Three weeks into term, Alana Keleigh, a Mount Royal University student, found an eviction notice shoved in the door of her Dodge B-series van, nicknamed Carl. The notice was a warning that she had violated MRU’s parking policies by staying overnight in the parking lots while living in her van.
“It was pretty heavy-handed,” says the now silver-dyed hair, environmental science student.
“They were like 'We are going to give you academic misconduct if you keep this up, we are going to tow you, we could fine you.’”
Keleigh took to social media and posted a picture of the eviction notice stating her concerns and frustrations about the implications of the notice she received.
University ‘not set up for camping’
Written by Gerry McHugh, Mount Royal University’s Parking and Transportation manager, the letter stated overnight parking is not permitted at MRU and Keleigh was in violation of her parking permit.
“We are not set up for camping. In our policy overnight parking is not permitted unless it's authorized and camping is not authorized at all,” says McHugh, adding “We are not set up to take care of people when they do that.”
Keleigh has been living in her van in MRU parking lots since September. While she has faced issues with living the so-called #Vanlife including a broken space heater, a break-in and numerous renovations and repairs, the biggest obstacle by far has been the university’s unwillingness to let her stay overnight in her self-contained van.
“I think the main thing they were concerned about was liabilities, so if I like froze to death in the parking lots my parents would try to sue them or something,” says Keleigh.
MRU Policy banning overnight parking hard to find
After some searching, the Calgary Journal was able to locate the policy mentioned in Keleigh’s notice. However, it was difficult to access without direction from MRU’s parking services.
“They gave me a link but I think it was an internal document because it is incredibly difficult to find it,” says Keleigh.
The policy can be found through a link pathway on Mount Royal’s website.
McHugh says Keleigh’s presence wasn’t hard to detect by security or by other drivers. He says it was fairly obvious that Keleigh was camping out in her van in the parking lots because most vehicles left overnight are not vans.
“Anytime a vehicle sits for an extended period of time whether security or somebody that occupies those parking lots makes us aware that the vehicle has not moved,” says McHugh, adding another source that brought Keleigh and Carl to their attention was a multimedia story published by the Calgary Journal in January.
“A lot of the vehicles that were left over were residence students. Residence students have permits that allow them to leave their vehicles in a parking lot because they are living here [MRU].”
Keleigh says she was caught off guard when she got the letter that warned of her eviction, saying she hadn’t received any notice or prior warning.
“There was nothing, nada,” she says. “I mean but how could you not be on to me, I'm a big red smear on the horizon?"
McHugh, however, insists parking services issued a warning ticket for her overnight parking before they followed up with an official notice.
#Vanlife under threat
While Keleigh was at first upset by the notice of possible eviction and the possible fine she could receive, her concern was more with the tone.
“I didn't really like the implications that it gave, that I like needed financial or psychiatric help,” Keleigh says regarding the list of aids and services that were outlined in the MRU letter.
The university’s communications manager, Andrea Ranson, says the list of resources was given to Keleigh in good faith.
“We wanted to make sure she had access to whatever resources she would need, both from the student association and the university so we didn't know what her situation was, what her motivation was for parking and living in the parking lot.”
Mount Royal University offers many different services for students including help with funding, careers, health and wellness among others. But Keleigh says she’s living independently and not in need of help.
Keleigh adds she feels like she’s dodging capitalism with her attempt at living an alternative lifestyle, but institutions appear less interested in supporting the #Vanlife lifestyle.
“Not just the school policies but the municipal policies, and what not, and all of those laws are completely against alternative lifestyles.”
“I thought I was being clever and apparently I am being a scum of society,” she adds.
Keleigh and Carl movin’ on
Ranson says that parking services worked hard to contact Keleigh in early February “so that she wouldn't be worried and we could talk to her in person.”
Keleigh eventually met with Ranson and McHugh to discuss the situation.
Ranson says that the meeting ended amicably and everything was settled between Keleigh and the university.
“So she's getting her refund ... she’s giving us her time for leaving [the premises].”
Ranson adds that if Keleigh's van had needed a boost they would have also gladly helped.
As for Keleigh, she isn’t moving far. Her new parking spot will be within walking distance of the MRU parking lots from which she was evicted.
For a close-up look at Keleigh and Carl, check out the #Vanlife documentary at CalgaryJournal.ca in the Living Section.
- By Nora Cruickshank and Hannah Willinger