‘We thrived’: Nova Scotians who wintered in RVs call for permanent setup

Some people said it couldn’t be done. But after spending the winter warm and dry in her insulated RV, Carrie Steeves feels triumphant. “It feels good that it was successful,” Steeves said in a recent interview. “It feels good that so many people told me that we couldn’t do it and that it was not doable to live in a camper for the winter, and I knew that it could be done.”We survived it. Not only did we survive it, we thrived.”Steeves led the charge last year for the pilot project that allowed 12 people to spend the winter in their RVs at Shubie Campground, a private business on municipally owned land in Dartmouth, N.S.  With the pilot due to wrap up at the end of this month, Steeves is looking ahead and calling for a larger, more permanent setup for people who are turning to RVs for housing.  Though almost all the residents have found somewhere to move their RVs when the winter setup at Shubie Campground closes, Steeves said many people who can’t afford increasingly expensive traditional housing don’t want to pack up and move every six months. Relatively low monthly cost Jeremy Van den Eynden wintered in a campsite across from Steeves. He spent most of the past year fighting a renoviction — when a landlord evicts a tenant for renovations and then hikes the rent — then struggled to find a new place to live that didn’t eat up most of his salary as a metal fabricator. Jeremy Van den Eynden said having a more permanent setup would allow people who live in their RVs to have more comfort and security. (Brian MacKay/CBC)The $250 site fees at Shubie Campground, which included power, sewage services, garbage collection and snow removal, were enticing to him. Residents of the campground were responsible for buying their own water and propane, bringing the total monthly operating costs to around $500 each. “It’s just gotten so expensive to live in the Halifax area now,” Van den Eynden said. “It’s unacceptable for me, and this is much, much more affordable for myself, so I’ve chosen to go with the RV life.”Van den Eynden is joining Steeves in calling for a permanent space to set up. “There’s a lot of people living in these right now. I hear there’s a couple of RVs at the [homeless encampments]. There’s people living in overpasses. They’re going from Walmart parking lot to Walmart parking lot because there’s nowhere else to go,” he said.”I think if we start giving people a place to go with these, it’s going to become more popular.”Steeves said she will likely have to spend more winters in her RV as housing prices climb. (Brian MacKay/CBC)Steeves said there was a waitlist of people who wanted a spot at the campground this year, so she’s hoping for more spaces and infrastructure to support winter camping going forward. As the pilot project winds down in the coming weeks, Steeves plans to move a 45-minute drive away from Halifax to Renfrew Campground in Nine Mile River, where she works in the summers.Since Shubie Campground is the only fully serviced campground within city limits, Steeves said it’s been convenient for the RV residents, most of whom have jobs and need to be close to transit and services. Steeves suggested municipally owned land could be used to build a new, winterized campground. WATCH: Here’s what campground residents had to say heading into winter The clock is ticking for these RV owners who will have nowhere to live come winterA group of working people from Halifax are living in RVs because they can’t afford rent. But the campground they’re staying at will close in four weeks, leaving them with nowhere to go.Tony Mancini, the regional councillor for Harbourview-Burnside-Dartmouth East, has been involved in the pilot project since the start. He said it was “a huge success” that he would support again next winter. “Is there a demand? I think there is, unfortunately,” Mancini said in a recent interview. “If this could help, by all means … let’s do it again and expand it beyond the 12 sites.”When asked about a permanent setup, however, he said larger provincial campgrounds might be the way forward.Coun. Tony Mancini said he would support an expanded version of the project for another winter. (Brian MacKay/CBC)Last fall, the provincial Department of Community Services gave the Halifax Regional Municipality $180,000 to keep the Shubie Campground open through the winter. The department would not say whether it would support the creation of a year-round campground for people struggling to find housing, or if the province would renew the Shubie Campground funding.”We’re having regular conversations with HRM and other municipal partners on how to support their initiatives to support people experiencing homelessness,” spokesperson Christina Deveau wrote in an email.A spokesperson from the Halifax Regional Municipality said once the season ends, municipal staff will review the winter campground operation with everyone involved, then discuss future opportunities with the province. Regional council also recently requested a staff report looking into land-use zoning changes that would allow the use of RVs for residential use.

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