July 25, 2022 – 7:00 AM
Bill Coulic parked his beat-up RV on the side of 25 Avenue three years ago.
With nowhere else to go, the 67-year-old began living in his motorhome on the wide section of road just a few kilometres south of downtown Vernon.
Shortly afterwards others followed.
Coulic said last summer there were 14 RVs parked along the road.
On a stinking hot July afternoon, there are about half a dozen RVs parked along the road, each nestled by a tree trying to get some respite from the Okanagan heat.
Diane Bucsis is a new arrival to the strip who parked her old truck on 25 Avenue about two months ago.
She sleeps in the cab, lying across the seats.
She says she hasn’t been there long, but for most people, sleeping across the front seats of a truck for two months would seem like a long time.
“I didn’t dream I was going to be living in my truck,” she says. “I’m ashamed of it.”
She had to move out of where she was living due to alcohol. She’s proud to say she’s sober and says she “loves it.”
She was working in a gas station but walked out the very day iNFOnews.ca spoke to her. She says she’s off to pick cherries as soon as they’re ripe.
The 59-year-old has lived in Vernon her entire life but faced with the city’s insufficient housing stock is now, for the first time in her life, homeless.
Bucsis’ living situation is precarious, but now moves by City councillor Scott Anderson could make it even more precarious.
Coun. Anderson recently put forward a notice of motion for city staff to come up with a report to come up with solutions to the “RV situation.”
So what is the RV situation?
“The problem is that a lot of people are complaining about the RVs on 25 Avenue both from an aesthetic point of view, tourist point of view, and some of the business establishments (are complaining),” coun. Anderson told iNFOnews.ca.
Coun. Anderson says he’s acutely aware of the lack of housing in Vernon and admits there’s no easy answer to the RVs.
“It’s very easy to say just let them stay there because there is nowhere else to go but on the other hand people that own stores and businesses along there have no place to go either,” he said.
Currently, city bylaws allow overnight parking on that stretch of 25 Avenue for 48 hours.
The RVers then move a few spaces along and the 48-hour timeframe renews.
This isn’t the first time there have been calls for the city to do something about the RV situation.
In the fall of 2021 councillor Brian Quiring brought the issue up. The councillor was heavily criticized on social media and ultimately a city bylaw was tweaked – prohibiting RVs from deploying slide-outs and jacks on city streets.
If the city does go further this time around and ban overnight parking, Bucsis says it will make life even harder.
“People don’t want you, they consider everybody that doesn’t have a home bad,” she says. “I’m not proud of it, but I’m trying.”
The 59-year-old doesn’t want to go to a shelter because she says they are full of drug addicts.
“When you’re triggered or around that stuff you’re going to start doing drugs again or something,” she says. “My counsellor said stay away from the shelter.”
A few doors down from Bucsis, 61-year-old Sabrija Jasarha is playing 70s rock music inside his Dodge camper van from the same era.
Jasarha says if he was forced to move he doesn’t know where he’d go.
He says he moved to 25 Avenue in his van a few months ago after he moved out following a dispute with a roommate.
His story is difficult to follow, except he moved to Canada in 1974 after his father escaped communist Yugoslavia. He spent most of his life in Toronto but moved to B.C. with his second wife.
The marriage didn’t work out, but he says he was a welder, made good money, and paid his child support. His daughter lives in Seattle and owns two houses. His son is in Kelowna working and saving for a house. He doesn’t want to bug them and lives on $1,400 disability.
Looking inside the van it has all the trimmings of a 70s camper and he jokes it’s like Scooby-Doo with carpeted walls. There’s a stove and a little room to cook. He’s got weights and clearly works out. He plays music through a Bluetooth speaker.
He’s also insulated the roof in preparation for winter.
He said he last had stable housing when he was married. He’s been divorced for more than 25 years.
One of Coun. Anderson’s suggestions is that those living in the RVs should go to a campsite come winter when there are vacancies.
Jasarha says he can’t afford it.
Winter rates at the Swan Lake RV resort are $945 plus electricity — lot for a person living on $1,400 a month.
