There sat Willy smiling kindly sitting outside of Burrard skytrain station. He sat with his friend's dog along with all of his belongings and his hat in case someone wanted to drop some change into it. I soon learned from Willie that he came to Vancouver in search of work in 1978 from New Brunswick after leaving his school in the ninth grade. He hit the road on a trip across Canada his final stop being Vancouver. Read more.
Sitting watching the world go by on her day off I was greeted by a lovely lady named Maggie who just shared with me stories of overcoming homelessness and addiction. Maggie told tales of searching for places to live as she lived in different cardboard condos throughout her time in Vancouver. I was heavily addicted to drugs and alcohol always self-medicating she said when I asked her what the turning point was for her she shared it was a freezing cold night around Thanksgiving and she was second of being sick and tired since that night with a few bumps in the road she's been sober for over 30 years. Read more.
Sharing with story sharing the story with tears in her eyes she shared how she was in and out of coherency doing drugs. She got impatient and decided to do some heroin by herself while waiting for her boyfriend to return home unaware that the needle she had used it got stuck in her arm it began to infect her body her boyfriend had been doing off doing his own thing and when he returned home he found her laying on the floor there's three things I can remember from that day she shared one what is that smell it was the smell of the infection talking my body second was why is there all this water like I've been thrown into a lake. I was drenched in sweat from my body fighting the infection. And three was my boyfriend screaming someone believe believe believe call 911 the next memory I had was waking up in Saint Pauls hospital where I would spend the next three months of my life. Read More.
As people walked by Grant would greet them with a friendly comment whether it be a "happy New Year" or asking "which foot was winning", which seemed to be a personal favorite of his. I soon saw that his goal was not to get people's money, but rather to get them to smile. After sitting with Grant for a while, he turned to me and said "See how kindness and humor pays?" Grant hadn't received any money yet, he was not referring to the cash he was making but rather the smiles he was putting on people's faces. Grant and I got chatting and as he showed me his techniques and tricks to make people laugh, he explained to me that he makes people stop and have fun with life, that little, tiny things do make someones day. I learned that Grant had been living on the streets for as long as I have been alive- 16 years. But a life on the streets had not fazed him or jaded him in the least. He told me that I was a young buck, then corrected himself calling me a buckette, telling me that I had a lot to learn, that he had been around for a long time. He told me many of the lessons he has learned throughout his life, giving me the crash course of all the life lessons of Grant on 6th street. He shared with me his beliefs in karma, being kind to others and making the most of life.
As I spoke with Chad number 46 he reflected back on stories of abuse neglect and sexual assault I got beaten for just about everything he shared forced into a mentality where he had to be white and anything besides that especially being himself was subject to brutal punishment I was forced to understand how to be residential how to be proper and not the savage they thought I was when he left the residential school the battle only continued I've lost so much of my language so much of who I am life after Saint Michaels was a different new sort of struggle I got beaten and threatened to even post residential school. Are used to think I can't be read I can't be anything but white it took me really years to realize that I'm not six anymore. Read more.
Loretta explained to me that when she decided to take her life into her own hands, to get herself better but she suffered from a heart attack that left her hospitalized. A heart attack that she said was the result of years of drugs and drinking. While laying in a hospital bed recovering from a major medical emergency, Loretta received the news that her sister had passed away. The news Loretta shared "pushed her over the edge" she just couldn't take it and relapsed to an addiction far stronger than the last. I could only imagine the pain that Loretta must have been going through, having two sisters myself I could only imagine what she went through. My heart went out to Loretta, I really felt for her. But despite the struggle, despite the hardship and despite the pain that Loretta went through, I met her at a turning point in her life. Read more.
Once a homeless and drug addicted youth Phoenix is now an operations manager at directions youth services where she helps nearly 500 youth every year deal to deal with their homelessness. She began her work with the organization as a peer support worker and moved her way up although she had never been through directions herself she was able to emphasize with the youth and help connect with them through some of the most difficult points of their life. Phoenix dealt with many addictions and mental health problems starting at the age of 12 when she began using LSD as a regular party drug after her drug addiction later became evident to her was a result of medication of self-medicating to cope with the Traumatic childhood after 10 years of hard work and dedication phoenix has now been sober for 10 years. Read More.
