Sunday, November 16, 2008

Homeless In Vancouver

When I first saw this photograph, I thought it was a painting. The theme of the photograph, the colors, the composition, the feeling and mood are so powerful. It is a photograph of a homeless woman in Vancouver. Our city has been named the number one city in the world in which to live, many times, and indeed it is beautiful. But we have a serious problem with homelessness here. A couple of years ago a young couple gave birth to a baby in St. Paul’s Hospital. They were homeless, and when they were discharged from the hospital, they were released back onto the streets with their newborn. How could something like that happen? Well, it did.

"The solution to homelessness will always be a home. A home is a safe place to sleep, a permanent address that helps secure a job, and a place to rebuild and rejoin our community. But the crisis can’t be solved just by building homes. We must also ensure that there is adequate treatment for addiction and mental health, access to temporary shelter, and action to eliminate poor rental conditions."

… Gregor Robertson, Vision Vancouver

Recently, folks living in rental properties in the West End have been evicted so the property owners can make basic cosmetic repairs and then hike the rents up to unaffordable amounts. Anyone who can't afford to pay the higher rents, or who can't find another place to rent, ends up living on the streets. There is something just so wrong in that. The West End is already an outrageously expensive area of the city, and the Provincial and Municipal governments have taken away all renters' rights.

When my daughter was only four years old, her father was killed in a plane crash. My mother-in-law, bless her heart, stole our insurance money that would have purchased a home for my daughter and me. In fact, we could have purchased a house for cash, in Kerrisdale, but that is a story for another day... As a consequence, we were at the mercy of landlords for many years. So affordable housing for everyone is something I feel very strongly about.

There but for the Grace of God...

In an in camera (secret) meeting recently, Vancouver City Council agreed to lend up to $100 million to bail out the financially troubled development company building the athletes village for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. When the Olympic Games are over, these condominiums will sell for upwards of $3.5 million dollars per unit, and the developers will pocket a ton of money.

Big mistake. The people of Vancouver were disgusted, and yesterday in our Municipal election they voted in Vision Vancouver and Gregor Robertson as their Mayor. He won by a landslide.


I'm extremely happy we have elected a Mayor who has made affordable housing the first issue on his platform. No more bailing out fat cat developers, in behind-closed-door meetings.



Dear Johanna: I feel as if I know you after following your blog this past week! I also share a few of the 'stories' in my own life, that would dovetail into those I'm reading on your blog.

When I was homeless for four years, I ended up having the most wonderful experience of my life; it would be much too long to leave as a 'comment', but let me assure you there is much to be learned and gleaned from living with the 'sky' as your roof.

I was a bit on the 'old side' to be homeless - age 54 until 58 when I was able to 'rebuild', and find a small condo to 'rehab' (it was taken through foreclosure, and was sold at a much lower cost; never would have been able to afford it had it not been).

From the time I was homeless and up until now, I keep active helping others who are homeless. This morning I prepared 2 large 'sacks' to take to those who are in need. I never pass a homeless person without stopping to give them water and money, and the lucky thing is I took to 'gambling' (doesn't sound safe does it), to get the EXTRA MONEY I need to help out the homeless.

I play Keno; a game of numbers, and I'm good with numbers. Each year since I started gambling I've had to pay taxes on just the GAMBLING income; I lose some, but always win way more than I lose. Because my goal was to use the winnings to help those around us that are in need, I do think the 'power' has come to me to 'win' so long as I GIVE AWAY to those who truly either have no home, or are very short of cash.

I want to leave this obituary here of a homeless man because those in our community who also care about these people, paid to have one written for him when he died.

"John Webb, age 59, passed away May 15, 2007." "John was a very dear friend to all of us at Silver Rider in Laughlin. John served our country in the military in his younger years. As far as family is concerned, nobody knows if he had any living relatives, but all of us who loved him became his family.

John lived in the great outdoors of Laughlin, Nevada, and always greeted everyone with a smile.

John was disabled and used a walker to get around. When he fell, there was always someone ready to pick him up. John would praise those who helped him and said this is the America he'd fought for; Americans helping Americans - something he believed in so strongly.