The councillor says if someone living in an RV is working then they “can afford to rent an apartment” although adds “if they can find one.”
One bedroom apartments in Vernon hover at about $1,500, and campsite spots in the summer are much the same.
But there is no denying there have been complaints.
“It’s not good for business, it doesn’t matter how you cut it,” JR Muncaster told iNFOnews.ca. “We have customers complaining all the time… they say ‘what’s going on out there, why do you allow that.'”
Muncaster owns Lenmark Industries, a company that sells and refurbishes industrial containers.
He says large semi-trucks have difficulty pulling into his businesses because of the RVs parked outside.
“They’re ruining my business front, that’s the bottom line,” he says.
Muncaster says he’s had plenty of meetings with City officials but nothing has been done. All he really wants is the roughly 80 feet of parking directly outside his business made into a no-parking zone.
He said he’s given up calling bylaw.
But not everyone has.
The City of Vernon confirmed it has received 14 complaints about RVs parking in the 4300 – 4500 block of 25 Avenue this year.
“Complaints include vehicles parking for longer than 48 hours, placing chattel on the highway, parking too close to an access, and recreational vehicles being set up on the roadway,” the City said in an email.
Coulic, who has been on the strip the longest, says he had about 20 tickets in the last three years. Some he’s successfully fought, others appear to have been generated by members of the public out of spite.
He recently got a $115 ticket for having his solar panel in front of his vehicle on the road.
But he says he has no issues with the neighbours.
“They bring me pizza, coffee, donuts,” he says.
In the summer it’s too hot to sit inside the campers, so Coulic hangs out on the grassy verge fixing odds and ends during the day.
But in the winter it’s cold inside and out. During a two-week cold snap last winter he spent $330 on propane just to keep warm.
Coulic isn’t concerned the city will make him move along.
He cites a B.C. Supreme Court decision whereby the court struck down a City of Victoria bylaw aimed at preventing homeless people from setting up tents and sleeping in city parks.
“I’m not even concerned about it, they can’t do it, they won’t be able to do it, I know that for a fact,” he says.
It’s far from clear that the court ruling would allow Coulic to remain parked on the city street. Currently, in Vernon individuals can sleep in some city parks but they have to take their tents down by 9 a.m.
So how did Coulic end up living in an RV on the side of the road in Vernon for the last three years?
It’s difficult to follow the timeline but Coulic says he once ran a small contracting company in northern Saskatchewan.
“I lost all my wealth when I got sick,” he says.
The 67-year-old says he has five kids and 12 grandchildren and doesn’t plan to be there forever.
He has however managed to amass more than one RV, and three of the RVs parked on 25 Avenue are his, albeit they are old.
But not all campers parked on the street have seen better days.
A Ford F150 is hitched to a modern-looking camper and the neighbours say the owner has a “decent” job but can’t find anywhere to live. There’s no one home when we knock.
The strip has also become a regular spot for semi-drivers passing through. And judging by the quality of their vehicles, vacationers are also taking advance of a free place to park for a night or two.
With solar panels on the top of his camper, Jeffrey Hincky has been living on 25 Street for two years.
He also has a separate vehicle and uses it for deliveries with Skip the Dishes.
He’s proud to show the app on his phone that says he’s done more than 8,000 deliveries.
Hincky’s story is a bit different.
He says the “spirit hit him” in 2008 he’s since spent 13 years serving God.
He quit his IT job in Halifax and has been travelling around preaching.
Every other sentence is a bible reference and it’s difficult to follow.
He says he has been sworn at and abused by passing motorists but the neighbours are kind to him.
“I’ve had people knock on the door and give me $20,” he said.
So what will he do if the city makes it harder to be there?
“If I’m not welcome here… I’ll go to a community who appreciates me,” he says. “If they think I’m not good enough to be in their community, as it says in the bible ‘You dust your feet in the town and you walk away.'”
There’s no denying the situation is complicated.
Coun. Anderson says he doesn’t have a solution to the problem which is why he’s asking staff for recommendations.
“It’s one of those damned if you do and damned if you don’t issues that people don’t like to tackle,” he said.
The notice of motion will be before council in August.
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