A story of making the most out of a bad situation
Walking along Burrard street, I was in search of someone who appeared to be homeless that I could talk to. Unsurprisingly, it was incredibly easy to find someone. It seemed as if there was somebody on the corner of every block who was down on their luck and panhandling for some money. As easy as it was to find someone it wasn't as easy to find someone that I should approach to talk to as many of them were busy at their work. When picking people directly off the street, I often try to approach people who don't seem to be actively panhandling as that is there income, livelihood and often the source of their food for the day.
As I was searching I came across Willie, a man with a kind smile sitting quietly outside Burrard skytrain station. He sat with his friends dog, all of his belongings and his hat out in case anyone wanted to drop some change into it. Willie shared with me that he came to Vancouver in search of work in 1978 from New Brunswick. After leaving school in the 9th grade he hit the road two days after on a trip across Canada, his final stop being Vancouver.
When I asked Willie when it was that he became homeless, he shared with me that it was when he finally gave up searching for a job. He explained now he had put his resume in at many places, but very few seemed to be interested in hiring him. After having his phone stolen he was left unsure if any were at all. So eventually he got tired of being let down and gave up his search and resorted to a life on the streets.
Now, his day to day life consists of sitting, watching the world go by and quietly panhandling. He likes to think that there are three types of panhandlers, the aggressive ones, the boisterous ones and the quiet ones. He identifies himself as a quiet one. He shared with me that watching the hustle and bustle of downtown Vancouver can be quite comical, pathetic and everything in between. But he finds people are generally quite understanding of his situation. Nobody really seems to surprised to see him sitting there. "Everyone understands that there is a housing shortage in Vancouver and ultimately there will be people in my situation" he says.
Willie shared with me that he has one friend that he stays with and the two of them sleep in a skytrain station. A spot he describes to be generally pretty safe and that he is grateful to have found. His one piece of advice to my generation is probably pretty similar to your parents: "Stay in school!" he says "It probably would have made things easier for me".
I must say I really enjoyed talking with Willie. He was so kind and friendly and it really brightened up my day talking to him. Willie's story certainly is one of struggle and being stuck but also making the most out of a bad situation as his smile and kindness did not seem to waver.