As I walked into Subway and stood in the never ending line up that is the lunch time rush, I was humbled to see a man walk in with another who seemed to be a little hard on his luck. It was easy to see that the first man was treating the other to a lunch. The first man went into the washroom and the other explained to me that he was being treated to lunch and that this made his day even better as the sun and the amount of bottles he had collected put him into a good mood. When the other came back I began talking to him and told him how kind I thought it was of him to do this. He said that it really wasn’t that big of a deal and that he was happy to do what he could to help. I realized that the man was right in buying him a sandwich but wrong in saying that it wasn’t a big deal, because from the other’s eyes it really was. That small act of kindness was an event that made a big impact on his life and on mine. Read More
Thomas is a student at UBC, studying humanities. His passion, he tells me is his work. Thomas is a film maker and enjoys capturing moments on film and sharing them with others. Thomas explained to me that he never really fit in. He didn't do well in school, he found that the structure of society was different to the way that he thinks. He was always an individual, more so than a member of a group. Read more
In the peak of his own addiction, while dealing with drugs himself, he ran into some young people who he knew could do better than a life on the streets. He spoke to them saying "listen, you think this is all fun and games until your hooked on heroin and working the streets, this is not the life you want for yourself". He then convinced the dealers of the Downtown Eastside to not deal to these kids, when they couldn't get the drugs, they realized where they heading and redirected their paths from the streets with the help of Don. The kids he tells me, one is now working for the city and the other is a gas fitter. They've since been back to thank him for his help and generosity. When one commented on how he was still there, his response "What did I tell ya, leave while you can." Read more.
Lambert was born and raised in Powell River, he grew up in the Coast Salish community and was one of 17 children, 11 boys and 6 girls. However, he did not meet his siblings until he was 13 years old. He explained to me that they went to boarding school so he never had a chance to meet him until he was a teenager. As I spoke with Lambert he shared with me that his siblings attended residential schools and began to speak to the horrors that they had faced. Lambert explained that after meeting his siblings at the age of 13 and getting to know them, they shared stories of the residential schools. For example how they would have to run 200 laps of the field as punishment for attempting to escape. They were not allowed to speak their native language, contact home and in an act of a gruesome punishment they would go as far as lining them up and walking on their stomachs. Many of his siblings returned home damaged, unable to speak their language and incredibly scarred. One brother was so damaged he could hardly speak. His siblings, he explains didn't let this stop them. Lambert told me how his siblings would always say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, that they thought they would break them but they were wrong. Read more.
Joseph explained to me that he was born in communist Poland. As a child, life had a tendency to be a bit difficult. Joseph's father worked in a concentration camp during World War II. His work not only took a toll on his father, but Joseph as well. As a child with a large heart the work his dad did hurt him. The thought his father had the ability to do that to people broke his heart. "My father would return home from work broken," he explained, showing the extreme hurt, despair and trauma the Holocaust caused on so many levels to so many different people. Listening to Joseph's experiences really brought to light how the Holocaust had such a terrible affect on everyone involved. As a young person who was not around during these days and only understanding of the war is what I have read from a text book or heard from teachers it is hard to understand just how bad of a time it was. Learning about what he went through really opened my eyes to the hardship and struggle people faced then and to get to where the world is now. It was such an important reminder to never forget and respect everyone, no matter their race, gender, religion or ethnicity. Read more.
He explained to me that it was a period of time for him that he liked to "leave in the past". Leonard was only nine or ten years old at the time when he was taken away from his family, everything he had ever known and was stripped of his culture. He shared experiences of attempting to run away with his friends to escape the schools not once, not twice but three times and of course got caught each time. Leonard told me that they tried to "make him into something that he wasn't", they told him that he was not Metis, that he was white and did everything in their power to make him believe so. They attempted to change his beliefs, his heritage and who he was as a person, an innocent child, simply due to the color of his skin. He explained that life in the schools was very harsh and strict, they slept in long, large rooms all together and woke up very early. They were not allowed to speak their language, practice their culture and communicate with anyone outside of the school, including their family. Visitors were seldom allowed at the school and that was the only time they had to see their families. He explained to me that life in the schools was like a dictatorship, you always had to follow the harsh rules that were in place to take away your culture and made the three years he spent in the school to be like "hell on earth". No wonder Leonard wanted to leave his experiences in the past. Read more.
For John life began with more struggle, with a greater setback than most of us Canadians could even begin to imagine. John grew up on a First Nations reserve up by Smithers. Life on the reserve was very isolated from the rest of society. This reserve was 32 miles from Smothers which was the nearest town and as you can imagine left and very isolated from basic resources and healthcare that we so often take for granted. But John struggles were much greater than the isolation he grew up in. John was born to parents who were alcoholics, his mother drinks throughout her pregnancy causing him to be born with fetal Alcohol syndrome, that had a significant impact on his development, sending him back for the rest of his life. As if this wasn't enough for a young innocent child to be born with, one day while his parents were heavily intoxicated driving in their car, they decided that John was not their child and threw him out of a moving vehicle, leaving him all alone and with permanent brain damage. Fortunately for John a family within the reserve took him in and raised him as their own, his story however was carried with him for the rest of his life. Due to his brain damage and lack of an education John never knew how to read or write, he explained to me that the most he can do is write his name, seeming as if his life was a never ending cycle of setbacks. When John grew older he got in some trouble with the law and came down here to Vancouver appreciating the resources and opportunities that were available to him here, he never went back. John had been living on the streets, sleeping in the cold every night. He has recently come across housing in a hotel after living on the streets for nearly 5 years, making his life just a little bit easier. Read more.