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.

Comments (9) Add New Comment
sour grapes
the contempt for working people in this article is really obnoxious. sorry you fell through the cracks of society but resenting people who haven't will not help you.
Rating: +7
This is scary:
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?

I quoted it as it required repeating (and addressing as though that's gonna get worse before it gets better).

As I have watched more than 2 dozen post-war homes be demolished and replaced by McMansions in my neighbourhood in the past 3-ish years, I see there are no shortage of wealthy.

But I'm (obviously) not sure how they do it.

The developers are making a fortune, but what about their clients? $7-800,000 for a tear-down? Then rebuilding costs, etc. ad nauseam?

Is it money made off-shore? Where are these opportunities here in Vancouver I wonder...

Can't see much of a future for me in Vancouver. Will miss it somewhat, I'm sure. But will be far enough beyond the suburbs (yuck) that I won't be able to visit easily.

Rating: +7
Alan Layton
Nicely said.
Rating: -6
What contempt for working people? The author is not mocking those of us with conventional jobs. He is in fact explaining how he makes money to pay for his needs without taking government subsidy, and those bottles and things don't pick themselves off the ground. He is running a small business of sorts, and working hard at it. In his spare time he is illuminating us with vignettes of a sort of homelessness that has more heart, panache and wit than I think most of us would have assumed from the word "homeless."
Rating: +4
in my eyes, the tone of the article seems a bit spiteful towards people who earn a living. You really should be grateful for those who earn a living as it ultimately makes your existence that much easier.

I find it unfortunate you either overlook, or are oblivious, to the fact that you contribute no tax income to many things in our society that you personally reap the benefits of. Below is just one simple example.

If you get sick, need medical care, and go to the doctor or hospital..who pays for that?

Who pays for the roadway or sidewalk you travel to get there?
Who pays for electricity and maintenance of the traffic control lights that enable you to cross the street along the way?
Who pays for the enforcement of traffic bylaws to help protect you as a pedestrian along the way?
Who contributes to the educational costs of the doctors and nurses that give you your medical care?
Who pays for the equipment they use to diagnose your health problem?
Who pays for the electricity and/or doctor's office they're working in? Who pays for the cleaning and maintenance of the facility they're working in?

And so on...

Everyone that's working and paying taxes, that's who.

So, the next time you're begrudging the working class, or the people that live in those fancy but leaky condos, try showing some gratitude towards them for the things they pay for that you benefit from, but contribute nothing to.
Rating: +4
Working People
@sour grapes

I'm not sure what you mean by "working people". It seems the columnist is making almost as much money as the median income by collecting and returning bottles. That seems like work to me and certainly a lot more work, and more useful work, than some millionaire collecting interest on investments.
Rating: -6
Stanley Q Woodvine
@ Sticky

You have a bit of a point. I'm paying no payroll taxes at the moment.

Otherwise, my food costs are very high. I pay all the same consumption and sales taxes that you do. I haven't collected a GST rebate forever.

There's no tax on collecting bottles. Feel free to work to change the law.

I don't pay into Medicare at present so I'm not covered -- homeless folk who aren't on welfare are not covered. We are told to pay for our prescriptions ourselves.

When I was prescribed for my Bell's Palsy it was a breathtaking act of kindness on the part of the pharmacist that spared me a huge expense.

I understand my near 20-years of paying taxes as an employee and freelancer constitute a "that was then, this is now" sort of thing, but I think you're laying it on a little thick suggesting I'm freeloading on infrastructure largely bought and paid for by a previous generation.

I wasn't trolling for a cookie but I was expressing a fundamental point:

Many homeless people carry a chip about how much they think everyone else has -- inviting certain situational ethics.

Many homeless. myself included, don't see non-homeless people as necessarily being so much better off than we are -- certainly not worthy of envy. I think the numbers bear out that view.
Rating: 0
@ Stanley

Thanks for the thoughtful reply and insightful commentary. I will seek to reciprocate with the same.

Federal and Provincial taxes are payable on any income earned if you choose to declare it and file a return. The law already exists.

I think it's fair to say most of the recyclables you collect and derive money from come from working folk.

If you walk into any public medical care facility in BC in need of emergency medical attention they will not deny you. In which case your care is funded by the working folk.

Sorry to learn of your health condition and I hope you find the financial means necessary to manage it.

The tech toys and internet signal you use to write your article and responses come from working people who pay taxes.

As a "homeless" person, any physical structure you take shelter under, or in, was paid for by someone else (i.e. parking garage)…some of them built entirely from tax revenue (i.e. under a bridge).

The food you buy was shipped on roads built by taxpayers, and inspected at the borders and elsewhere by agencies funded by taxpayers.

If everyone stopped working and paying taxes none of this would continue to exist. So, it makes it easy for me to apply your "that was then, this is now" here.

Go 400 miles into the middle of the forrest and you'll be nearing a place without infrastructure and things provided by someone else. Only there and then would you be closest to not living off of society. In which case I wouldn't know who you are.

I agree with you that some non-homeless people are not much better off than some with homes. You strike me as one of the fortunate ones. Either way, I think no less of you for it.

And, make no mistake, I'm not a big fan of having to pay taxes, but they're necessary. As you can see, I'm just trying to make a point.

My brother was homeless for years and died young. From what I saw, being homeless makes for a much harder and shorter life. In that regard, I wish you all the luck I can.

In the end, having steady employment and a steady home makes for a far better and longer quality of life…even if the home part of that equation is a leaky condo. IMHO, it's a luxury to own any real estate in this town.

Rating: +3
Stanley Q Woodvine
@ Sticky

Never been to Emergency. I have been to clinics three times in 30 years.

In addition to dumpster laptops I've refurbished, at my cost, I still have the PPC iBook I paid $800 for back in 2008. I no longer have the Mac Book Pro I bought in 2009 -- it was stolen in the Waves Coffee House.

I've had some jobs while I've been homeless. Prior to being homeless I had a nearly unbroken record of supporting myself going back to age 17. I have paid taxes and when I have declarable income I will pay more taxes.

They may be your hobby horse but taxes had nothing to do with the subject of my post. At no point did I advocate or extoll the virtues of not paying taxes.

I certainly never said anything about not being part of, or benefiting from society. My blog is full of posts about how I benefit.

I'm deeply sorry your brother died. I have seen the street take a toll on people.

Personally, I'm in my 50s. I bike upwards of 60 km a day. I don't drink, do drugs or smoke. I do drink a lot of coffee.

Of course the parkade I sleep in belongs to someone else (duh).

Anyway. The fact is you've utterly missed my point and it's silly trying to make that point in bite-sized comments.

Basically Sticky I'm fine with what I have. I don't want what you have. And just maybe I'm wondering if rejoining the rat race is worth the price. Maybe there's another way.
Rating: +1
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