“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]