Van life in Squamish has been viewed by some as a lifestyle for the free-spirited, vagabond freeloaders who don’t feel like paying rent, which is far from the truth.
Why do some people live in vans? It could be for the simplicity, freedom and minimalistic lifestyle it offers or some people’s last resort to live in this rapidly growing community.
“Van life” can refer to a lot of things. At one end, weekend campers or people drop into Squamish for a week or so to experience the area. Looking around town at the profusion of converted Sprinter and Transit vans, it is clear many Squamish residents are visiting other regions to do the same. It is a great way to travel and authentically experience different areas. Accommodating these travellers is primarily a seasonal issue, and we should have a plan around that.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have full-time residents who work here and call Squamish home. With rising rents, arguably, our town would not function without these workers.
If you look at the Facebook renting pages, hundreds of people are looking for housing. Some families, couples, singles, and local business owners have a steady income and a budget over the average rent price and references yet still can’t find housing. People are trying to live and work here, but it isn’t possible for everyone.
The alarming part about renting in Squamish is that people who WANT to pay rent don’t all have that luxury. There are not enough rentals for everyone, and one of the cheapest apartments you can purchase in Squamish is around half a million dollars.
Some people have taken matters into their own hands and live in vans, skoolies, etc. And although it might look nomadic to some, there is way more to it.
Jess Fossey, a Squamish local living in a van with her husband, has some insight on what living in a van is like and why van life needs to be more accepted in this area due to the housing crisis.
“Tourism is an inevitable growing part of Squamish, and with that comes the need for jobs and people willing to work them,” Fossey said.
“Squamish is a unique place because not only is it a popular destination to travel, but there’s a large community of people living in vehicles, off-grid communities, tiny homes etc. Many of us work locally in restaurants, healthcare, construction, retail, tourism, and outdoor recreation; you name it! So there’s a need for this demographic, yet we haven’t quite had the accepting recognition we all feel we deserve as active members of this community. Mainly because of the stigma of living without a valid street address and how that plays out.”
What are residents to do with jobs needing to be filled in town, people not having places to park, and not enough rental options?
“With only a couple campgrounds with affordable rates and only so much capacity, it’s made van life in Squamish difficult even for short-term stays, never mind the long-term stays,” Fossey explains. “Finding spots for potable water and washrooms definitely became more scarce since covid, as well as finding a place to shower after work and on weekends.”
In 2019, Council proposed a ban on vans camping outside of official campgrounds. It seems like what wasn’t adding up was where the actual problem is: is it people living in their vans locally all year round? Or is it the visitors spending weekends here? Council seemed to agree on regulating “high-risk areas,” which is quite general and unclear.
The main issues that seems to continue to arise is that some people aren’t respecting the community and the environment by leaving garbage and feces behind.
We have some ideas that might help this:
- Offer more areas for van lifers supplied with garbages, toilets and running water.
- Give fines to people that are not obeying the rules. More patrolling and control over this is critical.
- Teach people. Have signs showing where you can dump gray water, where you can fill up, where you can dispose of garbage, etc.
What other options for people who want to live and work in Squamish but can’t find housing?