My Life in a Vancouver Parking Garage

Like many 23-year-olds, Jared lives on a shoestring: he rides an old 10-speed to art school; on weekends he splits cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon with friends. One decision, though, sets him apart—he lives in an eight-by-15-foot storage unit in a West End parkade. He eats there, sleeps there. He uses a bucket of water a day for cooking and drinking. He has one power socket, no bathroom.

Jared (a pseudonym, at his request) moved into the shed when he arrived from Kamloops to attend Emily Carr University. His father, who runs a business maintaining building façades downtown, had for decades rented the unit to crash when he came to town. In the last three years, Jared has substantially improved the place. Next to the fold-down bed frame his dad installed, he’s added a mini-fridge, microwave, and blender; a white table with a lamp; and two seats (a red metal chair at the table and a grimy rolling office chair nabbed from an alley). His bike hangs from hooks in the ceiling, and shelves hold an orderly clutter of books, paints, and jars of spices and tea.

His tiny home brings him satisfaction, he says, and a focus he fears he might not find elsewhere. His laptop broke, and he has no intention of fixing it. Apart from art school three days a week and the odd shift at his dad’s company to cover the $200 monthly rental on the unit, he spends his time in this tiny, belowground home—painting, reading about quantum physics, and perfecting his abstract drawings.

He nearly got caught once. “When I first moved here I didn’t know where to shower.” He punched holes in a bucket and hung it from one of the parkade’s pipes. One night, around 2:30, a security guard came by. “I was standing there in my swimming shorts, soaping up, and I could hear him, ’cause when you’re down here for so long your senses go through the roof. He was coming down the stairs, so I grabbed the bucket and my towel and ran behind a car. He just missed me.” He laughs at the memory; nowadays he uses a rec centre to shower instead.

For the most part, Jared says, friends and dates approve. And he prefers his storage unit to the alternatives: moving out to the suburbs, or paying through the nose for something downtown that might not be much larger. He scoffs at the micro-suites in Gastown that sold out last summer in a week—at an average monthly rent of $850 for less than 300 square feet. “This is worth it,” he says. “Just being in the city. If I get a chance to live cheaply and just enjoy looking at people and engaging with them, that’s great. That’s what this place does for me.”