Squamish’s Amanda Shpeley says she wouldn’t live in a house if you gave her one for free.
Shpeley, 29 has lived in her 2001 Mazda minivan for more than a year with her dog Frank, a red heeler.
“It is about knowing what is right and living a lifestyle that honours that,” she said.
The catalyst for moving into her van came when her last Squamish rental home was put up for sale – it was at least the third time that had happened to her.
“I thought, why should I be hassled so someone else can own more property than they need,” she said, while throwing a stick for Frank at Nexen Beach on a recent sunny afternoon.
The interior of her tidy minivan includes a bed – made with hospital corners– and neatly stacked plastic containers of her belongings. She keeps about a month’s worth of dry goods on hand and has a few basic cooking supplies and a few basic clothing items, which she repurposes depending on the season.
She parks in various places to sleep overnight for free and didn’t want to divulge her exact locations.
She showers at friends’ places or at the recreation centre and uses free wi-fi at cafes or the Squamish Adventure Centre.
Shpeley also came to the decision to live in her van because she wanted to cause less of a footprint in the way she lived, she said.
She said she grew up free camping in the back country to enjoy being outside, “and I just always had a feeling that this whole society construct was not the right thing to chase. I could always see the harm being caused to humanity by our consumption,” she said.
There is a distinction, Shpeley said, between those who have to and those who want to live the way she does. Some people are homeless; others choose a lifestyle that includes living in a vehicle, she said.
According to Shpeley, there are about 12 other year-round van-dwellers in Squamish. In the summer that figure balloons to over 100, she said.
There is a community of people across North America living as Shpeley does, as an Internet search attests. There are forums, blogs and articles dedicated to the van lifestyle, which for the most part seems to be made up of university-educated 20 to 30-somethings who work less and opt out of the traditional life path of university to career to home ownership.
Shpeley studied earth and ocean sciences and geology at University of Victoria. She even worked for a time in coal and uranium exploration.
“I thought it would be a good idea and then I could pay off my [student] loan, and it hurt my heart, a lot. It is just not worth the money,” she said.
Some people assume she is just lazy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth, she said.
“They don’t realize how much harder I am working living this life. I am just not necessarily working towards a career. I am working towards making the world a nicer place for everyone,” she said, adding she spends time picking up garbage and fighting for causes she believes in, such as opposing the proposed FortisBC test drilling through the estuary.
“Work keeps people busy and distracted and in a state of need so they can’t make the changes necessary,” she said.
Shpeley works at paid jobs about three months of the year. She has done nude modeling for art classes and worked with dogs.
She is also an award-winning photographer and hopes to earn more of her income from selling her photos inscribed with inspiring messages.
“Her photography is amazing, she has incredible vision,” said her friend Jacqui Macey, 50.
Macey met Shpeley when they both worked at a local dog kennel, and the two clicked immediately, in spite of their age difference, Macey said. “I just feel that she is a real free spirit that has a lot of courage to do what she is doing,”Macey added.
“She is wise beyond her years.”
To see Shpeley’s photos go to Tideline to Alpine Photography & Adventure on Facebook.