John, you'll be greatly missed - love from all your friends in Laughlin."

They had John's picture in the newspaper with the obituary; he wore a beard and I noticed how much he looked like Leonardo DaVinci (and I keep the picture of both of them up on the wall side-by-side).

You seem to have a very loving heart; you are so 'open and honest', and a delight to 'know' - I'm grateful for 'cyberspace' and people like you in this world.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving (if you celebrate it in Canada); if not, just have a wonderful November.

Diane - Nevada - USA

Oh yes, my e-mail is:

Charles Gramlich said...

That photo made me think painting at first two. It is powerful. What a sad story about the couple and their baby. We have a pretty good homeless population in New Orleans, but it tends to be younger people.

Leslie: said...

Maybe the new mayor will be able to come up with some solutions. Pray God he does! Especially for those poor people with mental disabilities.

Deb said...

Such a touching post, Jo. Unfortunetely, many familes today are 2 pay checks away from disaster.
When I meet a homeless person on the street, I always have a dollar in my pocket to give them. It didn't occur to me that I should also give water, as Happy in Nevada does. God Bless Her for her for her work.

Firefly said...

House is something that we have a huge problem of her in South Africa as well. The government and local authorities are try hard to catch up the backlog, but there are so many things against them. Corrupt officials from within, corrupt developers, under spending budgets without explaination, corruption in allocating houses and miss use of the houses by some of the recepients. I don't want to say its a loosing battle, but its a battle that won't be easily won.

willow said...

Yay is right! And, yes, your opening photo does look like a sad painting.

frizzy scissorhands said...

people seem quite complacent and smug, and take a condescending and arrogant attitude toward the homeless. i cannot count the number of times i have heard the whole blame the victim thing when it comes to the homeless.

it is true that many, many people are just a pay cheque or a job away from becoming homeless. now that the floor has fallen out of the financial world, people are not so smug as they once were. still ... the whole olympic thing was the greed of rich people masquerading as community development. grrrrr. and how many people fell for that bs?

i have a friend who lived in a shelter for most of the summer. another who lived in a tent somewhere in burnaby after he lost his job. these are normal people.

and ... i worked as a nurse in the DTES for a few months. not that long, but long enough to see that having to fight daily just to keep your belly full and have some semblance of shelter ... it takes its toll ... eventually you go mad.

i do not know this new mayor. but alas, i suppose i should try to have hope. will anything change? can anything change? Or are we on a course whose direction cannot be changed.

sorry for the long comment. clearly, i feel strongly about this issue, too.

can you feel the chill in the air? brrrrr.

Lilly's Life said...

What an amazing post. I live in the capital of Australia which is so beautiful and perfect yet no-one believes we have a homeless problem. I think many of us forget it takes just one bad thing to happen to put us on the streets. I have a similar story to you I think and do know what it feels like. Most people turn a blind eye so thank you for sharing this post with us.

meggie said...

What gratifying news about the fat cats not getting the cream!
We saw a homeless woman in the centre of Sydney, & I just felt sick. She is obvioulsly very disturbed, but of course they have closed all thosse dreadful 'instituions' where once such people may have been housed & hopefully helped.

VioletSky said...

I used to want the Olympics (to come to Toronto), but not anymore. Everywhere they go it is the poor and the homeless who suffer and get no reward.

Yay for the new guy - hope he can live up to his Vision. said...


That photo of the homeless woman is pure Pieter Brueghel the Elder.

The phtog must have known his art history.

Use of light A lot of Vermeer too.

I know New York Magazine used to reproduce a lot of Toulouse-Lautrecs with modern touches added as they applied to New York.

But this seems pure Brueghuel in Vancover.
Don't know who the photographer is, but he has a well trained eye.

Bet you he'll get an award, and this is not his only mini-masterpiece in newpaper photograpy.

Who said photography was mostly luck?
Got to know what you're doing.

RiverPoet said...

