Van dweller of 20 years decries new bylaws in B.C. municipalities

First Squamish and now Surrey — both municipalities have recently passed new rules restricting overnight use of camper vans and RVs, leaving some vehicle-dwellers calling for better solutions than bylaws.  

Surrey councillors voted 5-4 for the ban on Monday, following a similar bylaw that prohibits camping on public land that the District of Squamish passed earlier this summer. 

"I don't think it's a very forward thinking way to go and it's not a solution," said Thomasina Pidgeon, who has been living in her vehicle for the last 20 years.

In both municipalities, lack of parking, noise and improper waste disposal were brought up as issues behind the new bylaws. 

But Pidgeon is concerned the stricter rules being introduced miss the bigger picture: that people live in their vehicles for a variety of different reasons, none of which enforcement addresses.

"Some of them have to because they financially can't afford to live in housing," she told Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC's On The Coast

"There's also the lifestyle choice, people like myself who like living in a vehicle."

Rafferty Baker/CBC

'Where are people going to go?'

Pidgeon lives in her minivan with her 13-year-old daughter in Squamish, where she's part of the Vehicle Residents of Squamish advocacy group. She sometimes spends time in Surrey, visiting her sister.

She said it's up to van dwellers to advocate for themselves by making sure to properly dispose of waste and not create "hotspots" by overcrowding in a few areas. But, she added, municipalities also need to accommodate people in different housing set-ups. 

"Making it illegal isn't going to [stop it]. Where are these people going to go?" she said. 

For Pidgeon, the freedom of a more nomadic lifestyle draws her to van life — being able to move around and have a change of scenery multiple times a week — as well as the fresh air and more minimalist approach to life. 

"There's something about it that's really, really good for me," she said.

"It would take quite a lot to get me into a house."

Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC

She uses the facilities at gyms, like showers, and spends time in cafes to get around some of the challenges of van life. She also regularly changes where she parks to avoid drawing attention to herself and putting too much pressure on one neighbourhood.

There's still hope for van dwellers in Surrey, Pidgeon believes.  

"There's definitely solutions to these problems," she said. 

"City council needs to be open to the idea that it's possible to live in a vehicle and not have a negative impact."