J.P. Lorence never liked living indoors. For many years, he has flitted between homelessness and short-term housing. Most recently, he lived in an RV near Commercial Drive, borrowing water from a nearby park, saving money and spending his nights working on his writing.
“The hardest part was finding electricity, honestly,” he said.
Three months ago, Lorence’s vehicle was towed. Now, he and others at risk of homelessness are asking the city to let them remain in one of the few alternatives to living on the streets: their cars.
The Vancouver 2019 homeless count tallied a record 2,223 people who identified as homeless, including 1,609 with no fixed address.
Those numbers are likely an underestimation, and it is hard to know how many live in cars. But Lorence estimates well over 100 live in the area near Vernon Drive in Strathcona.
Not all are homeless. Some, like Peter Vincelli, hold full-time jobs, but live in RVs to save money in North America’s most expensive housing market.
“I think it should be illegal to charge people that amount of money to live in Vancouver,” said Vincelli. “I’m just waiting for the market to dip.”
Lorence calls Vincelli “the godfather” of the area. He is known to help fix up damaged campers, help people file insurance, or warn them about garbage accumulation, which tends to attract complaints and city workers.
He says for many of his neighbours on disability or pension payments, RVs are the only alternative to single-room occupancy units known for unsanitary and unsafe conditions.
In some cities, particularly in the United States, it is illegal to live in a vehicle. The City of Vancouver said in a statement that it is aware of the varied experiences of people living in cars and does not consider it an offence, although owners still have to obey parking regulations.
“Not all people parking and living in RVs are at risk of experiencing homelessness, nor do they all require support, but the city is committed to those who are and do require assistance,” the statement said.
The statement said vehicle owners are given at least two warnings before being towed. But Lorence says his towing caught him by surprise. He has since been forced to live in a shelter, which limits the hours he can work at night.
Lorence said he is running out of options in the city, and may look to relocate to Ontario once winter passes.
“I wouldn’t be there, except now I don’t have a choice,” he said.
Lorence acknowledges living in an RV, for most, isn’t ideal. Some of the other vehicle owners created problems in the neighbourhood by stealing electricity or accumulating garbage.
But he believes it is a better alternative to tenting on the street — a subject that has gained visibility and concern, especially as remaining residents of a tent city in Oppenheimer Park continue to disobey a park board eviction notice.
“Many of these residents are capable and gainfully employed,” he wrote in an essay published online. “Many are couples, many are just regular people attempting to escape the challenges of tenant life in Vancouver.”