Vancouver beach becomes makeshift campground amid affordability and housing crisis
As the cost of living in British Columbia continues to skyrocket, there are new, alarming signs of just how dire the housing crisis has become.
Life is now so unaffordable that some Vancouverites are now being forced to live in their vehicles.
Upwards of 50 campers and trailers were parked in Vancouver’s Spanish Banks Beach Park overnight.
Neighbours told CTV News some of them have been there for weeks, and they’re growing in number by the day.
The parking lots along Northwest Marine Drive have now become a makeshift campground. Vehicles with steamed up windows and packed with personal belongings stretched as far as the eye could see.
Those sleeping inside greeted each other good morning before walking to the park’s bathrooms to brush their teeth and get ready for the day.
The setups ranged from reclined seats with a blanket and pillow to trailers with kitchens.
Some neighbours expressed concern about the situation, but the temporary residents appeared to be maintaining a clean and orderly area.
Xelian Louw has been living there for several weeks now.
The 22-year-old is a master’s student at Regent College graduate school of Christian studies, an affiliated college of the University of British Columbia.
He’s from Penticton and has been living out of a camper van for over a year now.
“This was the only financially viable option as I couldn't afford a bachelor suite of a kind by myself,” said Louw.
He parks for free wherever he can and lives off propane, which costs him about $50 every six weeks.
“Some of my friends have got really cheap housing for about like $800 a month. But some of my friends are also spending about $1,800 for pretty much the exact same thing,” he explained.
His housing fell through over a year ago and he spent six weeks sleeping in a hammock in a forest on campus until he could purchase the van.
“We're saving a lot of money,” he said, affectionately touching the van he named Babalala.
“I could pay off this van in, like, three or four months of living in a mediocre apartment at UBC.”
However, it’s not just students calling the beach home. People from all walks of life could be seen camping in the area.
Everything from camper vans to luxury cars housed sleeping people and all their belongings.
The Vancouver Park Board says it is aware of the situation.
“Gates to this lot are closed regularly to deter people from parking there overnight, and signage is in place at the entrance advising that any vehicles parked overnight will be towed at owners’ expense,” said a spokesperson in an email.
“Park rangers often speak with vehicle owners and ask them to move vehicles out of the lots after park closure. Should vehicles remain, rangers may issue towing notices. Most vehicles are moved once notices are issued, and any that remain may be towed,” read the statement.
Hours after CTV News’ original inquiry and before a statement was provided, park rangers arrived and started knocking on trailer doors.
“We’ve got until Tuesday before they start ticketing us or even towing us because, technically, the park hours say that from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. you can't be parking in here,” said Louw.
He says he doesn’t know where he’ll go.
It’s a scary reality more and more people are now facing.
“The only answer here is more supply of housing – but not luxury condos – rentals, social housing," said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart.
"That is the key (for) the folks that are living rough, either on the street or in parks."
When asked if the situation was acceptable, he used the opportunity to tout his housing record.
“I've raised, over my four years, a billion dollars in social housing investment from the province and the feds. That's my experience in Ottawa, that's my experience in partnerships in Victoria. What does that mean? Well, last year, we opened 1,600 units of social housing,” he said.
Housing is a key issue in the upcoming municipal election in nearly all areas of the Lower Mainland.
“The housing situation is definitely, I think, rightfully called a crisis of a kind because students do not have the money to pay for all this stuff. So debts are accumulating,” said Louw.
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