Barb the bus in East Van

Home is a 40-foot School Bus

This is a project for which I have footage going back several years. This East Vancouver neighbourhood has seen big changes in recent years as older houses are torn down and replaced with McMansions and laneway houses.

The story provides a window into the stresses being felt by ordinary families by the affordable housing crisis. In this case, it has a happy ending, largely down to the fortitude and creativity of this family.

I pitched the project to CBC Shorts, but it was rejected. The commissioning editor said they have had “an influx of similar pitches”.

Ironically, while following this story, my family was also renovicted from our Fifties bungalow, but that’s another story.

I’m still looking for an outlet for the project. Contact me if you are interested.

The Pitch

Faced with a dire housing future, a young Vancouver family of four decides to make a home in a 40-foot school bus and live a more nomadic lifestyle.

The Story

Like many young families in Vancouver, video editor Rob and music therapist Meg were priced out of the housing market. But they didn’t give up on the dream of owning their own place to raise their two children. When they were renovicted from their spacious and affordable bungalow in East Vancouver, a white-hot rental market awaited them. Dejected by their dire housing situation, they came up with an ambitious plan to convert a 40-foot school bus and live a more nomadic lifestyle.

By their calculations, they would soon be well ahead financially versus renting in Vancouver. Without the financial commitment of a fixed address, they could travel as they desired, even as far as their family homes on Canada’s East Coast. But first they had to find a bus and convert it – no small feat since they had no prior experience of such a project (“I’d never raised a hammer in my life,” says Rob). Adding to the challenge, there were work commitments, and home-schooling for their eldest child with special needs, while getting by in their interim home, a 490sq/ft laneway house.

The project took years of sweat and tears to complete but, by the end of 2020, through their determination and a supportive community, Rob and Meg finished a stylish, tiny home on wheels that was custom-made for their living requirements. As well as a queen-sized bed, kids’ quarters, fridge-freezer, bath tub, and pellet-burning stove, “Barb” includes many unusual touches like wood paneling salvaged from their first home and a gold glitter toilet seat. A story of resilience and creativity, Home is a 40 Foot School Bus provides a ray of hope at a time when the dream of home ownership eludes an increasing number of Canadians.

Treatment

The film will be like showing shipwrecked sailors building a raft to get off a desert island. The pressures of the Vancouver housing market will be shown both in Rob and Meg’s personal experience (paying rents on multiple spaces throughout Vancouver), the changing face of their neighbourhood, and tent cities and streets of RVs in the city at large. In contrast, the film will show the germ of an idea grow and take shape, nurtured by Meg’s effervescent positivity and Rob’s resolute and unflustered determination.

Vérité footage gathered over three years will show them shedding a fixed lifestyle for one of itinerance, and drawing on friends and community to overcome unforeseen challenges, and looking to the future. Interspersed, time-lapse will show transformations of school bus to home-on-wheels, and dramatic drone footage captures the bus travelling along BC roads.

Motion graphics would add extra pizzazz. Rob and Meg are accomplished musicians and the story could include some of their music.

Robert Alstead (www.alstead.com) made feature documentaries Running On Climate and You Never Bike Alone. Sample footage: https://vimeo.com/523524627 (password protected)