Conversations with a Vancouver homeless man (who doesn’t want any help)

Vancouver Courier

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I was scrolling through the Vancouver Reddit page earlier this week, when a post titled ‘I need a moment to vent’ caught my eye.

So I, like many other Redditors, clicked. It wasn’t exactly what I had expected.

Homeless/Shutterstock

A man claiming to be homeless had written the post. He needed an outlet to vent for three reasons.

The first, because all of his belongings, aside from his bedding, had been stolen from an alcove in a public building he had been calling home, for the past four months, while he was at work.

The second, because the following day the City of Vancouver left a move on notice at the site, explaining that he would have to vacate the alcove by Friday or his belongings would be thrown away.

The third, I would later find out, is because he is a private man, so isolated that he had no one to talk to about his misfortune. So he turned to Reddit.

Screenshot/Reddit

In the post, he described himself a little bit.

“I like to think that I am a half decent fellow,” he wrote.

“I try to stay quiet and not make a mess. I am no drug addict. I don’t even drink and have never done drugs of any type. I try to be as good a person as I can be.”

But it’s what he said next that had people a little puzzled.

“I haven’t asked anyone for any type of help,” he went on to write.

“I have been going at this alone by myself for nearly five months come April.”

This statement sparked interest and questions among readers, myself included.

“You sound like a hard working gent, who’s had a run of s*** luck. But when you say ‘I haven’t asked anyone for any type of help’, I can’t help but think this statement shouldn’t be listed as a point of pride/accomplishment,” Redditor wampa604 replied.

“I get that it’s a very ‘masculine’ type of statement, that you’re standing on your own two feet and all — but seriously, get real. If you’re homeless/struggling, it sounds like s*** is sort of f*****, and you could benefit from having more of a support network to work within.”

Many more suggestions and opinions followed as to what this fellow should do to better his life. The post was up-voted 123 times and received more than 100 comments. You can read the full discussion here.

It also resulted in a number of people offering to help him out with a place to stay, advice, resource lists and welfare information. Along with a few idiotic comments, which were slapped down by other Redditors.

It seemed his comment, that “nobody gives a f*** about you if you’re homeless” had been proven wrong by the amount of Vancouverites willing to help.

But the man politely declined all the help he was offered. He explained that he had a job, the ability to feed and clothe himself and a plan to get himself off the street. This, to me, was inspiring in a way.

Nonetheless, I still couldn’t help but wonder why this man, who had been stuck on the streets for four months, didn’t want a helping hand.

So, I decided to reach out to him.

The 47-year-old told me, after much thought, he would talk but only if I would keep his name anonymous, out of fear it would jeopardize his current job and future employment opportunities.

I agreed, and this is what he told me over email.

The road to homelessness…

When did you move to Vancouver and why?

I’m originally from Alberta. I moved to Vancouver in 2010. It was the biggest mistake I ever made. I moved from Edmonton to get away from driving and unloading trucks in -40C weather.

Also for the nice weather and views. As Edmonton is basically this dirty industrial city set up to mostly service the Northern oil patch.

Unfortunately, I was unaware of the wage disparity between Edmonton and the Lower Mainland. I was driving 5-ton trucks in Edmonton and making $20 an hour. I moved out here to the Lower Mainland only to find that the average wage for driving a 5-ton truck is around $12 to $13 an hour.

What do you do for work now?

I am a class one licenced driver. I am currently driving for a large company. I do not want to say anymore as I work in a very niche field and if I gave even the most rudimentary of details people could easily figure out where I work.

How long have you been experiencing homelessness?

I have been “on the street” homeless since around the beginning of December of last year.

I originally started out doing vandwelling. It is a catchall term people use to describe living in a vehicle. I did this by choice. I am at heart a minimalist.

I had received some bad health news to which I am still dealing with to this day, and I had also lost my mother. All of this happened in one week. Turning to vandwelling allowed me to streamline and declutter my life. And as the years went past I found I enjoyed it.

Unfortunately, my vehicle broke down beyond my, at the time, ability to repair or pay for repairs. And thus I ended up on the street.

How long had you been vandwelling?

I believe I had been vandwelling since 2012. I myself didn’t realize it had been that long.

Where are you currently living? How would you describe the conditions there?

I was living in the alcove of a public building that was far enough off the beaten path that I was pretty much the only person there after hours. I chose the spot for three conditions.

  1. I had three walls surrounding me, thus I was fairly well protected from the elements. Even in the most ferocious of winter storms my belongings remained dry.
  2. It was far enough off the beaten path that no other homeless hung around the area.
  3. It was easy access to transit to be able to get to and from work.

Why not stay in a shelter?

If you go to a shelter expect most of your stuff to go missing.

And for women, the threat of sexual assault is rather high as well. Hell, even for some guys. Not to mention possible run-of-the-mill violence.

