Posted January 15, 2018
Jay Post calls himself a “survivalist.”
From the day he entered the Canadian justice system when he was 19 after a “drug deal gone bad,” to the miserable night last November when he exercised his “squatters’ rights” and moved into an empty shipping container in Burnaby, he’s always fought for his life.
Post, 50, never expected things to get so tough. But after serving “double-digits” and leaving prison years ago, and returning to B.C. from New Brunswick last winter, he found himself confronted with a housing crisis like nothing he could have dreamed.
“It’s changed a million per cent,” he said. “It’s grown exponentially. It’s crazy.”
Now, after months adapting from the big house to a “tiny house,” Post has found that independent squatting suits him.
“What am I going to do for the winter if I’ve got no place to live?” he said during an interview inside the 12.2-metre, corrugated-steel shipping container sitting on a vacant lot. Postmedia agreed not to identify the location.
“I’m 50. I can’t be living outside in a cardboard box at this age.”
Last February, Post left his hometown Saint John and came to Burnaby where he moved in with an old friend. After two living situations and a job fell through, he found himself sleeping under a tarp for three nights last fall.
On Nov. 1, rather than becoming one of Metro Vancouver’s 3,605 homeless (69 are in Burnaby, compared to 2,138 in Vancouver, according to the 2017 count) Post moved into a small, unlocked shipping container on a lot that has sat vacant for more than 25 years because of contamination and which is slated for development.
He is another example of homeless or at-risk British Columbians making use of under-utilized spaces during the housing crisis. Last fall, a 54-year-old man dug an underground bunker in a ravine in East Vancouver. In 2016, squatters occupied a Burnaby apartment building slated for demolition.
Murray Martin of B.C. ACORN, which advocates affordable housing, wasn’t surprised to hear someone had moved into a shipping container in his hometown. ACORN clients facing homelessness have been living in their cars and couch surfing, and Burnaby’s dwindling market-rental stock has made things noticeably worse, he said.
“My personal opinion is people should be allowed to squat anywhere when there’s a housing crisis,” Martin said. “It’s insane that in the 21st century, we have a bigger economy than we’ve ever had and we’ve got more homeless people.”
Before moving into a larger container on the lot mid-November, Post emptied it of used needles, condoms and rotten mattresses. Outside, he’s built a pond, planted trees and cleaned up junk left over the years. Inside, he’s made a bedroom, living room and washroom, inspired by home-renovation shows he watched in prison long ago. It’s filled with stuff salvaged from construction waste bins and alleyways, which have given him a bed and wardrobe.
Jay Post does some construction work inside the disused container he calls home.
“It’s amazing what people leave and throw away,” Post said.
He has no electricity and reads paperbacks under LED lights. He’s building a brick fireplace but for now warms up with a camping stove and by cuddling his kitten, Stevie Nicks.
“I’ve never built anything in my life,” he said. “I’m not mechanically inclined. I’m an idiot. And this isn’t coming out too bad.”
Post visits a friend’s place a couple blocks away for showers and laundry. In exchange, he cooks for the friend and his wife. But he’s also discovered that for $1.50, he can buy corner-store nachos and slather them with cheese, chili and onions — about 1,200 calories if laid on thick.
He earns a meagre income collecting bottles and doing cash construction and landscaping gigs. Parishioners from a neighbouring church and locals have left him food and money. He believes only one person has complained about his presence but said he hasn’t been told to leave. His interactions with city staff and police have been cordial, he said.
“I’m not bothering anybody,” Post said. “If the lot’s here, use it, man.”
Jay Post warms his hands over a small stove, his source of heat in the disused shipping container he has turned into a home.
He explains his unconventional living situation like so: “First of all, ‘squatters’ rights.’ Secondly, this was abandoned. It’s been here for well over six years and it’s been unlocked and opened.”
“Squatters’ rights” don’t actually work in Post’s case. Only rights or titles acquired by adverse possession before July 1, 1975, are valid, according to the province. But until Post builds his log cabin on Crown land in the next two years, he hopes to stay put. He’s apprehensive about social housing, where he might live with people in active addiction after ceasing his own opioid use more than a decade ago. He can’t live with family — almost all are dead.
Post said he wanted to share his story because he knows neighbours are curious. Also, he said, people should see that in desperate times, it’s important to look at discarded building materials and under-utilized spaces with an open mind. Nothing could be worse for him than losing his own space, he said.
“I am at my wit’s end now in life,” he said. “I’ve lost everything … and now I’m sitting in a box. You know what I mean?
Article by Nick England for Vancouver Sun