COLUMN: RV issue exposes need for creative housing solutions

The issue of people sleeping in RVs on city streets has come to Surrey council for action. Council members asked questions and made suggestions about a proposed bylaw at a recent meeting, and then referred the matter to staff for further study.

This was a wise move on the part of council. A knee-jerk reaction to this issue could make council look as foolish as the previous council did, when it went after occupants of secondary suites in Clayton – in order to solve a parking problem of the city’s creation.

Only after much outcry and some excellent reporting by Amy Reid of the Surrey Now-Leader about the people actually affected did council realize its foolishness, and back off. The Clayton parking issue remains a problem, but the city is now looking at expanding street parking in some areas. There’s been no more mention of evictions.

The RV issue has a number of similarities. First and foremost, it is another of the many symptoms of a housing crisis. Housing is not only unaffordable for many, it is often unavailable. There are many causes – lack of supply, high cost of land, low vacancy rates, lack of investment in subsidized housing – but the problem is real, it is getting worse and governments at all levels have yet to make significant changes in their approaches to the issue.

For a growing number of people, using an RV makes sense. It provides both transportation and a home. It isn’t the greatest place to live for an extended period of time, but it is far better than a tent during the cold weather months.

The issue has yet to become a major problem in Surrey, but according to Mayor Doug McCallum, the number of people parking on streets and departing in the morning, leaving garbage behind, is growing. He believes that when one RV is parked in one place, others follow. Coun. Doug Elford, who has dealt with the issue firsthand in his job with the City of Vancouver, says Surrey needs a bylaw in order to have “some tools in the toolbox to deal with the problematic circumstances that may arise occasionally.”

No one can argue with the city’s need to have bylaws. Elford points out why they are needed – to deal with problem situations that arise “occasionally.”

However, a blanket ban on parking RVs in certain places at certain times will create hardship. It will cause problems for those who have nowhere else to go, because in Surrey, there are very few other places they could go. Shelters are minimal in number, assisted living units aren’t readily available and many people living in RVs have no family members who can assist.

Perhaps the city needs to look at the issue in the way it looks at truck parking – seek out larger lots, provide security and have some basic services available, such as washrooms and showers. This could be a safe alternative for many people and a low-cost way to provide housing options for people in need.

In the meantime, Surrey needs to do all it can to encourage speedy construction of rental suites, lobby for funds from senior government for affordable housing and show some compassion for those who, often through no fault of their own, have nowhere else to go.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca

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