Day 1 – December 23, 2010 – My first sleep

Start from the beginning

My first sleep – 11pm

After three hours of talking, I was tired.  I asked Kenneth if I could sleep in his alley.  So we walked down the alley together in search of a vacancy.  He showed me each available “room”.  “This is a 2-star place.  This one here is ok.  Oh here is a 4-star room”.  We both laughed.  I like the fact that Kenneth has a good sense of humor.  And in case you are wondering, I did pick the “4-star room”.  Before going to sleep, Kenneth gave me three yogurts and the cranberry juice he was given earlier.  I had nothing to eat for breakfast, so this was perfect for me.

I was all bundled up in my sleeping bag and blanket.  This is the first time in my life that I was sleeping on the streets with no roof over my head.  I was sleeping in a downtown Vancouver alley during the Christmas holidays.  While many North Americans were excited about upcoming dinners and presents, I was homeless.  I laid awake for most of the night.  One of the reasons I had trouble falling asleep was that I could not stretch out my legs comfortably in such a tight space.  I slept with my shoes on and put all my belongings between the wall and me.  I did not want to get jacked and have this project end after my first day.

In the middle of the night, I heard a car pull up right next to me.  I was not able to see this car, but I could hear the door open and someone walk towards me. The pallet was blocking my view (see picture).  I have to admit, with all the fear our society harbors, the first thought that came to my mind was that it is either a gang member or a police officer.  I will get beaten or harassed.  I was scared and I did not know what was going to happen to me.

A man stuck his head over the pallet asking “are you hungry?”  I replied with a shaky “no”.  He held up a Styrofoam plate along with cutlery and asked again, “are you sure?”  Again, I replied with a shaky “yeah”.   I was shaken up with fear within my head.  Why did I have these thoughts in my head?

After this incident I started to analyze my thoughts more deeply.  I came to the conclusion that fear is actually more dangerous than anything.  In general, if I am fearful of a certain situation then I would not be able to communicate effectively.  Having a shaky voice, shattering teeth, and a million thoughts racing through one’s head, would actually make matters much worse.  Even if someone wanted to steal from me, it would be better to calmly hand over my possessions than to do it nervously.

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6 responses to “Day 1 – December 23, 2010 – My first sleep

  1. I think you’re incredibly brave to have done this. I’m just not tough enough, mentally. I think too many of us, myself included, are fearful about too many things! Thank you for writing.

  2. I LOL’ d @gang member going to beat you down.

  3. With all due respect, I don’t think this is brave. You’ve painted yourself as very self-sacrificing and noble, but you should acknowledge that you did this for purely selfish reasons. No one is benefitting from you doing this, except yourself, by fulfilling your thirst for adventure and desire to know how the impoverished and addicted live. I don’t mean to say this in a rude way at all, but I think some very well intentioned people are winding up as a sort of “poverty tourist” through things such as this.

    • Thank you for reading up to the first day of my blog. Tara, you are certainly entitled to your opinion. I find criticism to be very healthy because it challenges me on why I did this project in the first place. I am not here to boast about how successful it has been, not only for me but for the entire community, but since you have asked for evidence, I will try my best to provide you with it here.

      To my defense, I would like to say that the original intent of my blog was to raise awareness about homelessness and to bridge the gap between the East and the West. Furthermore, I don’t think that I would have the right to write about homelessness without experiencing some of it myself (in a very limited way of course). In my opinion, the majority of politicians and media representatives who make decisions or write about the downtown Eastside have simply no experience of it. And that, to me, puts less weight on each of their words.

      Today, it has been over a year since “my adventure”, as you call it, but what has come out of it? Who if anybody has gained and where is the evidence? First of all, the blog called “Eastside Stories: Diary of a Vancouver Beat Cop” was most likely started because of this very blog you are reading now. My blog was written nine months before Steve started his. During my stay in the Downtown Eastside, my blog’s address was written down by three different police officers. Therefore, the Vancouver Police Department was well aware of what I was doing. I guess they liked the idea. Now I certainly don’t get 18000 hits a month, like he does, but I did get 18000 in one year. And that’s a lot of hits for my standards.

      Second, a lot of my friends have met and talked to my homeless friends. I keep in touch with some of them and I visit the downtown Eastside whenever I have a chance. In fact, I was there last night and made a new friend who goes by the name of Hook (http://ahamedia.ca/2010/08/06/hook-an-artist-in-the-vancouver-downtown-eastside/). Anyways, due to my experience of the downtown Eastside, some my friends’ opinions have changed in a very positive way.

      Furthermore, I received about a dozen emails from strangers who were inspired after reading my blog. One of whom, decided to do a similar type project herself, and others were interested in meeting the people I met along the way. This increased dialogue between “them and us”, is the major initiative of my project now.

      Moreover, a teacher by the name of Stephen Goobie took his high school students on a field trip to the Downtown Eastside. Before going on this field trip, he emailed me and asked me where they should go. I told him that they should meet Kenneth Trevail in his alley so that the students could ask questions directly to a homeless man. With Mr. Goobie’s permission, I contacted all media outlets to have this story broadcast to the city, because I believe that others should take the same initiative (http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/News/local/2011/03/07/17530236.html).

