British Columbia

San Francisco looks to build 'safe' parking lot for van-dwellers as B.C. cities face similar crisis

With sky-high housing costs across the region, more and more people are living out of their vehicles — and that’s left cities struggling to come up with solutions.

Across the region, the number of people living in their vehicles is on the rise

In Vancouver, RVs and vans parked along the streets are an increasingly common sight. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

With sky-high housing costs across the region, more and more people are living out of their vehicles — and that's left cities struggling to come up with solutions. 

Across the border in the United States, San Francisco is proposing a novel solution: a safe parking lot with services for people living in their vehicles. 

"We're seeing more and more families, young people and adults who are living in their car sort of as a last resort before they sleep directly on the streets or in shelter," said Samantha Lew, the policy director for the Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco.

It's against the law to live in a car in San Francisco and, although it's rarely enforced, people can be fined $1,000 USD or face six months in jail. More often, people get parking tickets and their vehicles towed. 

"They face a lot of different challenges, from feeling like they're being criminalized by the police department to facing parking citations and tickets and tows, which would take away their vehicle and their home altogether," she told CBC's On The Coast.  

Several people appear to be living in vans, RVs and renovated school buses in the area around Strathcona Park in Vancouver. (Roshini Nair/CBC)

Similar situation in B.C. 

The rise in people living in vehicles is similar in British Columbia, where policies around van-dwelling range across the province. 

Squamish is bringing in a new bylaw against overnight camping, even in a car, on Crown land. Some people who live in their vehicles there have reported being targeted and vandalized

In Vancouver, where it's legal to sleep in a car on public property overnight, RVs and vans parked along the streets near Spanish Banks and industrial areas in East Vancouver are an increasingly common sight — which has some residents and businesses complaining.

A lit-up camper van parks at Spanish Banks beach in Vancouver. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Under San Francisco's proposal, a local parking lot will be converted into a "triage lot" where people can park overnight and access showers, bathrooms and social services.

Lew isn't totally sold on the idea, though, and said a lot more needs to be done. 

For one, the parking lot would only have room for 30 vehicles. 

"There are hundreds of people who are living out in their vehicles in San Francisco, 30 spots is just a drop in the bucket," she said. 

"And the plans that we've seen show that half of the spots would only be to store the vehicle, so people wouldn't be able to actually sleep in their car."

Ultimately, she said cities need to do more to address homelessness.

"We measure success by seeing people get into housing," she said. 

With sky-high housing costs across the region, more and more people are living out of their vehicles — and that’s left cities struggling to come up with solutions. 6:53

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