'Stop making more people homeless': Vancouver man fights to get his motorhome back

When David Butler came home from volunteering at a homeless shelter, he found himself without a home. His RV had been towed by the City of Vancouver.

City of Vancouver says impounding RVs is a last resort but it must ensure public safety

Dave Butler was living in a motorhome he bought with his inheritance, but when he returned from work one day, he found out that it had been towed. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

David Butler, 53, was coming home after a shift at First United Church. Volunteering there was his way of giving back to a place that helped him when he first moved to Vancouver from Manitoba, four years ago.

But when he made it Industrial Avenue, he found that his 27-foot motorhome had been towed.

He knew he couldn't afford to get it back.

"The first night it was gone, I walked up back to Main Street, sat underneath Terminal Station and slept on the ground on the cold cement," he said. 

He had racked up 17 parking tickets.

The city says given the current housing and homelessness issue, impounding RVs is a last resort. It tries to help people find housing, but it must also ensure public safety and all illegally parked vehicles are subject to parking bylaws.

Butler paid nearly $12,000 for this motor home using his inheritance. (Submitted)

Butler was content living in the motorhome he bought with his inheritance.

"It wasn't costing the city any money. I wasn't leaving garbage or anything else. They weren't having to supply me power, I wasn't using any septic facilities. I was just using my home just to sleep in, to have a safe and comfortable place that I felt secure," he said.

A City of Vancouver spokesperson suggested Butler connect with an outreach worker to try and get his motorhome back.

Thousands of dollars to get it back

Butler said the outreach workers drew up a repayment plan for him.

He has to pay $25 a month until he pays off $1,100 in towing, fuel surcharge, storage fees and taxes as well as $3,540 for the parking tickets. 

"That's impossible ... with the price of everything that is going up," he said, burying his head in his hands. 

Butler works twice a week at an outreach centre and receives an honorarium for his work. He is also on welfare.

But he says, after paying for insurance for the motorhome, he won't have enough money to make the payments. 

The letter Butler has to sign in order to get his vehicle back. He said he doesn't want to sign it because he can't afford to make the payments and signing it would mean he is "guilty." (Submitted)

There is no official tally of how many people live in their vehicles in Metro Vancouver, but police and social workers say the numbers are on the rise. 

The last Metro Vancouver homeless count, saw 58 people living in their cars across the region.

Longtime homeless advocate, Judy Graves believes the city needs to adapt to people living in their cars. 

"At some point, the city will have to set aside a place where people can live in their vehicles. Where there is washrooms provided, some order to it," said Graves.

"Because the city has not done that now, the city owes it to citizens like this man, to return his vehicle, his home and not leave him in debt for the rest of his life trying to pay off a $5,000 bill," she said.

Butler calls an outreach team to discuss his options when it comes to getting his motorhome back. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Right now, Butler has been bouncing from shelter to shelter. 

"The rooms are about seven feet by seven feet and have four people staying in each room," he said of the room that has two bunk beds and four lockers. 

"I'm claustrophobic. I have a bitch of a time sleeping even in that little room with three other people."

But with little money, he has little hope of ever seeing his motorhome again. His message to the city: "stop making more people homeless."

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