Two years ago today, I returned from My Homeless Christmas in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Canada. A Christmas without money, without a home, with uncertainty, darkness and a lack of heat, all contributed towards new experiences which I tried to re-create for the readers of this blog. If success depends on the total number of views reached over the past two years (23,000) or by the number of lives affected (quantity immeasurable), then this project was a success. This post is for those who live in Vancouver, but if you follow the links which I give below, you will be able to follow along.
When I returned home from my experiences, I contacted all media outlets and received the first response by my University’s newspaper. I was also asked to discuss some of my experiences to a group of children at the boys and girls club in Delta. Next, a radio and TV station asked for an interview with me. A week later, I was able to send my message across all existing media outlets available in our time: TV, radio, newspaper and the internet. Last but not least, I helped to set up a couple of field trips in the Downtown Eastside for high school students, both of which were extremely effective. I was very impressed at how much interest there was for this topic. This also provided me with further proof that it is possible for one man to make changes in our current environment.
Eight months later, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) decided to take on a similar project. Given that three different police officers took down my blog’s address on three separate occasions and the fact that their blog started eight months after mine – with the same web format and style I use for my blog – it must have influenced The Eastside Story’s creation. Unfortunately, their main aim was to improve their self-image with regards to the public’s eye. They decided to appoint a journalist, who goes by the name of Steve Addison, to document his experiences as a Beat Team police officer using taxpayer’s money (The Eastside Story). The Beat team is a group of VPD foot-soldiers who walk around the Downtown Eastside and give care to the community. They are well-known in that region and some of these officers essentially end up being social workers during their shift.
I’ve been asked how I felt about Steve’s blog and as I have alluded to above, I believe that this was a publicity stunt to try to improve the image of the department. The Police Department’s image was recently tainted when Robert Dziekański, a Polish immigrant, murdered in 2007 and when 12 police officers stomped a man in the Downtown Eastside. That stomping never reached the air or any tabloids along with the other violent and unjust Downtown Eastside stories which remain untold to this day. You can check my blog for details.
In the same way, Robert’s story would not have aired if a bystander had not released the film footage to the public. Even though airports are heavily equipped with video cameras and have constant footage of every square inch – at least I hope so since the 911 attacks – it took a local man’s videotape footage to contradict the officer’s original version of the story. These negative images of the Police Department tainted the public’s mind. Therefore, to override this negativity, their good deeds became a large spectacle for others to see. However, their work had a positive impact for our community even if their original motive was different.
To change gears a bit, I’d like to restate Newton’s second law here: Force is equal to mass times acceleration. In this context, writing positively about the Downtown Eastside creates a force that can actually start a movement. Like a piece of ice breaking off a mountain and gathering speed as it moves down, it can create an avalanche. Even though Newton’s equation was referring to physical objects only, I am hereby extending his theory to also apply to the movements of mental objects as well, such as thoughts and ideas.
As a matter of fact, why I decided to go homeless for Christmas was so that more energy can flow into that space and close the gap between the East and West, rich and poor, powerful and weak. Our stereotypes disappear by opening our minds and communicating with those who we understand the least. The reason why we understand them the least is two-fold: One, most do not experience homelessness, just as the most do not experience being rich. Second, our society shuns different opinions especially those coming from lower-income classes.
The purpose of this project was to give a voice to those who we neglect in our society. The ones neglected often practice life differently than what society expects from an individual; and so these people are by definition, not normal. The word normal represents the common viewpoint of a population, which is often branded through government-sponsored education, news, TV, movies and advertisement. People are told what they like and what is acceptable or not, since these are just merely social constructs. However, it is never normal people who shape society, create movements or are the most imaginative and free. In fact, it is those who dare to step past the confines and borders, which we created for ourselves, who shape our universe.
As always, I have and will encourage all the readers to take a minute and re-evaluate our entire society from the ground up. Then, evaluating one’s life with respect to one’s dreams and aspirations becomes the forefront of mankind’s existence. It is through constructive thinking and not through the simple re-telling of stories that help build a society. As the ancient Zoroastrian religion states, “good thoughts, good words and good deeds” are the most important principles of life. Now, granted that we assume language as given, positive thinking sets into motion good words and then finally good action. Therefore, the seeds of change are present in our minds. We also are able to influence one another.
When it comes to keeping in touch with some of my friends in the Downtown Eastside, it is often extremely difficult to keep a healthy relationship going. For one, they live in horrid living conditions. If you enter a Single-Room-Occupancy (SRO) offered in the Downtown Eastside, then you will know exactly what I am talking about. The SRO, which the politician Jagrup Brar stayed in, was among one of the more expensive and cleaner spaces available. The media rarely releases footage or pictures of these “livable” spaces some people have to call their home; for if they did, you would find them atrocious.
For those interested in how other parts of the world deal with homelessness, you can email me and I will gladly offer facts and current successful systems implemented in other parts of the world. That is one thing that Steve Addison’s blog completely sidestepped and did not address. Even though his point of view was empathic, it lacked practical and possible solutions to cut the existing problems there. I do realize that this was not the purpose of his blog though.
I am working on starting a couple of new projects. My recent commitment towards completing a second bachelor’s degree has changed my focus and energy in life. In a few months’ time, I will be able to write more often about God, spirituality, science and other topics which I have promised to do in the past. I look forward to hearing feedback and taking part in more discussions with all of you. I wish all my readers the best in the upcoming New Year.
Happy New Year,