Tag Archives: nima farzaneh

A Homeless Christmas published!

 

I am excited to announce that an e-book version of my blog is now available for download at Amazon.

If you would like to receive a free hard copy of this book please email me and I will ship one to you.  There are a limited number of hard copy books available!

Thank you for all your support!

Nima Farzaneh

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Two Years Later

Click here to start from the beginning

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.

WhSingle Room Occupancyen 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,

Nima Farzaneh

Day 4 – December 26, 2010 – Thoughts & Reflections

Start from the beginning

Thoughts & Reflections

I’ve already smashed my old perception and understanding of homelessness through this experience.  Do you require your own experience to know what it’s like?  The media either has a biased spin on this entire issue or they have not met any of these people before.  That’s because none of these stories have been broadcast on TV.  Had they covered these stories with us in the past, then there wouldn’t be any surprising experiences left for me.  The homeless or impoverished population makes up a broad group of people that should never be generalized into a category.

Homeless stereotypes come in all shapes and forms.  I am going to address the issue of the “dishonest panhandlers.”  If I told the public that I needed money for food, but used that money to buy crack, heroin or cocaine instead, then I am essentially lying and hurting myself.  My punishment: Damage to my body and negative energy in my life.  For example, a bad trip could lead to arguments and repercussions in the future.  Some of the homeless get kicked in the head while sleeping out on the streets.  Either someone is trying to get even for something done in the past or it is merely an act of hatred against the homeless.

Now, should we as citizens not give them any money?  Let me go further and ask, “When has money been the solution to your problems?”  Sure, if you have a financial problem then money can fix it.  But how are non-financial problems solved?  Addictions are not financial problems.  It is not because of the lack of money that some choose to lead a life of drugs; but rather circumstances which many had no control over.  This then drew some into a life of escaping reality.

Unhappiness or anger cannot be cured with money either.  Unhappiness requires happiness as its cure and hate requires love as its cure.  The people who delude themselves into believing that money makes them happy or that “money can buy love,” are clearly on a road leading to nowhere.  If you believe that money is the solution to all the problems, then the richest men and women in this world should be the happiest, most loved and complete.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  The rich can also be addicted to drugs, commit suicide and be depressed all at the same time.

Some homeless take drugs to fill their psychological void and escape reality.  Psychological voids can be caused by sexual harassment, being neglected as a child, heartbreak, not being loved, societal pressures which bully different thinking or different looking people, our bleak history when it comes to the Native culture, mental illnesses, failures, post-traumatic stress and so on.  I am sure there are other reasons why some people get thrown into such a lifestyle.

Many of us have been lucky enough to have experienced peaceful, loving childhood experiences which did not require the withdrawal from society.  It is easy to judge someone’s life without knowing their entire story.  I think John the Firefighter and other stories thus far were prime examples of that.  Naturally, our perception is very different than what many of the Downtown Eastside has been through.  Therefore, we can never truly understand what it feels like to be sexually assaulted by a relative when we were children, unless if we’ve experienced it ourselves.  There is no way of knowing how we would react given the same circumstances.

When it comes to an addicted individual, I would like to quote Einstein.  He said that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Even though drugs did not cure their problems in the past, these unfortunate people repeatedly attempt the same solution.  Make no mistake, many non-drug addicts in our society go through the same pattern as well.  We continually try forcing the same solution, even though we know it hasn’t been effective.  Getting high and avoiding reality may be a temporary cure, since it forces the mind off whatever one’s psychological void is, but again, that is not a solution.

Money does not provide immunity to these psychological voids either.  A rich person can have all of the same problems a poor man has.  Being born into a wealthy family, while dealing with a drug addiction, does not necessarily translate into homelessness.  The rich man is protected by his assets which prevent him from being tossed onto the streets.

I just fell asleep at Blenz for a bit.  The cashier woke me up saying that I am not allowed to sleep here.  It was cold last night, so I wasn’t able to get proper rest; this day may be longer than usual.  All businesses are open, so it is harder to find a place to sleep in an alley.  The backdoor in alleys can open without a moment’s notice.  That would be a rude awakening.

So I decided to head to the Granville Strip for a nap.  I’m going to be using my shopping cart to get there.  My shopping cart is parked outside of Blenz right now.  It is time to provide a bit of contrast to the people who “have to” buy themselves a new toy on boxing day.  Not everybody is as privileged as they are.  I think it’s about 7:30 AM.

A homeless Christmas

I am going to spend December 23rd to 30th sleeping on the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.  Downtown Eastside (DTES) is known as one of North America’s poorest communities.  This community is frequently under attack by the media, which labels the DTES as a dangerous, lazy, sick, and unproductive part of our society.  I will spend my Christmas holidays on the streets of the DTES to form my own conclusions.

I will be starting with no money, a sleeping bag, and enough clothes to keep me warm during the winter holidays.  I decided to do this project to raise awareness about homelessness and to remind some of us how fortunate we really are.  I would like to dedicate this Christmas getting to know some of the people who consider the streets their home.

I am blessed to be born into a gracious family.  Therefore, I want to apologize to them for not being able to attend Christmas dinner this year.  Your support and love has surrounded me throughout my life.  It is because of you that I feel obligated to give back to the community.

I have set myself a few guidelines to follow while living on the streets.  I may panhandle to raise money for food.  I will not take drugs, smoke, or drink with any money that I shall receive.  The money I make from panhandling will be donated 10-fold to an organization that I believe provides the most benefit to homelessness.  All of my conversations and experiences will be documented in my notebook, which will be updated throughout the day.

Since I will be living on the streets for 7 nights, 77 meals were donated to the Union Gospel Mission even before I set out on the streets. Moreover, I am vegetarian, so if somebody was to buy me a pepperoni pizza or give me a turkey dinner, I will eat it rather than waste it.

I will try my best not to take advantage of any homeless shelters provided by our city.  However, I may pick one night to stay at a shelter so that I can document my experiences.  I am not here to take advantage of any resources required for the homeless.  Instead, my experiences are to be shared with those who are interested in bridging the gap between “us” and “them”.

I realize that other Vancouver residents have done similar projects in the past. The following documentaries may be of interest to you with regards to this topic:  Streets of Plenty, Carts of Darkness and Through a Blue Lens.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas.

———————

Today is December 30, 2010 and my project has been successfully completed.  Over the next few days, I will transcribe the 120 pages that I have written in my journal into a shorter and more readable format.  As I went through my journey, my outlook and purpose changed into something completely different.

What you are about to read is a collection of real people having real conversations in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside.  Most of these conversations took place in alleys, some at coffee shops and others at community centers.  I would like to thank everybody I met along the way, and everyone who made this project possible.

Please read the following posts with an open heart and open mind.  My experiences have changed my life in a positive way.  I am certain that it will have the same effect on you as well.

Happy New Year.