Home on wheels: how one Vancouver man is trying to survive homelessness

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Home on wheels: how one Vancouver man is trying to survive homelessness

"Have wheels, will travel" sounds like a slogan you might hear from an RV dealership.

But for John Fredericks, it's a matter of survival.

For the past month, the 38-year-old homeless man has been living in a wheeled structure he built himself, moving daily to avoid detection and demolition under the city's "no camping, no structures" bylaw.

"It's a bit of a skate shack," said Fredericks, referring to the skateboard wheels and parts integrated into the design.

"It was thrown together with recycled wood I got with permission. At first, I was going for a perfect replica of a beautiful modern home on wheels, but things happen."

The pod-like dimensions mean there's just enough room to sit up or lie down. Two small windows at either end let in natural light and the door locks with a key.

Inside, amidst the clean laundry, tools and magazines, there's a model train he's rigging above the door which will go around and around in the tiny space.

Fredericks says he was priced out of the Vancouver rental market four years ago and has been on the streets ever since. In the past, he's worked as a liftee at Cypress Mountain, a custodian at Marc Emery's Cannabis Culture Lounge and a dishwasher. 

He smokes marijuana daily, often to deal with the pain of four impacted wisdom teeth.

A few month's ago, he was living happily in a tree house he built. It was located not far from where another man had constructed an underground bunker home. 

Having a somewhat secure living situation — albeit in a tree — allowed him to find a job as a dishwasher, he said.

But then, city workers tore down his tree house. They even cut down the tree.

That threw Fredericks into a cycle of daily survival — searching for a place to store his things during the day, and a tree to sleep under at night. Keeping a regular job became the least of his worries.

"You have to understand, it's one thing being embarrassed and sleeping under a tree. You wake up and think is the coast clear? Can I get up from under this tarp and walk away from this tree without anyone seeing?

"But the whole no camping, no structures thing, it's awkward for instance to go to a job if you have a big duffel bag with your sleeping bag. You get that look like, 'oh, you must be a homeless person.'"

That's when the idea of a home on wheels came to him.

"I thought, hey, if I can make something where I can push it in somebody's backyard or driveway, I can at least lock my door and go apply for a job without a big duffel or a sleeping bag or a tent," he said.

Fredericks has lived in SROs and shelters in the past but says his experiences were not good.

On Christmas Eve, his new home was slapped with the first of many "no camping, no structures" warnings, forcing him to roll to a new location.

"Even cars have houses," he said. "Understand, when you have nowhere to go and you're homeless and walking around and you see that cars have roofs and are housed, it can be crushing." 

His immediate hope is that someone will offer him a permanent place to park, somewhere he won't be hassled.

A bigger dream is for a small unit with a place to cook because "you can't eat out when you have no budget."

"Housing is not a crime," he said.  "I used to have 'skateboarding is not a crime' on a board, but now I'm going to write 'caring is not a crime.'"