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Canmore has one possible solution to Vernon's 'RV situation'

Image Credit: FACEBOOK: Town of Canmore

In the summer of 2018 the Alberta town of Canmore had 130 RVs and campers parked in a small lot.

While the city had always had people living in vehicles, especially in the peak tourism months, the sheer number of RVs spurred the town into action.

It hired a researcher to find out who was staying in the lot and found that 35 individuals were working in Canmore.

"We really wanted to make sure that individuals who were part of our community, felt part of our community," Town of Canmore manager of community social development Lisa Brown told "And that's where we came up with Safe Park."

Launched in 2019, the Safe Park program gave people working in Canmore a place to park their RVs in a safe and legal manner.

Participants have to show proof that they are working at least 20 hours a week and enroll in the program. The Town charges just $5 a night – although it was charging $10 – and RV dwellers get access to showers at the rec centre, and a portapotty, garage and recycling on site. The site is monitored overnight by a security company. The program runs from June 1 to Sept. 30 and RVs have to be moved during the day.

"The idea is if you are seasonally employed in Canmore and you're part of our community, we'll make sure there's a place that welcomes you and that it's a safe space in our community," Brown said.

In 2018 the researchers found there was a multitude of reasons why so many people turned up in the small tourist town. Some were working seasonally and couldn't find a place to live, others were coming from Calgary every weekend to vacation in their RV.

Now, four years since the Safe Park program was launched, the town no longer has the 130 RVs crammed in a lot – it also stepped up its bylaw enforcement – and nine participants are living in their RVs and working this summer.

READ MORE: No holiday camp: What to do about Vernon's 'RV situation'

So could such a program could be part of the solution to deal with Vernon's "RV situation?"

Last summer there were up to 14 RVs parked along 25 Avenue. When stopped by recently there were roughly half-a-dozen motorhomes parked along the wide strip of road.

Vernon councillor Scott Anderson has asked city staff to come up with a report that looks for solutions to the RV situation.

It's not a fair comparison between Canmore's issue and Vernon's. The Rocky Mountain town of 16,000 people sees an extra 4,000 or so people show up to work in peak tourist seasons.

Its housing situation is similar though, with a huge shortage of rentals and sky-high prices for those units available. Brown said a room in a house goes for around $1,000 and a one-bedroom apartment $1,500.

It's also a very pricey place to live.

According to the Alberta Living Wage Network Canmore has the highest living wage of anywhere in Canada at $37.40, technically making it the most expensive place to live in Canada.

So has the project been a success?

"We're still evaluating that," Brown said. "But we've had comments from individuals using the program saying they are not sure what they would do if the program wasn't here, so we know... it does mean a lot for some people."

Brown stresses the Safe Park program isn't a solution for homelessness.

"We didn't want vehicle living to be a solution for individuals who are without a shelter. People who are without shelter need a proper home," she said.

The solution to Vernon's RV situation pitched by many is for the City to rent a lot of land and let the RVers live there.

Coun. Anderson said he's not in favour of the idea.

"On the surface, it sounds like a great idea, unfortunately in every case when this sort of thing has been tried... it becomes a tent city and then it becomes a whole different problem and a much worse problem," he said.

While one beat-up RV parked on the side of 25 Avenue three years ago and then others followed, Brown said the Safe Park program in Canmore hasn't encouraged more people living in motorhomes.

Canmore's Safe Park program is based on a similar program to help the homeless in California.

If Coun. Anderson's move at council is successful and staff look for solutions for the RV situation, Canmore's program may offer ideas.

Brown is realistic about the program's limitations.

"Every program has problems, it's really just trying to find the best program with the least amount of problems and the most amount of benefit," she said.

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