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Start from the beginning
Going Home – 8AM
When I awoke the next morning, I gathered my belongings and headed for the door. A tray of muffins were near the exit – I took one. This was my breakfast. Last night’s sleep was a bit unusual for me, because I am used to sleeping on hard surfaces now. Aside from a few groans of pain made by one of the occupants and the change from concrete to feather; I slept reasonably well.
Nevertheless, it was now time for me to go home. My project was successfully completed. To be more precise, only a part of this mission is now complete. The next step is to translate my entire experience into words and re-create what I saw, felt and heard. Making the transition from experience to language is a near impossible one, but I will do my best to convert reality into symbols.
I used public transportation to get home. Before boarding the bus, I pulled my bus-pass out of my pocket to show the driver. I am officially the old Nima Farzaneh again. I am not sure if the last statement is true, because this new experience gave me a new appreciation and perspective.
When I opened the door to my apartment, I sat down and started meditating. Not long into it, I broke down into tears. Why are some of the homeless mistreated for things they had no control over? And why are there so many injustices against the people who were nothing but kind to me?
Seeing people go through severe mental or physical pains every day of their lives, while accepting this mistreatment, disheartened me. They have come to accept this as their reality, but why does it have to this way? While we cause a lot of their pain and grief – due to our judgmental behavior towards them – this disease is easily preventable. The cure is to become more open-minded and accept people of all races, wealth status or disabilities – physical or mental.
Once I was able to control my out pour of emotions, I was thankful for being kept safe over the past seven days. I was in the right place at the right time. This perfect timing gave me the ability to write such a compelling story of the Downtown Eastside, one of the poorest communities in North America. After visiting my mother, I will contact all media outlets for publicity, because these stories and experiences can’t be kept silent.
Start from the beginning
It took me an hour to reach the front of the UGM bread line. I got myself a couple of pastries and some bread. Just like last time, I could take much more but I decided not to; it is my last night here. Once the bread line completed, I walked over to the Carnegie community center one last time. I took a quick survey on which shelter to stay at for the night. The consensus was that the emergency shelter – The Crosswalk – was the best one to stay at (which is closed now). I hope this place was free of bedbugs.
While I was waiting for the doors to open, a man started a conversation with me. He was going through some tough times in his life. What really struck me about this person was that he wasn’t homeless nor poor. In fact, he owned an apartment in downtown Vancouver. The reason he was staying here was because he was not getting along with his wife.
His wife was an alcoholic. So he was too scared to sleep in his own home because, her condition made her very unpredictable. She threatened to commit suicide on a few occasions. Most of their altercations resulted with the Vancouver Police Department arriving at the scene. This newlywed couple was in some serious turmoil. It was serious enough that her husband was sleeping at an emergency shelter and not sleeping in the comfort of his own home. Much to my surprise, it seems that the homeless shelters are not only used by the homeless after all.
As time went by, more people gathered near the entrance. The temperature was to dip below the freezing level by tonight – so many came here to seek refuge from this cold weather. Another man approached me and started a discussion about our judicial system. I wish I clung to his words more carefully, because he had many interesting things to say.
One thing he noted was that no police officers – or anybody for that matter – has the right to ask for your name. Legally, you have the right to withhold that information to ensure your privacy. Furthermore, nobody has the right to write your name down for you. Police officers are only allowed to ask you for your credentials if there was a real complaint made against you, otherwise routine questionings were simply illegal. I am not a legal expert, so I am just repeating what this man had told me.
When the doors opened, we walked in one by one. Inside the shelter there was a man holding a clipboard. He asked for our names and then scribbled it on paper. That man just walked right in without saying a single word. Now I could see what he meant. Revealing your name to the shelter is a privacy issue and according to that man and this organization had no right in collecting names. The man holding the clipboard did not even bother to ask for his name. It looks like they had this privacy debate before.
Once we checked in, everybody was given a sheet, pillow and a sandwich. Water was available at the front of the room. This shelter could sleep about 30 people. Just before the lights went out, I checked to see if there were any empty beds. There were about 10 vacant beds. I can rest assured knowing that I did not take the last bed on this cold winter night.
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Where to sleep tonight? – 2pm
I tried to visit Lawrence Brooks at his low-income housing unit in the heart of the Downtown Eastside. I pulled on the door handle; it was locked. So I rang the buzzer. “Hi, I am here to see Lawrence.” The receptionist did not welcome that idea, “we do not let strangers into the building.” The only way I could enter this building is if Lawrence was there with me. I am sure there are good reasons for having such tight security. It is clearly very different from stepping into neighborhoods most of us are used to.
With this failed mission, I turned my attention towards determining which shelter to sleep at tonight. Kenneth warned me of the bed bug epidemic that’s out here. He said that he slept at First United Church a couple of times and both times, he got bed bugs. Many of the homeless would rather sleep outdoors than staying at these unhygienic shelters. Also, the stench of feet, snoring, puking, coughing makes it really difficult to get a good night’s rest. At least you can find yourself a quiet odorless area to rest when you sleep outside.
I am leaning towards staying at the Salvation Army shelter, located across from the Detox center. Jay and I were planning on staying there on Christmas Eve, but if you recall, I couldn’t find my way back and ended up sleeping near the Cambie Bridge instead.
Who knows how everything will play itself out? My brother encouraged me to spend more time with First Nations living in this area. So far the only native person I have met was the man who offered me his poutine when I was hungry. That time I had money in my pocket to buy myself a slice of pizza. The story is different now. I only have 25 cents to my name. A few hours ago, a couple of pedestrians offered me money while I was sitting on the pavement, but I rejected both offers.