      Lastly, my entire blog has been translated into Farsi and is printed in a local newspaper here in Vancouver for the Iranian community to read. The more people read about how talented and intelligent many of the Vancouver Downtown Eastside residents are, the greater the change we can create for our community as a whole.

      I think the points above strongly outweigh any risks I may have taken during my “selfish adventure”. I certainly disagree that I was the only one who benefited from this. Not only has it taken me countless hours to write up this blog, but it has also cost me quite a bit of money for my translator, the UGM donation, and other costs to complete this project.

      I should also mention that I am not part of any organization and that I do not want, nor do I expect a single penny in return. The ads at the bottom of my blog are there because I am using the free version of WordPress rather than paying $30 a year to have the ads removed. Therefore, I do not make any money from the ads either. Whether I paint myself as a noble person or not, is up to your interpretation. I certainly do not consider myself noble. However, I am empathetic to the people who are being unfairly judged by our society.

  4. Thank you for responding to me. I in fact read your entire blog, which I came across after reading the police officer’s blog. For me, the difference in his case is that he is on the streets with a specific goal of keeping peace and preventing crime. Now, I still have mixed feelings about him showcasing the misfortune of others for his blog as well. I do feel that although you were well-intentioned, this approach is misguided. Statements like “It is time to go and listen to people who haven’t been heard. It is time to stare deeply into a rejected man’s eyes while reciprocating a welcoming smile,” indicate that you viewed yourself as going into unchartered waters, revealing new truths, befriending people in hardship who desperately needed a friend. Do these homeless individuals WANT a bunch of school children peppering them with questions? Is it a good thing that people of privileged backgrounds will come in increasing numbers to play homeless? I don’t doubt that you have reached an audience with this. However, this does not mean the homeless are benefitting in any significant way. In fact, they are being fetishized as the “noble poor.” If I may make a parallel to the international development field, this is akin to the rush of well-meaning 20 somethings from the US and Canada who pour into Africa and South America to “develop” the world’s poor, often without any skillsets or qualifications to speak of. Community dynamics are disrupted, lots of photos are taken, blogs are written, but at the end of the day, there often isn’t much to show for it.

    I didn’t mean to imply that you are benefitting monetarily; rather, in our efforts to “help others,” we often feel great about how generous we are without actually considering the consequence or utility of our actions.

    Just my $0.02. Sorry to be a debbie downer.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read my entire blog. The specific goal for this project was to raise awareness about homelessness, and have the ability to write about homelessness without being too much of a hypocrite. Government officials, along with policy analysts, who make decisions for the Downtown Eastside or other poor neighborhoods, often have no experience of it, or do not allow the residents to be part of the decision making. How can people who lack these experiences make the most important decisions for these residents?

      Throughout my blog, I do not “showcase their misfortune”. I rather highlight the strengths of the Downtown Eastside, which the media fails to represent. If the media were honest, then there would be nothing left for me to learn. The amount of talent that exists in this area is truly amazing. To me, the word misfortune generally applies to money, but money can only solve financial problems. Many of the problems faced by the people are not necessarily money related. For example, after being physically or sexually abused for many years, a person may escape this dark and cruel world by turning towards drugs. So for some, it was not the lack of money that pushed them into this addictive lifestyle. Either way, being compassionate towards those who struggle in life is a greater help than any money or physical structure can provide.

      Nevertheless, I strongly believe that we can learn more from the Downtown Eastside than we can teach them. For example, they can teach us how to live in a closer community. There is a lot of sharing amongst the homeless. This was one of the most valuable lessons I learned during my experience. I certainly would not have learned this by sitting on the couch. However, to be more precise, any dialogue or engagement should be a two-way street. So I guess the question you may ask is whether anybody from my side gained from this or not. As mentioned in my previous post, the people who contacted me, my friends, the students who visited the DTES, my family and I were affected in a positive way. Being more aware of our surroundings and our world is generally viewed as a good thing. Since we established the fact that there was a benefit in this direction, which you have labeled as being “purely selfish”, we also have to take a look at the other side of the coin, which is what your second comment highlights.

      First off, I would like to say that I do not trust or have faith in our mainstream media. The reason is simple; they serve the companies that run them and therefore write in a biased manner. Many of this misinformation is apparent just by walking around or talking to people in the Downtown Eastside. In fact, one of the reporters joined Steven Goobie’s field trip class to get a sense of the area as well. After their field trip, this reporter told Mr. Goobie that he learned a lot about the Downtown Eastside that he had not known before. This is shocking because a reporter should know the area that he or she writes about. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not a scary place to be. The people are friendly. They feel strongly rejected by society because of this continual discriminatory bombardment by the media. These stories often fuel anger and hatred against the poor while glamorizing the rich (“the noble rich”).

      Now it is not just the lies that bother me, but the corruption, violence and injustice the poor face on a regular basis. It is our duty to expose this for all to see. I was raised to believe that all humans should be treated fairly, and that one should be vocal about injustice. This is not necessarily exposing their misfortunes. But rather, it is about uncovering and exposing how poorly our own citizens treat one another, especially when it comes to the less fortunate. Being poor often means that one has no right to speak or be heard. And since our society generally takes rich or educated people seriously, a person like me is in a much better position to reach the public than they are. Nobody listens to a homeless man talking about what he or she is passionate about, because many view them as failures. We view them this way because we believe that money and success go hand in hand.

