Raffi the dog pops his fluffy head out the RV window, eager for pets. Judy Dreger shouts a greeting from the kitchen in the back of her van, a 76 Dodge Chinook Sportsman with moss-green siding, where she lives with Raffi and Dexter, a 70-pound Labrador cross.
Dreger doesn’t just live in her van, she’s turning it into her job. Not as a heavily sponsored social media influencer, but as a security guard.
Nightly she pulls into Fennel’s RV Repair in Colwood. She sets out grass welcome mats, water bowls for the dogs and links in to the WiFi to start the cameras recording.
The owner at Fennel’s has contracted Dreger to keep an eye on the lot where a dozen or so RVs are parked for repair. The trade gives her a safe place to sleep and a location to train fellow van-lifers as parking lot security. She’ll show them what activity to look for, how to set up security cameras, how to approach business owners themselves.
She wants to start a business connecting van dwellers with business owners, but for now it’s just her and a couple of friends. Dreger is also a certified security guard during the day, working standard patrol shifts throughout Greater Victoria.
She’s been living in her van since 2018. Fitted with a full bathroom, stove and fridge, everything has its home. Pantry cupboards hold food and an occasional case of blackberry vodka sodas. Clothes and the air fryer (chicken wings are killer) go on the shelf above the large bed, plenty wide for her and the dogs.
And the view! Well, it changes on a whim.
“You’d be foolish to live in a van and not spend a night at the beach. There’s nothing better than sitting at the beach listening to Led Zeppelin and having a beer. Or in my case, I like those Nudes,” she says of the vodka soda beverage. She might stay in Oak Bay and work in Esquimalt, or sleep at the beach in Colwood and work in Sooke.
|Ragamuffin Raffi is due for a haircut, but he's still a pro at fetching balls in the parking lot. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Dreger never stays long in any one place. During the day she doesn’t park longer than eight hours, and she won’t sleep in the same place more than two nights in a row.
“You’ve got to have a positive attitude. You cannot be aggressive. You have to be assertive, but not be aggressive,” she says. “Like when someone asks what are you doing? You just tell them, I’m studying, or I’m watching a movie. And then people don’t care. As long as you’re not a regular, they don’t care.”
If anyone doesn’t want her there, she’ll assert her right to stay to a point, but won’t get into a fight over it. Recently at Saxe Point in Esquimalt, security woke her up in the early morning telling her to leave. She was just crashing for the night, but they insisted. Okay, she shrugged, and drove on.
Incidents like that are rare and don’t bother her. Neither does moving to a new spot every day. She prefers the freedom. She has a fixed address in Esquimalt where she could stay, but tends to just stop in for mail.
Between insurance, fuel, oil and maintenance, her van costs $700 to $900 a month. Not a lot cheaper than rent, but it’s not about the money.
“If you don’t like your situation, or just feel like you need to be alone – which is habitual of RV-ing, wanting to be alone – that’s what that is, it’s your own little sanctuary.”
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