I live in the downtown east side of Vancouver in the ghetto zone. It’s not often thought of that there are something like 1000 people in about a six block radius here who are homeless. In other parts of the Metro area, another 1000. That many people will about saturate an acre of ground, without much room for everyone to sit. After two and a half years n emergency shelter, I’m considered very well to have been housed here in a scarce market: the market is scarce because there is no profit in building for people who cannot pay and who are not even functional enough to be able to pay what is being asked. If I were not subsided generously by the Atira Corporation and by BC Housing, I would still be in emergency shelter. There is much thank you hidden in these words. It’s called Grace.
I live on the 8th floor of a new Atira building Hastings East. These two blocks from Columbia to Abbott are locations for ongoing official behind the chain link fence: Swap Meets. During the week it’s in a narrow lot near Columbia; on the weekend in a much larger area just east of the Hastings Urban Garden behind their same fence. Then, there is the sidewalk marketplace flowing with people or bundled as small camps along both sides of those two blocks of which I have written quite a lot. It’s a virtual non stop sidewalk enterprise. Oh, yeah, the cops hang around, they shoo people off the streets with their “pack it up” directives and, they have some way of relocating the persistent, truly colorful clusters, bags and trolleys, bicycle parts, tents and shelters, occasional sofas, tables and assorted dogs with their people off the street.
I do not know if the cops arrest them. The arrest part doesn’t think very plausible because at least on the street they are not anywhere near the expense that they would be in a jail. Policing by the legers! The whole thing is fascinating not to say heartbreaking. These are our people! Maybe it’s the dirty shirts that people are put off by that they are somehow unrecognisable as belonging to the great Canadian Nation. Go figure!
The old lady does not know where they go. I have carefully noted where it is safe for me to roll in a power chair and where it is simply and voluntarily off limits. So, instead of getting involved where I cannot really make a difference, I talk to them when I roll to groceries, do my banking, visit with outreach at the Mission and generally just live a life. Whenever I go out, I heartily greet a great many people and over some time now, I am recognized and many there are who return the smiles and greetings. Even the cops are part of my beat as are the fire people and ambulance drivers. There is a DTES kind of culture that includes very diverse kinds of people in a mix that has a distinct flavor and character; where the most destitute work together to make a few things work for them. Their commerce is one instance: those engaged know exactly what to steal from about to satisfy those primal needs and because it is stolen property, their prices are right! Never underestimate the power!
Then there have been a few days of snow on the pavement and it’s promised several more. I am alerting my outreach team to let them know that by Thursday or Friday, I will need support for a grocery run. These people here before me on the sidewalks very often use outreach at the churches or the Mission especially to provide edible meals that I cannot consider as adequate should I wish to stay healthy. As I am inclined to roll with a great deal of consideration to the broken down, the addicted, the people going to work, the stumbler pushing a walker, the staggering drunks, everybody, it is my habit to say in a conversation tone, you will have to go around me! My chair does not do snow, it’s the edges of the curbs, curved and round and easy in clear weather; in snow clogged, puddled, drifted and stomped into a pack that does not do my wheels. I stay home, above it all acting as your reporter here today.
Its important in these kinds of environments, to understand that in the first instance, there really is nothing that I might do that will affect a real change here; and in the second instance, I work a personal commitment to the rather singular idea: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And: what goes around, comes around. Bring the fun to some of those people who have no where to go. Doesn’t that ache a little? Ya, it does so I go out when I go out and I bring my big voice, my funniness and my basic friendly nature: I bring the fun. The friendly granny style fun and that I am recognized creates safety for me out here and there are ‘danger zones’ that I know instinctively to avoid.
Now it is the very early morning here. It’s beginning to come light, the cloud cover begins as a pale glow across the easterly sky gradually seeping toward the west increasing in light as it goes until the whole city becomes distinct. In deep winter it’s after 8 am; now its coming spring, the sun appears a little after 7am. Finally later at 9:20, the sun breaks through and the crystal in my window casts a glowing riot of rainbows across my walls and ceiling.
When I look over the street below, there are very few people walking. There is a bundle of tents and loaded shopping carts draped with tarps clustered next to the wall of the building where a convenience store has opened its iron scissor gates, turned on the OPEN neon ready for a bitter day, snow on the sidewalk, shoveled to the curbs, and settled pristinely on the roofs that I see from my perch. The Jonathans and the crows are enthusiastically pursuing each other across the sky here, soaring and banking around the buildings doing their best bird tribe kind of fun up there. The trees are crusted in snowy white icing: the deciduous are like wedding bouquets, the conifers tower in robes of white among them, above them. Truck and automobile traffic picks up across the viaducts and the rumble is heard on our street. I’m going nowhere today while the tiki weather genie will begin the melt so that maybe later in the week, I will roll once more.
Now is the time to remember Walter Cronkite, here it is: a day like all days filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times and you are there! Please have a fine day!
P.S.: A great deal of the snow has melted through the day and all that’s left is the sidewalk collection of people, now that it’s dark, huddled next to the buildings. The assorted detritus that inevitably accumulates at the curb awaits the City pick-up crews that come later tonight. I’m informed that just beneath the waves over hundreds of cubic miles in all 5 global oceans looks just like those curbs of this street I’m looking at! There is a lot going on!