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The Globe's New Solution To Vancouver Housing Crisis: Sleep In A Van

Instead of "homelessness," he has renamed his lifestyle "urban camping."
Rick Harrison via Getty Images

If you met a young man who couldn't afford rent in Vancouver so he purchased an old Chevy camper van, parked in a different part of the city every week to avoid parking tickets and tow charges, and had to beg for water so he could occasionally shower, I would expect you to react in horror that young people have been forced to respond to the housing crisis in such degrading and burdensome ways.

If you are The Globe and Mail, however, you laud him for creatively "hacking" the impenetrable housing market: "Vancouver's housing costs no problem for entrepreneur living in a van."

This is a full-on troll by the Globe editors -- and for this, I applaud them. The faint of heart don't write headlines like that. This homeless "entrepreneur" is Cameron Gray. He is actually an amateur musician working as an ATM attendant. He occasionally gets towed, doesn't have any human neighbours, and has difficulty finding fresh water.

"This can make living in a vehicle challenging," allows Gray. But: "No problem," The Globe avers. These are just hiccups, no more noticeable than the odd pothole. Gray has his favourite parking spots (Columbia and 5th) and has finally found a house that will let him use their water hookup. Instead of "homelessness," he has renamed his lifestyle "urban camping."

To buttress the absurdity of this spin, the writer introduces UBC sociology professor Nathanael Lauster who may or may not have ever heard of Gray, but does seem to agree that finding affordable housing by traditional means is a drag. But, based on his UBC faculty page, I suspect he might be upset to find his interview used to support van-living as an antidote to homelessness. His comments seem so far out of context that it's unlikely he had glamping in the city in mind when his comment is plucked in order to chastise young people not to use "the single-detached house as the yardstick of what constitutes decent living."

This conceit comes up frequently in discussions of unaffordability, almost always to make the case that Vancouver's astronomical housing costs are not that bad. I have to say, I don't know a single Vancouverite who uses this as a measurement of acceptable living. We all live in the real world. A house with a lawn? That houseboat has sailed. Three-bedroom apartments for less than $2500 would be a nice start.

It's disingenuous to bring in this metric at the best of times but it is patently ridiculous to do so when the topic under discussion is literally a man forced to live in his car.

When I wrote earlier this year about the disturbing trend in Canadian media to congratulate young people forced to move into smaller and smaller spaces because they simply can't afford anything else, I joked that it wouldn't be long before hollowed-out refrigerators became "innovative" housing solutions.

Gray's van is 55 square feet. I don't think we'll be waiting much longer.

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