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Canmore learns those living in vehicles willing to pay to park overnight

“People living in their vehicles are also willing to pay to live in Canmore, whether it’s to pay $8 to have a parking spot a night or a membership to Elevation Place – there is a desire to pay for what they use.”
Sam Boyle, 26, works on his roaming home in Vanmore in Canmore on Tuesday (May 28). RMO File Photo.

CANMORE – The now infamous Vanmore has maintained a steady population throughout the summer while the Town of Canmore is trying to further understand the vehicle living community.

Through research done by outreach worker Travis Reynolds since July, the results indicated van-lifers are not homogenous, are typically seasonal, and are also willing to pay to park overnight.

“One thing that we should always remember is that the vehicle dwelling community, they will move as conditions change,” said Reynolds.

“People living in their vehicles are also willing to pay to live in Canmore, whether it's to pay $8 to have a parking spot a night or a membership to Elevation Place – there is a desire to pay for what they use.”

The Vanmore trend became noticeable in 2018, with three parking lots identified as the main areas of dwelling – the gravel lot behind Save-On-Foods, the Home Hardware parking lot, and a parking lot adjacent to Elevation Place.

“Vanmore had high numbers of people living in their vehicles throughout 2018, that number started to fall in the winter, and then it started to increase again in the spring of 2019,” Reynolds said.

“As of May of this year, that lot became completely full and a number of issues were identified based upon the situation. These issues included things like derelict vehicles being parked in the lot, individuals storing things underneath their vehicles, vehicles just being stored there like trailers, a number of unregistered vehicles being there, and individuals setting up semi-permanent structures such as awnings and patios.”

As a result of the various concerns, Canmore council approved two motions earlier this year. The first motion was to institute a parking restriction that would ban vehicles from parking in identified lots between 7-9 a.m. in the morning. The second motion was to hire Reynolds to better understand and help identify the demographic. Since then, Reynolds has been actively engaging the Vanmore community, speaking with 30 individuals living out of their vehicles with interviews ranging anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours.

“I used convenient sampling ... basically what I did was walk through the hotspots and approach people that were outside their vehicles. I wasn’t knocking on cars … I was trying to be non-evasive, but still get the information I needed,” he said.

Through his research, Reynolds found the three main reasons individuals chose to live in their vans were because they were travelling, trying to save money, or couldn’t afford Canmore’s high rental rates. They were able to find out about the parking lots through word-of-mouth, observation and travel websites or apps.

“We should pay attention to the fact that vehicle dwellers are not a homogenous group, whether they’re visitors, employees, or those with higher needs,” he said, adding that over half the individuals he spoke with live and work in town.

“Remember, too, that this situation is always changing, so the events that led to the parking restriction coming into place on June 5 is different than the situation is now, and this situation will be different again next year, so recommendations and policies that the Town puts in place should be forward thinking."

Councillor Rob Seeley asked about what other municipalities have done in similar circumstances, adding he’d rather see something purposeful.

“I would rather see something more intentional because what’s happened has been unintentional and convenient,” said Seeley.

Reynolds said he would be back before council on Oct. 1 with the rest of his report as well as comparisons to other locations, such as Squamish and Banff that have had similar situations with van-dwelling individuals.

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