      To say things like, “what I am doing is inconsequential” is not only morally wrong, but also lacks scientific evidence, which I will highlight in the next few paragraphs. But since you have read my blog, you should know what some of these residents have been through. Do you think it is fair for them to suffer the way that they do when we have the ability to eliminate the majority of their pains? Were there any stories you hadn’t read or heard before? Was there anything you found interesting? Simply put, this entire blog would not exist without my experience.

      Nevertheless, I witnessed some hateful discrimination with my own eyes and that experience had quite an effect on me. I have been very vocal about these issues ever since and I am happy to say that it has inspired some individuals to provide support and assistance into the area. If nobody talks about injustices in the public sphere, then people assume that there is nothing wrong with the way the homeless are treated. Stories like Gilles, John the Firefighter, Kenneth Trevail and now my recent encounter with Hook, who was kicked out of a bar for being poor, are all experiences our society MUST know about in order to question justice and the treatment of other human beings.

      I could have summarized my entire blog or even this post with one simple question. And the question is how does a seed grow? Does a seed grow because it has everything it requires inside of it or does it depend on something else as well? Certainly the seed requires fertile soil, water, and the sun to grow. In other words, everything outside of the seed, also known as the environment, has to be accommodating to each individual seed. If we place a seed on a rock, no amount of water or sun will permit growth. So the first step is to create a positive environment for people living in the Downtown Eastside. And until we realize that we are actually a big part of the problem, we won’t make any advancements.

      This idea parallels scientific research conducted by Zimbardo in his Stanford prison experiment. This experiment, as you may know, successfully showed that good people turn into mean-spirited people when they are placed in a negative or controlling environment. There are other conclusions that can be drawn from this experiment which are relevant to the DTES, but my point is the same as the paragraph above. By creating a good environment for them, and speaking out against injustice, we can at least slow down or prevent this hatred. This would give them an opportunity to grow.

      Moreover, when we have the ability to start recognizing that our own addiction problems (oil, material wealth) actually cause greater damage to our planet then an addict creates for himself, we will be able to take a step forward. At least addicts localize their problems, while our addictions not only affect the current generation but effect every generation yet to come. Using this perspective, we become the problem that needs fixing, and not the other way around. Blaming our own issues on others is the too easy and a form of denial.

      The next step forward will take place when we start to listen to these residents; because it is their neighborhood we feel entitled to control. The reason we feel entitled to their space is because they are poor. Try telling rich people how and where to live and you will be faced with strong opposition. In our society, we believe that the rich are right and that the poor are wrong. In my opinion, we have no right to dictate and control any lives, especially the ones living in poor neighborhoods. That doesn’t mean that we should be living separately from them. We all know that humans depend on one another, but consulting them about their future is a step in the right direction.

      The example you gave of students going to Africa or South America may sound like a one-way learning experience. However, I am sure the students reflect on their experiences and engage in conversations when they arrive back home. It is easy to overlook these impacts it can have on an individual and the people around them. This sharing of opinions and knowledge is exactly what our civilization rests upon. Furthermore, since I can change my universe by changing the perception and interpretation of it, through either negative or positive thinking, these experiences make a large difference for the individual. Certainly, the best case scenario is when both sides benefit.

      “Is it a good thing that people of privileged backgrounds will come in increasing numbers to play homeless?”
      Yes, because they will see how cruel and unjust our own behavior towards the homeless is. Sometimes in order to be empathetic and understand others we have to put ourselves in their shoes, and if we can’t mentally put ourselves in their shoes, then we should physically put ourselves in their shoes. As I was alluding to in my last comment, a woman by the name of Antonia Issa, stayed in the Downtown Eastside for a couple of nights. During her last night, one teenager decided to urinate on her while she was sleeping. However, what he didn’t know was that she was awake the entire time. These teenagers, who came from privileged backgrounds, thought their act was funny, because homeless people sleeping out on the streets mean nothing to them. In the eyes of their friends, this boy was a hero. These experiences and stories should be repeated for others to hear and think about. The more people wake who up to how horrific and hurtful people on “this side” are, the quicker we can start making changes. I certainly understand that some people do not need this direct experience, and can find it through other means, but by doing nothing, nothing will be achieved.

      “Do these homeless individuals want a bunch of school children peppering them with questions?” As a matter of fact, yes many of them do. Since the media only covers stories in a bias way, usually by neglecting the poor and glamorizing the rich, many of the Downtown Eastside residents are misunderstood and not heard. Also your question is assuming that they do not have the ability to say, “Excuse me, but I do not want to answer that particular question”. Nevertheless, the homeless person who gave this talk, Kenneth Trevail, not only agreed to this but also encouraged students to ask as many questions as they had. In fact, I am also inviting him to speak at my University in the next few weeks. If you yourself have any questions, he would be more than happy to answer them for you.

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