Regarding the letter, “About Squamish vanlifers,” [published Jan. 7], I appreciate that people are recognizing the need for a positive and respectful conversation around ‘vanlife.’ While sometimes words can be reshaped or construed to mean something else, as a sincere advocate for basic human rights and equity, I remain resolute in sticking to the facts while asking for inclusive policy that supports our community.
I write from the perspective of my lived experience alongside two years of positive advocacy work and earnest attempts at olive branching with local government. These efforts have led a modest slowing of exclusionary policy at best and to the forcible displacement of community members at worst. While many in the community support vehicle residents, as a co-founder of the Vehicle Residents of Squamish Advocacy Group, I have reviewed hundreds of letters to council, bylaw calls (From Freedom of Information), and social media comments. This data informs my position that stigma regarding vehicle residents exists and acts as a barrier to constructive solutions.
The core objective of the VRS is to work alongside the District to develop inclusive policy that respects and supports housed and non-traditionally housed residents. In 2019, after extensive research of best practices and a review of community concerns (e.g. bylaw complaints related to vehicle residents), the VRS developed and submitted two proposals to the District: a paid permit system and a paid safe parking lot. This included potentially suitable areas (private land use isn’t a viable option, due to bylaws). This way, vehicle residents could respectfully co-exist in the community and fairly pay their way for services.
The VRS continues to reach out to District staff, draft stewardship materials, offer support to engage with vehicle residents throughout COVID-19, and organize/participate in cleanups. Despite two years of positive advocacy efforts, we have received no response on proposed solutions, and were not consulted when sweeping actions negatively affecting vehicle residents (e.g. Bylaw 2679 amendment or the campground closing) were underway. We met with the DOS-hired consultant to explain how our permit and safe lots proposals meet the basic needs and rights of vehicle residents and explained how the current exclusionary and punitive policy negatively impacts the lives of real people.
As we keep waiting on council to take positive action, we will continue with our advocacy work. We invite other concerned community members to join us in these efforts as we endeavour to set a broader table for all those concerned, in pursuit of better policy for all.