CANMORE – Travis Reynolds wants to hear your story about living in your vehicle.
Offering to meet people for coffee, in their home on wheels or on neutral ground, the new outreach worker hired by the Town of Canmore earlier this summer, wants to gather as many stories as he can before he gives his presentation and recommendations to council in the fall.
"It is a little more diverse and complicated than the original assumptions that seemed to be in the media ... where it's by choice and people are sort of living in vans to live the 'Van Life' – that van life is just a small aspect of this community," Reynolds explained to the Outlook.
Hired for research purposes, the outreach worker wants to make it clear he was not brought in for enforcement and he does not track where people are living. Reynolds' job is to gather stories from individuals living in their vehicles to help give council background for the Town's future decisions.
"Help the Town understand it more, let me know [your] stories and experiences and those stories become a part of what the Town considers when they make their decision because if I don't have the information or knowledge or understanding, decisions get made in a vacuum," he said.
Touching on the different demographics of people who live in their vehicles, also identified in a study presented to the Town earlier this year, Reynolds spoke of those pursuing a life in their van, short-term campers, seasonal workers and those who cannot find accommodation in the community.
"The individuals living in their [vehicles] is diverse, you are looking at a spectrum, some are tourists passing through or using the spot to go climbing as a base spot, a large portion of them are working in town and then there are some people that live in their vehicles because of more systemic situations or needs," he said.
"The way it was portrayed earlier was everyone just woke up one morning and decided to live the '#vanlife' kind of mentality, but that is not the reality of it. Some individuals are very conscious of their impact and want to have a minimal lifestyle, some cannot find accommodations or if they can find accommodations they can't afford it ... there is a lot of dynamic aspects that go into living in your vehicles."
Gathering stories has not been easy, Reynolds acknowledged noting that after the 7-9 a.m. parking restrictions behind Save-On Food and Elevation Place went into affect, the community dispersed.
"The community shifted with the parking restriction. That changed the population, it pushed them to outlying areas," he said.
Reynolds said he heard reports of people moving to various parking lots around town and some even going East on Highway 1A.
"There was a dispersal, each of the locations they move into will illicit a response from various stakeholders – the information centre putting up signs saying there is no parking there, Gap Lake, they bouldered off the access road," Reynolds said.
Part of his report will include the impact of current parking restrictions.
"What are the ramifications of our decisions, how has this impacted neighbouring communities ... the situation right now, it is always in flux because new conditions and new challenges arise all the time," he said.
"You make a decision and that has a spillover affect and will have to be dealt with in some way or another."
With two months left in his position, the outreach worker is encouraging everyone to reach out and share their experiences.
"The more that people give me information or the more I can learn from their experience and understand their stories, the better the final decision may be ... this isn't a way of keeping tabs, this is a way of understanding who is in the community," he said.
Reynolds can be reached by email at Outreach@canmore.ca or by phone at 403-996-0025.