I met Mary and Cosmo on the streets of Granville this past weekend. They were both of Aboriginal descent and carvers by profession. Mary and Cosmo were very open to talk to me, but declined to have their photos taken for different reasons.
Mary was sitting silently underneath a lamppost with a sign out. Even though she was directly in front of a popular eatery in one of the busiest streets downtown, as you can see, she had very little success panhandling after an entire day. Mary belongs to the First Nations people, Secwepemc (Shuswap), and came from interior British Columbia, near Kamloops. She is a carver and very proud of her skills as an artist, though dismayed by the lack of the support people have shown for the Native arts. During the better times, she had a home, but this year was one of the bad times as her roommate suddenly left, leaving her unable to pay the rent. What striked me most about Mary was her determination to get back on her feet, which was the main reason why she refused to have her photo taken even if it meant it might help obtain her public support. She is currently living in a makeshift home in one of the parks nearby, but believes that she would soon get out of her current circumstances and back to living in a real home soon. Mary was neatly dressed and was intelligent and clear in her speech, yet very few people had dared to come near her. I shared this observation with her, and she told me how people seemed so afraid of the homeless population. In her case, she was shunned by people who walked by all day save for another homeless man who came up to her to give her this small bouquet of flowers. It touched her deeply, and she kept the flower close to her.
Before I left her, Mary asked for my Facebook and promised me that she would look for it once she gets back on her feet 🙂 The message Mary wanted to share with the city of Vancouver is one that hopes for people to be more sympathetic and supportive to Native artists and homeless people: They are human, individuals, just like the rest of us, but only misunderstood 🙂
Cosmo was sitting across the street from Mary and had a sign out that told he had his tools stolen. Unfortunately, this was not the only thing that was stolen from him, as apparently during his extended time out on the streets as well as in and out of hostels, he has had his shoes, jacket, and other things stolen from him by others, which made him very mistrusting of people. Unlike Mary, who still had faith in humanity, Cosmo had no words for the society that he believed had forsaken him. His sentiments are understandable, given his misfortunes: Cosmo was born to alcoholic parents who divorced early in his childhood, which, according to him, was not uncommon on his reserve. He was one quarter Italian by his grandfather but never knew the latter. Some years before, he suffered a brain injury which presumably made his speech at times incoherent and difficult to understand. He squinted very hard while speaking and my training led me to suspect that he may have a case of anomia and/or other types of aphasia. He was a carver by trade, but had very little success and was disheartened by people who had repeatedly taken his belongings during his sleep. Cosmo truly felt that the society had abandoned him and his depression was expressive in his dejected tone. When I expressed my grievances about his experiences, he shrugged and told me that it was how his life was to be. I wanted to direct him to resources and offered what I could do to help, but he declined and simply said that he had “gotten used to it”.
I thought it was very coincidental how I happened upon Mary and Cosmo as I was passing out the sandwiches this past weekend. Their stories had contrasting themes: Mary’s was a story of hope and determination; Cosmo’s, one of hopelessness and despair. However, one thing that both of their stories had in common was the fact how people were very unsympathetic to Aboriginal individuals. I know from stats and general observation that a large percentage of the homeless population is of Aboriginal descent, but coming face to face their grim realities was another story. Hearing their experiences, I was reminded of a mixed Aboriginal-Italian man whom I held very dearly to my heart and who had similar circumstances earlier in his childhood but overcame them through fortitude and personal strength to improve himself through education. I am hoping that Mary and Cosmo would, too, be able to acquire resources to help extricate themselves from their current conditions.