I have two apples and some candy canes left in my bag. That is not a dinner, so I will have to line up at the UGM bread line again for some food. The good thing about the bread line as opposed to having dinner at the UGM is that we are not required to sit and listen to a priest scare us of the idea of hell.
Start from the beginning
Kenneth (left) and Louis (right)
A few months ago, Louis had an infected appendix which required immediate medical attention. At that time, he was staying at a low-income Hotel in the Downtown Eastside. He quickly rushed down the stairs to tell the manager that he needed an ambulance. That manager refused to call 911. Louis had no choice but to find the nearest payphone to make his call. When the ambulance arrived, they took him to the nearest hospital where he received a successful operation in time.
A week after the operation, while Kenneth and Louis were playing PlayStation at Louis’ place, the police stormed in and detained both Kenneth and Louis. The Police was charging Louis for threatening to stab a shop-owner with a knife. However, since the store-owner’s story did not add up, they were both released. Louis had an alibi and so it was impossible for him to have uttered those threats.
The legal system actually encourages Louis to plead guilty. Even though Louis was innocent, it would be to his advantage to plead guilty rather than pleading for his innocence. Once the defendant pleads guilty, he/she will do hours of community service, but in return he/she will receive housing, special needs, food stamps and other enticing offers made by the government.
If Louis was to plead for his innocence, these offers would be revoked immediately. Not only would he lose out on these bribes, but he would also have to stand trial in criminal court. Since he doesn’t have a steady income, he would depend on Pivot’s services. Pivot is an organization that offers legal services for low-income people across the province.
After being told Louis’ story, I told Kenneth that I’ll be staying at a shelter tonight. He told me not to worry about taking someone’s bed because that is how life works. I left Kenneth with my sleeping bag and thanked him for his advice throughout my stay here in the Eastside. It was very nice to meet someone who I could trust and depend upon so early in my journey. He was there for me since day one.
Start from the beginning
Departing with “the Godfather”
My blue sleeping bag and cat feces by the fence.
I stopped by Kenneth’s alley only to see his spot covered with cat litter. Somebody decided to dump a crap load of feces at his doorstep. This may have been the result of a gang member’s dissatisfaction towards him. Kenneth interfered with a few drug trades taking place here. During one of the drug trades, Kenneth was given $5 to leave the vicinity. When he refused this offer, one of the gang-members pulled out a collapsible baton and started beating him for not complying.
His last beating was due to a completely different reason though. It was for playing his harmonica in the alley. They broke his collar-bone. A terminally ill gang member, who lives in one of the nearby apartments, didn’t want to hear Kenneth’s music. This is a big issue for Kenneth because he is very passionate about his music.
His friend Louis joined us. Kenneth referred to him as his brother. Louis and Kenneth were not related by blood, but Louis helped Kenneth discover music and find peace in his life. How? Simple. Louis gave Kenneth his first harmonica. The rest is history. The harmonica allowed Kenneth to dive into a world which he never knew existed, the world of music.
Armed with a new and creative way to pass the time, Kenneth felt more positive about life in general. Since then he has become explored his musical talents. He now plays the flute, saxophone and clarinet. However, with Louis by his side, our conversation started to shift towards Louis’ story.
Start from the beginning
Pavement Thoughts – 11am
I am observing the world around me while sitting on the pavement. I can literally sit here for hours, as long as I take a few washroom breaks in between. Today, it is a very quiet day in downtown. The Christmas spirit died off. There are not very many shoppers and not many smiles. More than half of the homeless/impoverished people who walk by acknowledge me, while I cease to exist to the rest.
Nobody has offered me any money yet; I don’t want money anyway. I have no addiction problems to support. I’m content. I have everything I need. The amount of money required to survive these streets is surprisingly very little. It’s the addiction that creates a high demand for money. For the folks back home, it is the addiction to material objects – not drugs – that creates such a high demand for money.
A thought that I am now contemplating is how “green” homeless people really are. Many of the homeless are environmentally friendly. They don’t drive cars, they don’t consume oil or electricity and they produce less garbage. Think about how much power, oil or garbage you produce and compare yourself to someone who is homeless. There is surely a large discrepancy between you and them.
To add another element to our analysis, we can see that the homeless collect most of the city’s cans for recycling. So while they work to make a buck or two, they indirectly help to save the environment. After all, we may need the homeless to live in a cleaner and greener society. This analysis is often overlooked, instead we focus on negative stereotypes.
Another observable difference between them and us is that there are no TV shows or Movies to watch or iPhones to play with while being homeless. Movies, TV shows and the news follow scripts from start to finish. In comparison, when two people are conversing, their dialogue are not read off a board or memorized in advance. Those people are having a human experience, but in the other cases mentioned above, it is a human having a virtual experience. I consider someone memorizing speeches no different from a robot or a machine taking instructions. These examples may show that the homeless are closer to reality than those who live in the “virtually insane” world which we have created for ourselves.
The technological advancements and gadgets may numb our brains to allow us to enter a world for 0′s and 1′s, as we have in computer language. But if we want to advance as a society, we need to be human first. We can enter a golden age if there is a great awakening within the auto-pilot driven human machines walking along downtown – I included – but it requires some effort to snap out of this state of mind. Change can only come from within and I believe that it is time to enter it now.