Category: safety


When people ask me about safety in the van I say that I’ve never had a problem and don’t expect to. Even sociopaths don’t go looking in parked vans for people to harm; the only likely mishap is that someone might try to rob the van, and that’s really simple to avoid. Stealing things from a car is risky: a thief will only break into a car if he or she can see something of value (or something that could have valuables in it like a purse), *and* if it looks quick and easy to grab it and run. So I don’t leave anything worth stealing in view, and I keep the doors locked. Easy. I also suspect that most thieves tend to avoid vans that look like someone might be sleeping inside, but of course some thieves aren’t bright enough to think about that, and others may desperate enough to take larger-than-usual risks.

So imagine my surprise last night when I woke up to someone reaching in the front seat of the van. I’ve always wondered how I would respond in that situation; in my fantasies I would wake up to the sound of someone trying to pick the lock, and I would let out a huge RRRAAAWWWWWRRRR!!!! and the would-be thief would run away terrified. But you don’t get time to think these things through when they’re really happening. What I said was “excuse me!” with the kind of mild indignation you might have after someone butts in front of you to get on the bus. Silly as it must have sounded, the thief did indeed run away… with my bag in his hand. For a brief second I considered jumping out and chasing him down the street (buck naked: I’m sure that would have really terrified him) but he jumped into a beat-up little white pickup and drove off.

Strangely, the bag he got was a courier bag full of all my bike gear. I’d just brought it back from my mom’s house that day, thinking that when I move to Halifax I’ll want to bike to school. Nice stuff, expensive to replace I suppose, but nothing I was desperately attached to. Still stunned, I was thinking about this when I realized that my other bag, which contained my credit card, cash for the next two weeks, computer, and most importantly my math homework, was still in the front where I’d left it in plain view, with the door unlocked.

So… big thank you to whatever god or faerie or random swirl of chaos was looking out for me last night. From now on I promise I’ll be less cocky, and more careful!


home #72

5th & Pine. This is a little demo living wall outside Lighthouse, a non-profit resource centre for sustainable building. They’ve got displays of various green materials and systems, how-to manuals, expert advice, and special financing options for people wanting to build or renovate sustainably.

Just after midnight I heard a car come to a stop across the street from me and rev the engine. Shortly after that I heard pounding, something very heavy slamming into concrete. What the…? I imagined that people were trying to bust through a cinderblock wall in a bank, trying to get into the vault. Of course there is no bank there, just an auto repair place; still, I thought I should do something. I couldn’t see what was really going on though, and I was afraid that if I took a window panel off so I could see the gangsters would see movement and blast me! Amazing what you imagine when you can’t see what’s going on. My moral dilemma was resolved when they left about a minute later. I peeked out… no hole in the wall, no bleeding victim, no nothing. Whew!

After three months in the van, that was my first moment of fear, and it was all in my head.

I usually avoid the word ‘homeless’ when I’m talking about this project. I use words like ‘nomadic’ instead because I want to convey my excitement about it, and the fact that it’s a choice, not a necessity. And when I talk to people they get it, but I can almost always sense a little bit of concern as well: that word ‘homeless’ is lurking around the corner. So I want to reassure everyone.

For the last 11 years I’ve been working with an organization that provides a range of housing options to people who have a history of homelessness, so I’m very aware of the vast differences between my kind of homelessness and the real thing: I have the power to make this end if or when I want to; people won’t be able to tell from looking at me that I’m homeless and treat me poorly because of it; the shelter that I do have is very comfortable  and safe compared to, say, a piece of cardboard under a viaduct; my life is not going to be a daily fight for survival; my childhood will never contain the kind of horrors that most people who are homeless have survived. So it’s not just that I want to avoid the stigma of the word homeless; it’s also that I have no right to claim it.

The project is about home, definitely. It takes away the traditional walls of home and asks me where the new walls will be. Is my home shrinking to the size of a van, or is it growing to the size of a city? Can it be a network of invisible lines connecting the couches of all my friends? This city feels full of people who love and support me, but what will it feel like if I leave the city? Could home really be everywhere?

In short, don’t worry, folks! My guess is that what I’ll feel at the end of all this is a deep sense of homefullness.

The question everyone asks me is where I’m going to park. At first I thought people were just not getting the concept of what it means to be nomadic. “Wherever I want” I’d say, or “a different place every night”. Call me naive, but it hadn’t occurred to me that homeowners might not welcome me parking on the street outside their house. Or that if someone tried to break into the car that it’d be a big problem; I figured I’d just make some noise and they’d get scared and run away. Right?

Then this weekend I was in a workshop where we were talking a lot about invisible privilege. It finally dawned on me that what people often mean by the question is “how are you going to stay safe?” And one big reason other people might see this kind of adventure as unsafe is that for them, it would be. The accidental fact of my straight white maleness means that I’m generally pretty safe in the world. Like most people with privilege, I forget that the opportunities I am given aren’t available to everyone. Sure, by moving into my van I’m temporarily defying social norms of work and property, but the fact remains that I’m able to do so largely because even deeper social norms favour my sex and skin colour.

I’m not quite sure what to do with this, but I guess I wanted to acknowledge it.