Homeless in Vancouver: A poor bedtime story for rich people
As I rode toward my sleeping spot last night—past the gently dilapidated apartment buildings of Fairview, running down like old clocks with their mildew smells and their small, $900-plus suites, and then past a few of the tent cities, oops…leaky condos on 7th Avenue, surrounded by scaffolding and draped in green mesh—I couldn’t help but reflect on how lucky I was to be homeless.
When I arrived at my parkade, cozy and dry and smack up against another leaky condo…let me just say that gladness filled my heart.
Poor, poor rich people
I almost feel sorry for the people who own these overly absorbent condo units.
They can’t sell them until the buildings’ leaky envelopes are repaired and as “owners”, they have to foot the enormous bills.
How simply awful when money can’t buy quality of life!
Which brings me back to my quality of life which, through a series of lucky accidents and choices—like not living in Abbotsford—is better than society might have it.
I certainly can’t muster a lot of envy for the people who are supposedly better off than I am. The closer I look, the worse off they seem—and I don’t think that’s just my imagination.
I really think “well off” has lost a lot of lustre. Many of the little differences between rich and poor are being innovated out of existence.
Get used to seeing homeless people using laptops and cellphones.
I’m writing this post on a Windows 8 laptop that a woman was throwing out. That's because the OS was so difficult for her to figure out that she actually thought it was broken (“It’s only good for parts”).
Otherwise I’d be using an older Dumpster laptop I refurbished to very respectable specs. And I’m online in my parkade because I saved and bought a pay-as-I-go Huawai Internet stick.
If I really wanted to, I could save up and buy an unlocked iPhone and use it pay-as-I-go on several local carriers.
Hell! Binners have been finding discarded old iPhones in the garbage since, uh, Apple came out with it’s second generation model.
All these little tech toys can be had by rich and poor alike. It’s the big things that separate us, like housing. But even that wall seems to be crumbling.
Some home truths
If I saved all the money I put toward being on the Internet in 2013 (what the hell, throw in 2012 and 2011), it wouldn’t pay the first and last months’ rent and security deposit on any apartment in Vancouver—as if I could find a landlord willing to rent to me.
I’m not complaining, just saying it’s a seller’s market. So much so that people with “good jobs” and steady income are getting less than ever for their hard-earned money, and having to live in cramped, overpriced, hovels all over the city.
In his quest to have a house and a yard, a fellow I used to sell ceramic swing-top bottles to finally picked up and moved his young family from the Fairview neighbourhood of Vancouver all the way to Tsawwassen—nearly on the U.S. border.
He accepted the long commute each day to and from his well-paying job in Fairview as part of the price of decent family housing.
Rich isn’t what it used to be
I’m not really talking about rich people, in fact. That bar is much higher than it used to be.
You have to be making towards $200,000 a year to be “rich”. In 2010, according to this item, Statscan pegged the individual median income at only $29,000: the family median income at only $76,000.
So three years ago, half of Canadian individuals made no more than $29,000. By contrast this individual (me) certainly made over $20,000.
Admittedly 2010 was a brilliant year for me, and 2011 was better, but that was all returnable bottles and cans!
I’ve never received a cent of government money in nine years of homelessness.
I haven’t been paying rent or utilities or mortgage payments; I have no car loan, or student loan; no credit-card debt.
Like they say “it’s not what you make, it’s what you keep.” As a homeless person, I do have higher food costs than any other group in Canada, but still!
In 2010 the poverty line for an individual in a metropolitan area with a population over 500,00 was $22,637. Actually, Statscan calls it the “low income cut-off”.
The median income wasn’t even $7000 above the poverty line? OMG!
Le Tour de Rongeur
So I pictured a rat-race on bicycles—the leaders, the very rich—were a kilometre or more ahead of the main pack, or peloton, which consisted of everyone else: the well-off, the middle-income earners, the poor folk, and the homeless—me!
We were all bunched together. A lot of the people just ahead of me were one paycheque away from joining me, and the people ahead of them weren’t much better off because so much of their income was being eaten by the overhead of their standard of living.
In fact, I wasn’t even sure I was competing in that race; I may have disqualified myself.
As I drifted off to sleep in my cozy, dry parkade, I can’t say if the rats on the bicycles turned into sheep, or if I counted them as they rode by.
I can say that I didn’t lose much sleep thinking about the poor people in the drippy condo next door.