adjacent to the house in Burnaby Mountain. The guy saved a fortune but he was a drunk and spent every last cent of his savings on booze……probably still living there after all these years.

    • Eugh can we please retire the overtly racist and totally annoying “HongCouver” moniker? Ha ha, we get it. There are lots of asians here. Ha ha. Jesus…

      • It may be annoying, but how is it racist? Is Vanhattan racist too?

      • Real Estate Tsunami

        Splittist, anti free speech cadre.
        10 months of hard labour at Apple factory for you!

      • and how is it racist?
        is Vanjing racist too?
        People’s Republic of Richmond?

        Jes… uh, I mean
        Lord K’tulu….

      • It tends to be uttered with distaste, as a slur. It’s not usually said innocently. At the very least its annoying, but it’s usually a code word for something else that frankly we should be above by now.

      • [NoteToEd: Having narrowly escaped the gravitational pull of the TransTemporalInterGalactic VancouverHousingBubble… albeit, at the perilous cost of obliging CaptainKirk, et al to engage WarpSpeedHotPursuit… Khan FlatScreenBuyersRemorse suddenly manifests as a wish that he’d been kinder to that ChineseFellow at MetroTown’s FutureShop. And yes, the ‘Vulcan’ next to Ensign Sulu was definitely a lot skinnier in those days.]

      • 4SlicesofCheese

        I wouldnt say it is racist, but RET’s comment absolutely made no sense.

      • Sorry for off-top, Racism in people’s heads, not in words.
        Could it be that “HongCouver” is a big honour for Van?
        Wealthy Asians have been selecting this land, then introduce 3rd official language, etc.
        Have you ever seen a married couple: hi is young white male and she is old Chinese woman? Does it reveal a reality?

      • 4SlicesofCheese

        Kook, are you sure you didn’t mean Gook?

  5. Lots of folks living in vehicles in Williston, North Dakota (Bakken) as well:

  6. I’m sure lots of single guys in BC do just that… camping out in a van. I used to see folks sleeping in their cars in Burnaby and New Westminster all the time ( kind of creepy since some of the don’t have tinted windows). You can only do that short term and if you single unless you have mental health issues and just don’t care much for anyting.

  7. 500 for a rat feces infested van? Only in Vancouver, 250 at most after the “van” bubble bursts.

  8. There used to be a family that lived in a van on Mackenzie & 20th, right by Carnarvon Park. They would dash over the field to use the bathroom but since it did get locked up nightly, they would frequently just use the park. It was somewhat disturbing especially since the four or five year old that lived in the van didn’t appear to have been near a sink or comb in a long time. I did call Social Services after observing them for a month or so while taking my kids to school and only hope they got their lives sorted out. This type of living arrangement is, as Benny said, only suitable for a very few people.


    Just came across this blog post by a successful Vancouver artist, they are being displaced as their rental home is being put up for sale. Note the previous post where their work is featured in a magazine next to brands like Marimekko, Ralph Lauren Home and Hermes.

  10. This reminds me of a tweet I sent last year on the subject of affordable housing at UBC.

  11. After the housing bust in the US there was/is a lot of renewed interest in this type of thing. Also the “tiny house” movement and the like. I have no problem with people choosing asceticism and saving money, but it can’t be a long term arrangement. You have “freedom” from stuff, but you also have “freedom” from having a convenient toilet, heat, water, quiet and privacy, being in a relationship, getting married, not being seen as a bum by people in the area, etc.

  12. @naysayers … being a nomad is a time-proven adaptation strategy – for entire societies … permanent settlements aren’t necessarily a step forward … of course, the question of execution is a separate matter …

  13. The Poster Formerly Known As Anonymous

    … And for your morning stomach contents purge, head to the Vancouver Sun BusinessBC section: “Real Estate: Developers Bullish on Metro Condominium Market – ‘Well-Priced’ units near amenities, rapid transit have the advantage”

    featuring a panoply of the usual tricks: advertising masquerading as news, deliberately misleading usage of selected statistics, threats of immigration, even a new threat: that developers can and will withhold product from the markets to curtail supply….

    But it’s different this time. If you squint, and read closely between the lines, you can smell the results of loosening marketers’ anal sphincters… desperation, denial, and fear are in the subtext… see if you can spot the tells:

  14. People who would do this (live in a van) instead of examining options elsewhere in this vast and beautiful country of ours (including within BC) must be certifiably nuts.

  15. “The difference has shown in his savings: his monthly rent has reduced from $850 to a $200 parking fee plus $50 for hydro.”

    Rent… so I think it can be stated this isn’t a really house price issue but some guy fed up that costs of living are too high for his liking.

    This sounds like a guy I knew in university who lived in his VW van for a semester. I knew a few others who were camping in the woods within walking distance of campus. This is when prices were half of today’s. Plus ca change.

  16. Vancouver, the lowest wages and worst job opportunities in North America and the highest cost of living, yeah that’s a recipe for success ….what a well planed city

    • 4SlicesofCheese

      I remember someone pointing out those G&M articles were not timely, meaning this sale could have been from last summer. Probably should get more info of sale date to be sure.

  17. West Coast Woman

    Yesterday I was watching Vancouver City Council as they gave themselves an “A+” for being on target with their goal to eliminate homelessness by 2015?

    As the various Councillors primped and preened for the camera, and congratulated themselves for their housing strategy, I couldn’t help but wonder if they realize that this is how they’re accomplishing their goals – by moving the homeless out of sight.

  18. Businesses, on the other hand, will love how the consumers respond to this strategy.
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  19. my friend lived in his van in Edmonton. the thing was it wasn’t fancy. it was a 2005ish ford winstar. he didn’t have a kitchen, work space, sink of any sort. he just had a old matress in the back and ate a lot of veggies and worked at walmart. he saved soo much money it was insane. he had a extension cord and a block heater in the cold months

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