Josie - As you know this is a subject near and dear to my heart. I wrote about it in my This Used to Be My Beach" series. It's completely frightening experience, and I've spent a good chunk of my life running from that possibility. It's made me a very driven person. Homelessness leaves lasting scars.

I'm so glad you and your daughter never had to endure that, my friend. Peace - D

Adventure girl wanna be said...

Homelessness is a multi-facited issue. It is different in the inner city then it is in rural areas, but feels the same regardless. I co-founded and ran and homeless shelter for teen age mothers here in Macomb. It is still successful today. Great post. I hope the new guy does better.

Jo said...

Happy, welcome! Getting comments like yours is what makes blogging such a joy. I don't know if I would call being homeless a great experience, but I can tell that you have learned a lot from it, and it has made you a kind, empathetic person. I think everyone should have to walk a mile in a homeless person's shoes. I detest developers who build housing developments and don't consider homeless folks. I'm amazed at your luck at gambling, but the good karma is that you are giving it all to charity. The obituary of John Webb is very interesting. How could someone who served his country end up homeless? How could something like that happen? Happy Thanksgiving to you as well. We celebrated ours in October.

Charles, oh, we have all ages as homeless people here, and not enough housing for them. It is a real problem.

Leslie, I think most of the homeless people are folks with mental disabilities. There are no hospitals for them, and their "human rights" as such that they cannot be treated if they don't wish to be. It's too sad for words.

Deb, yes, I think a lot of people are very close to homelessness. My friend Lesley M. and I always joke that we may end up underneath the Granville Bridge, sharing the same grocery cart. Life can sometimes be a struggle for decent people. "There but for the Grace of God go I..."

Firefly, yes! Corruption! That is the problem, isn't it? And lack of transparency. Well, the City Council here in Vancouver got caught with their pants down. Someone leaked a secret document showing the $100 million dollar loan they were giving the developers. The rest, as they say.... *heh*

Willow, isn't it a powerful photograph?

Frizzy, you worked in the DTES? You probably know some of the same people I know. Jerry C? Win T? And I agree completely, the whole Olympic thing turned into being all about greed, greed, greed. People can smell a mile away when there is a $$buck to be made. I think this new mayor feels strongly about these issues. Let's hope!

Lilly, yes, I often think of Scrooge's comment in "A Christmas Carol". "Are there no work houses? Are there no prisons?" Sometimes people who are down on their luck need help from other people, and the help should come from the top, Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments. It should be their first priority.

Meggie, I think in Canada they are beginning to open some hospitals again, and to make them more like proper homes where people can live, get the help they need, and hopefully have productive lives. Lots of people with mental disabilities don't take their meds, and if they aren't being cared for, they don't get help. It's a vicious circle.

Violetsky, it was the same when Expo 86 was here. All the low rent hotels were emptied out, the homeless people were chased out of town until Expo was all over. That is not a solution to the problem. I think this new mayor may have some good ideas.

Ivan, I know! Every time I look at this painting, I am gobssmacked at how powerful it is, and how beautiful! It is indeed an award winning photograph. I don't know who the photographer was. I wish I could give him/her credit here for this wonderful work!

Riverpoet, yes, I read your series on being homeless, and my heart went out to you. You and your hubby have landed on your feet. I wonder how many people would not have succeeded the way you did? It took so much guts and determination on your part! People need to help other people, don't they? Charity begins at home.

Adventuregirl, you co-founded and ran a homeless shelter? Oh, gosh! This is me :::applauding::: That is an incredible achievement. I hope you had financial help from at least some levels of government. No teenage mother should be homeless, ever! Anywhere! I take my hat off to you!

susie said...

By the comments here, I see that government corruption isn't only a US thing. I am appalled that the developers think they deserve government money so they can make even more money. And yes, it's the poor that suffer because they don't have alternatives. When did the world become a place where "charity" is given to the rich?

Hilary said...

Wonderful post, Jo and an incredible photograph. I sure hope your mayor brings about some positive changes and that other cities will learn from them.

Jo said...

Susie, oh yes, we definitely have corruption here too. Oh, yes!

