Carl has lived and worked worked in various Island communities since growing up in a foster home in Campbell River. Born in Alert Bay, the 45-year-old drove a forklift during high school in the ’80s and worked about seven years at McDonald’s. But he developed a drinking problem and lost his job, after which he moved to Victoria where he attended a treatment facility. He moved into his own place and worked at the Salvation Army but was laid off when he fell off the wagon. Carl wound up back at the Campbell River McDonald’s before moving to the Comox Valley, where he found work at the Kingfisher Resort and the Comox Valley Recovery Centre.
These days, Carl is unemployed but living in a trailer at the Maple Pool Campground and RV Site in Courtenay, where he helps with cleaning and meals. When not visiting the downtown library, he enjoys the natural beauty surrounding his home of three years.
“I like it,” said Carl, one of 54 Maple Pool tenants benefitting from a Community Living Project operated by campground owners Dali and Jin Lin. “It’s nice and quiet, and peaceful. My mom and dad appreciate what they’re (Lins) doing.”
His words are echoed by Steve, who lived in a tent near the Puntledge bridge before moving to Maple Pool in 2010.
“Life is good here,” said Steve, who moved from Ottawa to B.C. 21 years ago. “It’s quiet. I have electricity and hydro, and I don’t have a bear sniffing at my door.”
Fellow tenant Gerry Mag hails from Calgary, where he once owned a paint company. After shutting it down he took a year off then moved to B.C. about four years ago. He’s had trouble finding work.
“I was renting a room for $500 a month when I was up in Kye Bay for 18 months,” said Mag, 52, who spent about seven months on the street before moving to Maple Pool.
He pays $400 a month plus heat, utilities and cable for his camper.
Aside from affordable accommodation, the Lins provide tenants with Saturday brunches, summer barbecues and Christmas presents. They also distribute clothing that is donated by the community.
And the coffee never stops brewing in the office, where tenants can socialize if they so desire.
“It’s a family affair, sort of,” said Roy Brooks, who has lived at Maple Pool about eight years. “Most people know each other.”
The tenants could be facing eviction because the City of Courtenay has initiated legal action against the Lins. The issue is zoning, which does not allow the couple to house people on the property, which sits in a floodplain. In an interview last year, City CAO Sandy Gray said the Lins had not submitted a plan to apply for zoning, even though council had given them about a year to come up with a plan.
The Lins had hired an engineer to conduct a survey but the company quit the job, thus delaying the rezoning process. However, Dali said a survey and engineering study has since been completed and a report is being compiled.
“They provide a good service here,” Steve said of the Lins. “Where else are they (tenants) going to go?”
Mag estimates eight out of 10 tenants would be homeless if evicted.
Don McWilliam has lived at Maple Pool for about five years. Self-employed and semi-retired, he pays his daughter’s rent in Vancouver and at times accommodates his son in his fifth wheel. If Maple Pool is shut down, he said no other RV park will accept units older than 10 years. Owners who can’t afford a newer unit can’t afford the rent — so the thought goes.
McWilliam feels the floodplain issue is a joke.
“I worked on a car lot,” he said. “That property was sold, and of course now there’s a brand new hotel there. It had to be rezoned along with other properties in that area. Right on a floodplain.”
He notes the City approved the upgrade financing to operate Maple Pool as is.
“This place has operated for a long time on ‘operate-as-is basis.’ That’s the one that really gets me,” said McWilliam, a former contractor who feels the common sense answer is to rezone all or some of the site. “And with the grandfather clause that’s already been provided by the city approving the loan, then start developing this place as a positive solution to a large problem that’s worldwide, it’s not just the Comox Valley.
“Some people live here by choice,” McWilliam added. “We’re not homeless, we’re houseless.”