Living in a van

Man can’t find suitable accessible housing

Barb Sweet
Published on August 20, 2013
This van has been home for Peter Locke during his search for accessible housing. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

Peter Locke’s home since June has been a burgundy 1980 van with carpet on the ceiling and a small bunk in the back with an unzipped sleeping bag stretched across it.

There’s no bathroom, but Locke still has a catheter from a bladder rupture. Every once in a while he gets a hotel room for a night to get a wash.  But the summer is wearing on and Locke’s search for a wheelchair-accessible apartment has frustrated him and people trying to help. Locke has no idea what he’s going to do if he doesn’t find a place in the next few weeks.

The 52-year-old man was a bricklayer for 30 years, then injured his back about four years ago and six months after that was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.


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As he explained his story, the rail thin man shifted his body frequently to relieve the discomfort on his back from life in the chair.

“Sometimes it gets you down, but you tries to keep going. If you get down too much you won’t get back up,” he said, adding once he gets an apartment he hopes he can get some home support and use the GoBus accessible transit.

Friends — whose home isn’t accessible for him to stay with them, but they help by driving him in his van —  said the biggest issue is finding an accessible apartment in the right price range. Sometimes landlords don’t want to rent to someone in a wheelchair.

“They hang up on ya,” Locke said.


After his marriage breakup, Locke said he couldn’t afford to continue his mortgage in St. John’s, sold his house and moved to Winterton, about an hour and a half away from St. John’s, because he thought it would be cheaper. 

Then this spring, an electrical heater caught fire and his house there was extensively damaged, he said. Locke decided it would be better to move back to St. John’s to be closer to weekly medical appointments. He had insurance which covered the mortgage, but he said he would have to make expensive repairs to the home to live in it again in addition to transportation back and forth to the city for appointments.

But there’s been no luck so far applying to social housing and looking for rentals in the private market in metro.

The NDP has been trying to help him. There is a lead on one apartment this week, but it may not fit his needs.

Locke’s disability income is $1,700 a month.

“One day I was working seven days a week and a couple of days later I couldn’t work at all,” he said of his health issues.

NDP housing critic St. John’s Centre MHA Gerry Rogers said it’s rough for people who need accessible units.

“People are looking for months and months and months,” she said. “There are so few units available in social housing. And there doesn’t seem to be a plan to make any more.”

Rogers said without an increase in the rent subsidies — a program to help low-income earners in the private rental market — people have less resources to aid their search.

“It’s a really tough one,” she said. “We’re seeing it across the board, across the province.”

“The number of people on the waiting list for rent subsidies I believe is growing because they are calling our offices. … There’s no relief in sight.”

She blames the Tory government for failing to plan for the aging demographic.

No one was available at Newfoundland and Labrador Housing to comment Monday.