I went to downtown quite early this weekend, and waited at a friend’s place until dark when I felt safe from recognition. When night finally arrived, I ventured out looking for anyone who looked like they might need a bit of human touch. I was supposed to go to the east side, but the friend who was to drive me left his gathering too late, so I went out without him. The sandwiches were received favorably that night; same goes for the friendly greetings.
My final two sandwiches went to Jeff and Megan, a pair of temporary friends who met each other during their travels across Canada. They had a huge sign out that implied they had faced quite an ordeal during their times out on the streets, which made me sympathetic. Jeff declined the sandwiches to save the food for Megan, who was ravenous. She told me she loved jam more than peanut butter, which made me glad that I forgot my peanut butter. Despite the sarcastic sign, their demeanor was inviting, so I proceeded to asking them for their stories. I should note that both of them were very considerate and put out their smokes immediately when I knelt down. I was careful not to make any grimaces or show any other signs of discomfort despite doctor’s orders to avoid bad-quality air to prevent relapsing, but I guess both of them could tell I was not a smoker so immediately put out their newly-lit cigarettes.
Megan and Jeff were from Toronto, and had been all over Canada in the recent years. They travelled separately but would run into each other every now and then, which contributed to them striking up some sort of companionship/camaraderie. They both came to Vancouver to avoid the winter at Eastern Canada, and found the weather here to be warm but its people cold.
Jeff was upset about his day. He initially refused to talk about it but I was patient. Apparently, he had earlier went to a local bank to cash his welfare and work cheques, but was refused by the teller who treated him disrespectfully. He was visibly upset, and related this incident to his experiences of being discriminated against since becoming homeless. Even though Jeff himself does not use substances, he was often mistaken by people as a “homeless junkie” who thought he was begging for money to buy drugs. This greatly upsets him, but he claimed that he could understand why as the nearby area (east side) was notorious for its social problems. Jeff was aware he was being “judgmental”, which helped him relate to the reason he was prejudged himself. I found Jeff to be articulate and well-spoken. His tone reminded me of those misunderstood intellectuals in literary works who would scoff at the “common fools of the society” in clandestine. Despite Jeff’s cynical tone and anger, I could sympathize with his sentiments and found him to be affable and honest.
Megan echoed Jeff’s disappointment, and wished for people to look beyond the surface and not make so many presumptions about the homeless. She traveled to many different places in Canada and, like Jeff, found people in Vancouver to be a bit discriminatory. All she simply wanted is to be treated as an equal – no better, but certainly no less. Megan had no particular story she can think of to tell, and chose took life – both good and bad – as it is. From her response she sounds defeated, but unlike those submissive to life’s bitterness my impression was that she is simply good-natured and easygoing. I liked her personality and thought her nose rings cool. She was a pretty girl with a bright and infectious smile 🙂
Towards the end of my interview a teenager with a skateboard came up to Jeff and asked for directions to buy speed. The former was visibly agitated and said he had been looking for a while. Jeff had no clue, but offered his best guess.
Megan and Jeff cheerfully posed for a photo with their sign, and were happy to learn that this would help me continue what I was doing. When asked for their final messages, this is what they would like to say to the people of Vancouver:
Jeff: “At the end of the day, if you bleed red, you’re no better than me.”
Megan: “Treat us like everyone else.”
When I heard about Megan and Jeff’s stories, I was reminded of my own and how some people would be quick to make assumptions about why I do the things I do and/or behave the way I do. My predisposition to privacy is no help, as not saying anything and keeping to myself often give the wrong impression that I’ve an ulterior motive or am hiding something bad. I realize it doesn’t make sense to most people why I guard myself so strictly or insist on keeping silence even when wrongly accused, so I understand to some degree why the undue suspicion at times. However, I must also admit that despite the discouragement, I still have plenty to be thankful for, because I do have people who believe me against apparent odds. Their trusts in me never ceases to touch me. I had not seen one of my sponsors in quite a while (due to my being ill), but they remembered me well. With my other sponsor, the senior staff would always welcome me warmly and this time even offered me leftover pies. To be honest, even though I document my deeds online on this blog and on facebook, none of my sponsors ever asked to see proof. They simply believe and trust me, a complete stranger, to do what I said I would do. Similarly, my friends and supervisor have shown incredible faith in me. The people who gave me unquestioned access to their homes showed great trust in me not going through their personal items. It is because of this trust that I feel I am able to be trustworthy, and it is because I do have this trust that I can continue to go against the currents to do what I do. And for this, I am grateful 🙂