What has life been like for you as a homeless person in Vancouver?

Please keep in mind that I am more the exception rather than the rule. But for me it was the same as it had been when I had my vehicle. Get up, go to work, come back “home,” relax, surf the web (I had internet access thank god) eat, go to bed.

Get up and rinse, lather and repeat.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds though. I would frequently get sick due to being out of doors most of the time. I even ended up in the hospital for a week due to this.

And being as isolated as I am, depression was and still is a constant battle. There were weeks when I just did not have the energy to go into work. I would stay curled up under my blankets just trying to sleep away the days.

Fortunately, with the advent of warmer weather my mood and health have both improved. Plus, with the hours at work returning to normal I should be able to save enough money by the end of April to get another vehicle and be back to vandwelling again.

In your everyday life, do you hide the fact that you have no home? If so, why?

Yes. I keep the fact of my homelessness a secret from as many people as I can. Because imagine going to a job interview and telling the interviewer you’re homeless.

Why would they want to hire someone who clearly doesn’t even have the ability to keep their own life in order?

How can they possibly help your business? Let alone the huge increase in health premiums. Etc.

I can attest to this fact. While I was living in my vehicle I was looking for a job. I was honest about my situation, told them it was on purpose. I have an excellent résumé, but did not get work until I stopped mentioning the fact that I vandwelled.

When you say you’re homeless people immediately get this vision in their head of a drunk drug user who should never be trusted. It is an image that can be true for some but not all. I don’t even drink.

About the Reddit post …

Why did you decide to go on Reddit to vent?

As I have indicated I am a very solitary fellow. This is usually not a problem for me, but as I had stated, I had just spent my meagre savings to replace everything that had been stolen.

And then the very next day I get to come back to my alcove only to find a city notice informing me I have until the 29th to remove my property from theirs or come Friday they will confiscate anything left in the alcove. So being completely isolated and alone, I had no one to vent to so I turned to Reddit.

How did you feel about the responses from people on Reddit to your post?

By and large they were very well meaning. Sure, you have the few idiots who feel the need to belittle you and/or your situation. But most seemed well meaning.

To be honest all I expected was getting downvoted to 0 and getting maybe 5 replies with 2 of them being jerks. It was more about me getting what I was feeling off my chest in some manner to help calm me down.

In a comment on Reddit, you mentioned, “you hate homeless people” why do you feel this way?

Well, keep in mind I had just been robbed by another homeless guy, so emotions were rather heightened.

I would rather say that I just don’t care for the majority of them. Now keep in mind when I say this I am discussing the hard core homeless. The ones with addiction issues and shopping carts full of detritus that they somehow feel are useful.

Essentially, the lifers. They are well aware of their situation and are comfortable with it. I have interacted with them enough to know I would rather not be around them.

I had another location when I first started. It was another alcove. I had it to myself for three days before these two older gentlemen showed up bringing with them four shopping carts.

They asked if they could stay there. And not wanting any trouble I indicated that they were more than welcome. So they circled their shopping carts and started laying out various tarps and other items of bedding. They were both jovial and kind to me. In fact, one of them had noticed the condition of my shoes, which were not great at the time, and brought me a used pair the next day, from god knows where. (A pair I am still wearing today.)

They then proceeded to try and trade or sell me items of dubious origin.

They also got down to the business of smoking all of the crystal meth they had on them that day. I can assure you there is no more noxious smell than crystal meth smoke. It gets into your clothes and anybody in the know can immediately smell it on you.

I stayed in that location for three nights until I found my current hide away.

There is this dichotomy when it comes to the hard core homeless. They will give you the shirt off their back if it will help you. But at the same time everything is fair game and if you don’t pay attention to your belongings they will rob you blind.

Quite a few people offered you help, after your post, why not accept it?

It may sound like a cliché, but if there is one thing you learn by living on the streets it’s, that nothing comes for free.

Now, I am sure that these were all well-meaning offers of help, but most of them were offerings of stuff that I already had covered or simply didn’t need.

And I am not really big on staying with strangers. Who knows what they’re like or how they live.

Plus, there is my well-known character flaw of not wanting help from anyone. I loathe feeling like I owe someone something. Which is what I feel when offered help.

Here’s a helpful note for your readers. If you have helped someone in the past and they want to pay you back in some manner, LET THEM!

It gives them their sense of dignity back. Otherwise it just festers into resentment… At least it does with me.

What’s next …

Where will you go now that the city has asked you to move on from the alcove?

I don’t know. But I will figure it out.

God I am getting so tired of that sentence.

I have been saying it to myself a little too often lately.

What is your plan for the future?

Right now it is just getting a vehicle and getting off the streets.

But after that? Who knows? I am more than likely leaving B.C. in the near future. It is way too expensive here. Whatever move I make it is probably going to be my last.

I am thinking Toronto. Never been. Might be nice.

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