Posted by: Lydia Stockdale13/08/2010
Nick Duxbury’s article The Canadian Way brought back memories. During the summer of 2002 I headed off to the west coast of Canada with my backpack and a work visa with the intention of getting a job for the summer. Where I would find employment I didn’t know – I just wanted to get away, experience something different, and it seemed to me that Vancouver in British Columbia was ideal. Consistently topping league tables for offering a high quality of life, it had all – sandy beaches and snow capped mountains; parks and shopping malls equal in size and attraction.
The number of homeless people in Vancouver took me by surprise, but what shocked me most was how at odds these bearded, indistinguishable individuals were with the super sophisticated nature-loving city dwellers they shared sidewalks with.
Many pushed shopping trolleys full of their life’s possessions and aluminium cans they could recycle in return for small change; others wandered along at own pace, seemingly in their own worlds.
I remember one thing struck me about the homeless of Vancouver – where did they go at night? They seemed to disappear. Then one evening I was on a coach that drove through part of the city I’d never been to before – Downtown Eastside – it stopped in traffic and through the window I saw a huge mass of hundreds homeless people, tightly packed onto a single street corner. This interception of two roads, East Hastings and Main, is described by one website as, ‘The heart of the Downtown Eastside and the busiest corner of the district which many have referred to as an open-air market for drugs.’
Vancouver is no doubt a city that dreams are made of, but the sight of so much poverty existing so completely separately, yet so visibly, took the edge off for me.
I did find a job that summer – in a coffee shop. One day, when we were busy, a homeless guy came in and stole our tip jar. He was welcome to it.
From Out of office
What the Inside Housing writers have been up to when they’ve been prised away from their desks