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Housing hard to find for Langley senior and Elvis-loving cockatoo

Diane Miller and Rocky can’t find a permanent place to live amid the housing crisis
Rocky, a 28-year-old umbrella cockatoo. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

A van isn’t the best home, for either a person or an umbrella cockatoo with a fondness for 1950s rock music.

Langley’s Diane Miller has been living in a van for the past several months, one of many local seniors who have been forced to live in a vehicle or a trailer because they simply cannot find anywhere affordable and safe to live.

Living with Miller is Rocky, a 28-year-old umbrella cockatoo, and her constant companion for the last 13 years.

Rocky likes people – he will happily step onto the arm or shoulder of someone he’s just met – he speaks and says hello, will steal people’s hats right off their heads, and he likes dancing to Elvis, especially ‘Jailhouse Rock.’

Start playing the King, and he’ll bob his head, raise his feathered crest, and dart back and forth cheerfully.

“It’s not a good environment, but I don’t want to give my bird up,” Miller said of living in a van with Rocky. When she talks about the cockatoo, it brings a smile to her face.

Miller said her troubles with housing and finances date back to 2017. She left an abusive relationship, and since then has lived in a variety of places, including women’s transitional housing, motel rooms, and rented rooms in homes with multiple tenants. In some of them, she suffered thefts or even physical attacks.

For many years, Miller was a stained glass artist, creating pieces that were installed around the Lower Mainland, and instructed at Kwantlen Polytechnic.

“I’d still be doing it today if I could,” Miller said.

She has also worked as a hairdresser and doing landscaping work.

But one of her favourite things to do was taking Rocky into schools and seniors homes. She visited many Langley residences, and said that Rocky could bring a smile to the faces of seniors, even those suffering from memory loss and Alzheimer’s. She was featured in a 2016 article in the Langley Times about her work in seniors homes.

She also took him to major events like the Cloverdale Rodeo, or was available for birthday parties.

Over the last few years, her income has been seriously diminished. Miller said she is living primarily on Old Age Security at present, and has had problems with overdraft charges and identity theft.

At age 67, and living with chronic pain, she wants to work and find somewhere stable for her and Rocky to live.

“I want to work with my bird,” she said, whether that means film and TV productions, or in-person appearances.

“I’m not managing well with this homelessness, it’s expensive,” Miller said.

Keeping the van going and just surviving costs her about $1,000 a month, she noted.

“I need housing,” Miller said. But with the cost of rent and her financial issues, she hasn’t been able to find anywhere decent she and Rocky can live.

The number of seniors living in their cars around Langley, or even on the streets, is growing, according to Wendy Rachwalski, manager of community services at Langley Senior Resources Society (LSRS).

“We’ve got people living under bypasses that are seniors,” she said.

The LSRS is working to help people when it can, including through a donation-funded Seniors in Need program. But they simply don’t have the funding to help everyone, and neither do other Langley-based aid groups.

“We need immediate responses now to support them,” Rachwalski said of seniors without homes or living in their cars. “We need more subsidized rent geared to income.”

Both short- and long-term solutions are required, said Rachwalski.

“And it feels like nothing’s moving in either direction quick enough.”

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Diane Miller and her pet cockatoo, Rocky. Miller and Rocky are living in a van due to an inability to find affordable housing. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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