Homeless over Xmas: Part One

Just before Xmas, I was tramping around visiting Gregor Robertson's new homeless shelters, and so I was put into a homeless frame of mind so to speak.

On December 23, I met with Joey, an old friend from my Davie days. Joey was going to be featured in a magazine story by Laura Leyshon regarding women on the street. Joey on this day though had other things to do so we put off the interview until 2:30pm.

Joey introduced Laura and I to a gentleman named Jamie who was camping out with her on the street. They had only met a few days previous, however, you could see they were probably leaning on each other for support. They were huddled together out on the street in front of the New Fountain hotel, which within a day or so was expected to open as one of Gregor's new temporary shelters.

At 2:30pm, Laura and I returned to meet Joey but she wasn't there. Jamie was watching guard over their possessions. He was friendly, although you could see sadness to his spirit. Laura and I chatted in the freezing cold with Jamie.

Jamie is a handsome man who I learned was from a Metis settlement in Ontario near Lake Superior. He didn't strike me as typical of the area's homeless since he had really nice teeth and appeared quite clean. Plus he was so personable and relaxed.

Jamie was bundled up with layers of clothing, a new down jacket, heavy mitts, really good boots, a hoodie and toque. His appearance intrigued me and I couldn't help thinking why is this guy sleeping on the street and yet looks so good.

Fascination got the better of me and I asked to see his hair. The condition of his hair, at least in my mind, would paint a picture of his time on the street.

He pulled back his hoodie and removed his toque. He had really beautiful hair which was well groomed and very clean. I made a comment about how nice his hair looked and you could see Jamie's face light up from this comment.

Speaking for about 90 minutes with Jamie, the cold was really getting to me and Joey still had not returned. I informed Laura that I needed to go somewhere warm. I knew that Jamie and Joey planned on getting into the New Fountain shelter for the night.

I was concerned for them since Xmas was only a day away and them being sent back onto the street in the morning until the shelter reopened at nighttime was really worrisome.

Leaving, I invited Jamie for Christmas Eve lunch the next day and asked him to let Joey also know that she was invited as well. I provided him my telephone number and he requested hugs from both Laura and I as we departed.

In the morning Jamie called me around 9 a.m. and we agreed to meet at noon at the Ho Ho restaurant in Chinatown. As I made my way over to Chinatown, the snow was really coming down. There waiting for me at the Ho Ho was Jamie; however, it was closed.

I informed Jamie that there was another Chinese restaurant up the street and we went there. I ordered after first asking Jamie if there was anything he didn't like. We had a number of dishes brought to us which, of course, we couldn't possibly eat. Lots was left over, which the waitress packaged up for Jamie.

We chatted for close to a couple of hours and I learned lots about Jamie. Jamie is 43 years of age. Up until a few days previous he had been in a treatment centre for six months in Surrey called the Phoenix.

This obviously explained Jamie's well-kept appearance. Jamie informed me that he wasn't yet ready to stop the drugs and came into the Downtown Eastside because that is where all the action is. That is where the drug subculture is. He feels more comfortable here than in Surrey, or at least that is what he told me.

Jamie has siblings although he has lost touch with them. I learned that his mother is German. His father and both grandparents are Native. His father is down and out somewhere in Canada due to alcoholism disease.

Jamie's story is pretty typical of many other homeless citizens. An obviously dysfunctional childhood through no fault of his own has really messed up Jamie's life. Jamie tells me that he has a brain injury suffered at the hands of other druggies who beat him severely in Alberta for money and drugs. His injury though isn't profound, but you can see he has difficulty retrieving words when expressing himself.

Jamie didn't eat lots and and neither did I. The leftovers from our lunch Jamie was taking back to Joey. Before leaving, Jamie suggested an invite to Christmas at my place. I agreed.

I had shopping to do and reminded Jamie that both he and Joey were invited to Christmas Day dinner and to call me in the morning. He called Xmas Eve night from the shelter to let me know that he was OK.

Jamie called early in the morning after eating porridge at Gregor's shelter and we firmed up plans for Christmas Day.

Christmas Day Arrives—to be continued.

This originally ran  on Jamie Lee Hamilton's blog, which is called Oldtown News, as part of a series  on homelessness and Mayor Gregor Robertson's new shelters. In the next few days,  Hamilton will propose  suggestions on how we need to start looking at the homeless situation.