Hilary, I think our new mayor is a powerhouse! Hope, hope, hope! :-)


Hi - I was delighted to get an e-mail from Adventure Girl this morning! I came back to see if she might have posted on this subject because I was pretty sure she'd have a kind heart and an 'opinion' to share here. Yes, here she is!

I have 2 or 3 powerful photos of poverty that are on some of my blogs. Sad thing is I have so many blogs and posted those pictures back in the earlier part of 2008, I can't make a quick and ready reference to where I placed them.

I did do one entry that was extremely powerful (I think) and so much so it upset my daughter. I put a picture of my daughter and her grand-daughter up; signs of health and comfort 'shining through the smiles and in the photo', and then I pointed out the comparison by posting one of a mother holding a starving child (she, the mother, also starving) - the two photos - side by side - my daughter saw the entry and was very angry that I'd done this.

I was sad my daughter didn't get the message and intent, and of course I've left that entry as it was made months ago.

I do have a blog about charity for all; it's in my profile, and more than likely you'll see a few photos that while not as 'artfully' profound, they will 'register'.

If you look at my picture I use for my profile, you'll see me shaking the hand of Doug McClure (both an actor and artist). I sold art in Laguna Beach, CA for a number of years; I've promoted a number of artists over the years, and as I still see this picture of me in my 'silk suit' and combed hair, I remember what caused my homelessness; the beatings I took from the husband who put me in the hospital; removed all the money from my savings, and left our home never to be found (of course I must say I didn't waste time and dollar looking for the thief).

When I came home from the hospital to find valuable art missing; furniture gone - all my credit cards were maxed out, and a note about his taking my money from my checking and savings, I felt like I'd been hit with a brick of course.

As things began to crumble rapidly around me, I went to the very place in Dana Point, CA, where the years of helping the homeless and poor had started (when I did have more than ample money to give out food, clothing, and money).

Little did I know that these people who now become my family; take me in, and help me 'learn how to survive' and return to being gainfully employed and rebuilding a life for myself.

In return, I was able to sell what things my husband had left in the home - bought a used 21 foot r.v., and used computer and typewriter. I ended up taking the r.v. as a 'mobile office' for those who were still living homeless; I typed up resumes for those who had had work experience, and helped them find jobs.

I boldly asked businesses to provide gas money for me - telling them I needed to take these people to interviews; to get their food stamps, and to soup kitchens. I remember the kindness of those business owners who didn't even ask for PROOF that I was truly using the gasoline for that purpose.

All in all, once things were on the 'upswing', I ended up employed; decided to live in my r.v. for FOUR MORE YEARS, and earned enough money to go back to those business owners and return the gasoline money as well as BUY THEIR PRODUCTS and use their services (2 had been service stations and I paid them to maintain and service my r.v.).

I could easily write a book (or do a blog) about all of this, but I've never wanted to 'open up' on this time in my life all that much.

YOU POWERED MY REMARKS by putting up your extraordinary photograph; putting your thoughts out so STRONGLY and so HUMANELY, that I could not keep back the TEARS OF JOY when I found your recent post.

Strange as it seems, it was the 'stumble bar' on my computer that bumped me over to your blog. I don't know if you use the site, but once you fill out a profile and your interests, the bar is downloaded and it takes you to those topics and blogs 'of interest, which is why when I noted CHARITY, HOMELESS, POVERTY, as being part of my area of interest, the 'key word' brought me to you!

I remember visiting Vancouver (I lived in Seattle for 3 years). I remember also living in New York and loving Toronto - I truly think Canada has some extraordinary cities; so clean and modern. I guess I never thought there would be areas of poverty and ghetto districts like in the United States, but you've made me aware there are.

I'm also impressed with the other COMMENTS FROM THOSE FROM OTHER COUNTRIES - what a joy to read their thoughts, and how proud you must be to have such an 'international' group of readers!

You deserve to be so well-respected, and I'll certainly want to check out the profiles and blogs of your other readers because I just commented on Adventure Girl's blog; she's a lovely woman as well.

Regards, Diane