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UBC Theses and Dissertations

(Re)cycling through poverty : a study of homelessness and bicycling in Vancouver, Canada Steinmann, Jeanette


In this research I explored the experiences of homeless and unstably-housed men who use a bicycle in Vancouver, Canada. Bicycling, the fastest growing mode of transportation in Vancouver (City of Vancouver, 2018), has become popularized due to its associations with positive health, economic, and environmental outcomes. Cycling has been taken up by upwardly-mobile and often white city-dwellers as a lifestyle choice signifying environmentally-conscious and responsible citizenship (Golub, Hoffman, Lugo, & Sandoval, 2016; Green, Steinbach & Datta, 2012). At the same time, many people who are homeless or unstably-housed may depend on walking and cycling for transportation, and may cycle out of necessity, not by choice (Lugo, 2018). To date, however, cycling scholarship tends to focus on infrastructure implementation or the public health benefits of cycling, and frames cyclists in a commuter-leisure dichotomy (Mayers & Glover, 2019). As a result, little is known about the experiences of low-income people who cycle out of necessity. Relatedly, more research is needed regarding how cycling is connected to larger issues of inequality, such as Vancouver’s current housing crisis, opioid epidemic, and settler-colonial history. The study was guided by critical and interpretive theoretical perspectives that helped bring attention to social inequities and the experiences and perspectives of marginalized individuals. Using primarily ride-along interviews, I did five in-depth semi-structured interviews with homeless or unstably-housed men who ride bicycles. Results indicate that bicycles were used for a variety of reasons, including for leisure, for transport, and for informal recycling work. The bicycle was a mobility aid for participants who had multiple health issues. Participants met their bike-related needs through an underground economy and a network of places and people. They cultivated relationships along these networks that helped them ‘get by’ despite experiencing significant stigma from the public and from police, as well as structural barriers. These results suggest that homeless and unstably-housed men who use bicycles employ varied and creative means to get by, and that work remains to decriminalize informal recycling and de-stigmatize low-income cyclists in Vancouver.

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