In Langley, an estimated 10 to 15 homeless people live in vehicles like this van, parking along side streets and in parking lots to sleep at night.

In Langley, an estimated 10 to 15 homeless people live in vehicles like this van, parking along side streets and in parking lots to sleep at night.

The man in the van

An estimated one third of homeless people live in vehicles, but it's a place one Langley stonemason never expected to find himself

For the last six months, Langley resident David Cornelius has been living in his van.

“I sleep in gas stations, side roads, wherever I won’t be harassed,” he says.

His home is a well-maintained travel van with a raised roof and enough room for Cornelius, a stone mason, to pack his tools and other possessions along with his dog, Yuki, a Siberian husky.

He says his current situation is the result of a landlord who decided to renovate, high rental rates and health issues that have limited his ability to work.

For Cornelius, it became a choice between maintaining and insuring his van, which he needs for work, or renting.

Living in his van means he was able, barely, to spend $4,000 to replace the vehicle’s motor, money that would buy him less than four months in an average one-bedroom apartment in Langley.

While he might be able to afford a less expensive basement suite or shared accommodations, most of them have no-pets policies.

Cornelius wasn’t about to get rid of Yuki.

And he likes his privacy.

He is an experienced camper, so he already had the necessary gear.

Once he made the decision, he says the big surprise was learning how many other people are doing the same thing.

He discovered there is a whole community of mobile homeless people in the Lower Mainland who live in everything from big RVs to smaller vans and compact cars.

He bumps into them everywhere he goes, in shopping centre parking lots, quiet suburban cul-de-sacs and public campgrounds.

“There’s hundreds,” Cornelius says.

“They sleep in their cars, even. They sleep across the seats. And they get up and go to work.

“There’s a guy who’s been in his van for four years.

“He gets up every (work day) morning, puts on a tie and goes to work.”

The other day, Cornelius was left momentarily speechless when someone expressed admiration for his living-in-a-van lifestyle.

It is not a lifestyle choice, he says, nor an extended camping trip.

Money is tight, and he has had to seek assistance from the Sources food bank in Langley and has stood in line for meals at the Salvation Army Gateway of Hope.

Roughly one in three homeless people in the U.S. live in vehicles, according to a Seattle University study.

Described in the study as “car campers,” “mobile homeless” and “vehicle residents,” they are people who may have enough income to operate and insure a vehicle, but not enough to rent or own.

There are so many of them in Seattle, some home owners have been lobbying for a crackdown, demanding expanded bans on overnight parking.

In Los Angeles, where an estimated 9,500 people are mobile homeless, the city tried to impose a ban on people living in their cars.

That was struck down last year by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as unconstitutionally vague.

There has been less attention to homeless people with vehicles in the Lower Mainland, where most attention is focused on those who live outdoors in tents.

In March of last year, 2,777 homeless people were counted in the Metro Vancouver region, 92 of them in Langley and Aldergrove, mostly sleeping in homeless camps and shelters.

The Stepping Stone Community Services Society in Langley estimates the percentage of homeless people living in vehicles locally is lower than it is in the U.S., with about 10 to 15 people in Langley and Aldergrove in that category.

Cornelius says Metro Vancouver police, generally, have treated him well.

So long as he doesn’t make a mess or stay too long in one place, they don’t hassle him.

He views his current situation as a temporary measure, but worries that it could become permanent.

“I’m scared for the future,” he says. The cost of rental housing isn’t getting any lower and job opportunities are going to foreign workers who do the same job he does for a lot less money.

“Will I spend the winter outside? Is that the future?” he says.

“I can’t live in my van for the rest of my life. Where do I go?”