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More people living in RVs on Vernon, B.C., streets because they can’t find a home, housing advocates say

Robert Brown never thought he’d be living like this — all of his possessions crammed into an old, 30-foot motorhome, moving from place to place in search of some place to rent or park his RV.

Brown and his partner Mathie Franchuck moved to Vernon, B.C., one month ago on a promise of a place to park their RV on private land, which didn’t pan out, Brown said.

Now, they are among a growing number of people living in motorhomes and vans on streets in the north Okanagan city.

“It’s embarrassing. You feel helpless,” Brown said. “It feels like it’s my fault, but really it isn’t. And it’s hard to get out of that feeling.”

For now, their RV is parked alongside a park in a residential neighbourhood where a family member lives.

48-hour parking restriction

During the day, they take shelter from the heat with their two dogs in their friends’ apartment and search online for places to rent or a property where they can permanently park the motorhome.

Municipal bylaws only allow vehicles to park in one spot for 48 hours and Franchuck said some residents have been complaining to the city about their RV.

Robert Brown and his partner moved from Penticton to Vernon one month ago for an opportunity to park their motorhome on private property but say the man pledging to help them didn’t follow through. (Tom Popyk / CBC)

“I can see us having to move on pretty soon. I really don’t know where to go,” she said.

“I’ve been looking for places and if there is anything that is affordable, which is very rare, it’s gone. There’s people all over it.” 

Housing advocates at Vernon-based charity Turning Points Collaborative say they hear stories like this every day from people who call their office in search of housing support. 

The agency is already supporting more than a dozen families with children at three motels in the city and there is a lengthy waiting list.

‘I’ve never seen it this bad’

This Tuesday, CEO Randene Wejr and an outreach worker knocked on the doors of vans and motorhomes parked along 25th Avenue in Vernon’s industrial neighbourhood to connect with people seeking shelter there and offer support. 

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” Weji said. 

“It’s a combination of things — inflation is massive, people’s mortgages are going up. We have staff here that are struggling and they are employed full time and they are struggling to find an affordable place to live.”

The vacancy rate in Vernon has been dropping rapidly, according to data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHA) which indicates a drop from 1.9 per cent in 2019 to 0.7 per cent last year.

CMHC doesn’t yet have any data for this year, but a search on kijiji.ca shows a two-bedroom unit in Vernon can now cost more than $2,000. 

Turning Points Collaborative CEO Randene Weijr says the charity gets several calls a day from people seeking housing and housing supports in Vernon. (Tom Popyk / CBC)

Numerous complaints about RVs on streets 

In council documents, the City of Vernon states it has received numerous complaints about RVs parked on 25th Avenue, but bylaw officers lack the tools to deal with the situation. 

This week, a discussion on the issue at city council was deferred until next month.

Despite repeated requests by CBC News for comment, Mayor Victor Cumming said he’s not prepared to speak to the matter until city council has had the discussion.

Short-term solutions could include the city providing an alternative space for people living in vans and RVs to park beyond 48 hours, Wejr said, adding that Turning Points Collaborative would happily partner with the city to support people living in their vehicles at such a site.

The City of Vernon says it has received numerous complaints about RVs permanently parked on 25th Avenue and that, currently, bylaw officers are not equipped to deal with the situation. (Tom Popyk / CBC)

“It’s 38 degrees out and you’re living in an RV with no green space, nowhere to go. You’re being shooed away constantly. You have to move your RV every 48 hours,” Wejr said. 

“It’s not acceptable for the society that we live in. We can do better.”

It’s a sentiment Brown and Franchuk agree with, adding that without housing security it’s hard to find work or contribute to society.

“We just want a place to be,” Franchuk said. “You have to have housing in place before you can do anything else with your life.”

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