With cracks of mid-day pickleball matches echoing through the courts beside him, Cody (C.J.) Poole crimps wires and attends to the axle of the collapsable cart that’s been his home for the last few months.
A 100-watt solar panel charges two batteries that run the mobility scooter used to tow the cart home and powers the fans, lights and electronics Poole uses on a daily basis.
“It makes you feel a little bit better that you have something sitting somewhere that you can actually call home,” said the former automotive fabricator who’s been homeless for four years.
Before living in the cart, Poole was halfway through building a 10-by-four-foot platform trailer when it, his tools and belongings were confiscated.
“It’s not fair for everybody to lose their stuff. How many times are we going to keep doing that?”
He and others are hoping to win the city’s support for a new initiative looking to create opportunities for Victoria’s homeless, reduce bike theft and get people out of parks and into solar-powered micro-living options.
Mechanically skilled individuals living on the street often get caught up in a trade where they’re brought bikes that were likely stolen before the rides are flipped and quickly resold. That involvement is usually a means of survival for the handy folks, said Amy Allard, the lived experience coordinator at Sea Spring Mental Wellness Coalition.
After seeing the mechanical talents of some folks she works with, it dawned on her that those skills could be channelled into a new enterprise that would benefit the homeless and the community as a whole. She’s pitching that the city provides a small and underused space – preferably in an already noisy industrial area – for a small group of shop-savvy unhoused residents.
The live-work environment would help transition them to being legal small business players as they repair bikes, build custom rides, craft micro-living carts for the homeless and train others looking to bolster their skill sets. The idea looks to be a solution for everyone instead of continuing to pour money into bike theft and enforcement on those sheltering outdoors.
“If you took that money and you instead put it into leasing a warehouse or fenced-in area in Rock Bay it would be a savings and you’re transitioning people into where they’re self-sufficient,” Allard said. “They’re so excited about it and have been working so hard at it I’m sure it would work.”
Recognizing individuals’ talents and allowing them to dive into their passions can be a huge confidence boost for unhoused people, Allard said. She’s seen those she works with be turned away from opportunity or inclusion and how damaging it is for their spirits.
“They just want to be able to do their builds, make a name for themselves, make some legit money and move on with their lives,” Allard said.
The initiative would begin with six mechanical minds Allard supports working out of the garage or yard. That group, of which Poole is a member, is currently working on several solar-powered cart-home prototypes for their unhoused friends living with disabilities.
The initiative’s dream is that the mobility-scooter-towed homes could be allowed at designated parking spaces around the city so those individuals could leave their belongings safely behind as they attend doctor’s appointments or job interviews.
“That’s all I care about, helping other people and having fun,” Poole said of working on the project.
A garage space would give him and others on the street a safe spot to work without being harassed or people automatically assuming they’re bike thieves.
“You can just go to the spot and not have to worry about getting judged on who you are,” he said.
“If we have a safe place and I know I have the supplies and everything, then it’s easier to build what the customer wants and more people can see what there is.”
No illegally obtained parts would be used through the initiative – called Wheels not Steals – as the builders would only use donated or discarded materials for their creations or take on custom projects and tune-ups for customers.
“If we actually did get a spot, I’d see other people living their dreams by building or creating and not being afraid of what it looks like at the end,” Poole said.
Allard points to how it can take years for individuals, especially single men, to get a BC housing accommodation, and it’s common for people to get evicted. That’s because the underlying mental health or trauma challenges leading to their homelessness likely weren’t resolved and the facilities tend to isolate people from the community rather than integrating them.
“Nobody does well surrounded by 200 people who aren’t doing well,” she said.
If each neighbourhood accepted a handful of the micro carts, Allard said people could become members of the community and it would stop the cycle of larger encampments forming around the city.
Stressing the models are still just templates, Javon Delrossa, another member of the initiative, said they’re aiming for refined iterations of the carts to be towable by bike, have increased solar capacity and have camper-like stowaway toilets so people wouldn’t need to stay close to park bathrooms.
A key part of the design is increased security for those living outside.
“You can put a dollar store lock on your tent but you’re not keeping anyone out – including the bugs and the cold,” he said, adding that carts would at least look to buy someone time to call the police. “Unless this person is going back to somewhere safe, they’re not going to be able to give their best self.”
While mental health and drug programs are available for those experiencing homelessness, he said there just isn’t enough affordable housing coming.
“People are turned away from our parks, from our streets, from everywhere, where do you want people to go and heal?”
Delrossa said life can be hard and he hopes the carts would give people a chance to refocus and rebuild.
“We need to do more as a community instead of turning our back, so we really hope to secure this property,” he said. “We’ve tried the over-policing, we’ve tried the bylaw way, we’ve tried a million other ways, why don’t we try working together and see what we come up with.”
“Let’s be the change we want to see.”