Coping with the cold while living in campers and trailers

Most are heated dangerously by propane-sourced heaters, or even by burning wood.

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If it wasn’t for COVID-19, Sean Knight figures he and his partner wouldn’t be freezing inside a recreational vehicle parked on Glen Drive, across from Regional Recycling’s Vancouver bottle depot.


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But Knight lost his job as a pipefitter two years ago after suffering a couple of strokes and, because of the pandemic, now that he’s fit to work again he hasn’t been able to find a job.

A test of his welding abilities on Boxing Day fell through because of the Arctic air mass hovering over the Lower Mainland.

“I’ve had it colder outside, I used to live in northern Alberta, but I had a house then,” he said.

He moved to Metro Vancouver two years ago and stayed with family and acquaintances at first, then in shelters for the past year until he got an old RV at the beginning of December. The RV’s battery is dead and he has no money to buy a new battery.

His vehicle is heated by igniting the propane stove. To save money, he and his partner only heat the vehicle overnight.


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It was only eight months ago on Slocan Street that a 53-year-old man died and his friend barely made it out of his RV with third-degree burns after a suspected leaking propane hose somehow was ignited by a spark.

The RV was reduced to ash and rubble.

So yes, it’s a dangerous way to heat the inside of a camper, Knight agreed.

“It’s true, but what else do you do?” he said.

As for warm clothes, sleeping bags and blankets, Knight said the two of them were OK.

He was asked again, were the two of them warm enough?

A look crossed his face that said, ‘What do you want me to say?’

“We get by,” he repeated.

Sean Knight comments on living in an RV as Environment Canada has issued an Arctic outflow warning that predicts sub-zero temperatures for the next 10 days in Vancouver.
Sean Knight comments on living in an RV as Environment Canada has issued an Arctic outflow warning that predicts sub-zero temperatures for the next 10 days in Vancouver. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /PNG

It was -17 C with the wind chill Monday, and Environment Canada has issued an Arctic outflow warning.

A reporter and a photographer inquired at 30 RVs in total Monday, vehicles parked in North Vancouver and East Van. Some looked abandoned, others were padlocked and none had footprints in the snow by their doors.


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Where there were people inside, most politely declined to be interviewed.

Two vehicles next to Vancouver Technical Secondary School on Slocan on Monday, both converted buses across the street from where the fatal fire occurred at the beginning of April, were heated by wood fires inside.

One occupant never answered the door, the other said he had good ventilation. He got his wood from pallets he collected nearby, he said, before asking his interlopers to please leave him alone.

Over on Glen Drive, by Moe’s Home Collection and across from Home Depot, a man who only gave his first name, Dennis, said he’s $46,000 in debt from subsidizing his mother’s assisted living the last seven years of her life. Unlike Knight, Dennis lived in his van by choice and he had, he said, planned on heading somewhere warmer until COVID threw up a roadblock.


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Was this the coldest snap he’s experienced since he began living in his van?

“Dude, it’s freaking cold,” he said, or words to that effect, “what do you freaking figure? That’s the stupidest freaking question to ask.”

His van is heated by a Little Buddy portable propane heater, which at least has an oxygen-depletion sensor and a safety shut-off if it gets accidentally knocked over.

He also has solar power and batteries, but they aren’t much use in winter.

“It’s 22 degrees in my van,” he said. “(The heater) is not recommended for use indoors, but it is what it is, right?”



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