Homeless in Vancouver: Lack of I.D. keeps B.C. homeless man from claiming lotto prize

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      Steve Borik, the 57-year-old homeless Metro Vancouver man who had his tidy campsite yanked out from under him in May, is back in the news.

      Six months ago, in June, a month after he had the misfortune to be evicted from his camp on the banks of the Fraser River, Borik was pleasantly surprised to discover that the $8 Keno lottery ticket he’d purchased on a whim was a big winner—worth $25,000. It was a lucky break and he planned to use the windfall to finally get himself out of homelessness.

      But, his joy was short-lived. According to CBC News, the B.C. Lottery Corporation wouldn’t allow him to claim his prize because he didn’t have the necessary photo identification. In fact, he had no identification. He’d lost it all during the upheaval in his life that left him homeless a few years ago—a common-enough circumstance among homeless people.

      The circular logic of bureaucrats

      Steve Borik faced a typical bureaucratic catch-22: he couldn’t replace his photo I.D. without a provincial birth certificate and in order to get that from his hometown of Montreal, Quebec, he needed photo identification in order to prove his identity.

      According to the CBC, Borik tried for five months to find a way to get his identification back. However, he was only successful after the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation intervened on his behalf.

      The CBC was able to get a line on a staff member in NDP MLA Carole James’ office who had previously gotten Quebec birth certificates for homeless people.

      The necessary papers were in Borik’s hands within hours. He had them filled out and in the mail and on their way to Quebec before the end of the day.

      Borik should have his birth certificate within three weeks. Then, barring further complications, he should have no trouble getting his B.C. photo I.D. and then claiming his Keno prize.

      Government bureaucrats—like most people—are far more inclined to get off their butts to do something when a nationally known CBC reporter is doing the asking, rather than some homeless person (I’ve noticed this phenomenon myself, by the way).

      Big thanks should go to the CBC for helping Steve Borik get over this latest hurdle in his odyssey out of homeless. But honestly, that help shouldn’t have been required.

      It says nothing good about B.C.’s social system that a working homeless person’s best chance of getting himself off the street is a once-in-a-lifetime lottery win, or that he couldn’t collect it without the help of a television network.

      Working your way out of homelessness is passé

      Why is it that the government of British Columbia makes it so hard for homeless people to get legal identification?

      It’s well known that a majority of homeless people lose their I.D. along with everything else when they end up on the streets. And without proper I.D., a person these days is barely a citizen. They will face difficulty in every aspect of life, whether working, opening a bank account, voting, or even returning purchases at some stores.

      One might think then that B.C. would bend over backwards in order to make sure that homeless people who wanted to work had the necessary I.D. but no, B.C. puts the onus for recovering identification squarely on homeless people themselves—a group that, by definition, often has the least ability to make the phone calls, supply the paperwork and pay the fees required.

      Amazingly, it seems easier to get money out of the government than legal identification—when you consider that B.C. is literally paying homeless people—potentially for the rest of their lives—to get into social housing.

      This may not work for someone like Borik, who doesn’t want the B.C. government’s money but it suits almost all the formerly homeless people that I know who’ve been moved into either one of the downtown SROs or one of the new subsidized Housing First units. Almost none of them work now or ever intend to, in order to pay their own rent.

      Many of these men and women have figured out how to get on one of the levels of B.C. disability benefits—often on the strength of the neurological effects of their drug addictions. And the thing about disability is that it not only pays out much better than welfare but, unlike welfare, which can be cut after two years, disability is for life.

      Ironically, I’ve heard more than one person describe provincial disability benefits as “winning the lottery”.

      And happily, the B.C. government can set these people up with bank accounts in the Downtown Eastside, so they can cash their B.C. disability or welfare benefits cheques whether they have I.D. or not.

      I’m not actually begrudging anyone’s good fortune at being able to squeeze money out of the provincial government but I am pointing out how Borik’s old-fashioned work ethic and sense of personal responsibility appears to be out of step with the B.C. government’s apparent focus on accommodating homeless people who are gaming the system.

      And after seeing the way that the provincial government dangled a lottery prize in front of but just outside of Borik’s reach, I think it’s fair to say that a person in British Columbia has about as much chance of working themselves out of homelessness as a homeless person has of winning at Keno.

      Recapping the saga of the homeless handyman

      Back in May, a month before he apparently risked $8 on a Keno ticket, Borik’s story made the newspapers. He was the then 56-year-old homeless handyman who was facing forced evicted by TransLink police from the tidy campsite he’d built for himself on an empty building lot slated for future development on the north bank of the Fraser River in South Vancouver.

      At the time, Borik told the Province newspaper that he had no drug or alcohol issues and credited his homelessness to a difficult divorce settlement and bowel surgery. He explained that he would neither take welfare handouts and nor could he take living in a bedbug-infested hotel room in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

      On May 13, literally the day after Borik’s story had been splashed all over Metro Vancouver media, CBC News reported that social workers from the Carnegie Centre in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside had shown up at the homeless man’s campsite to tell him that they had found subsidized housing for him.

      Borik told the CBC that he’d been previously turned away by the same group of people and he credited the sudden offer of housing to the media attention his story had attracted.

      But the subsidized housing that the Carnegie Centre workers promised did not materialize. Borik did however get evicted from his campsite on June 1, just as TransLink police had promised.

      The CBC says that Borik won’t say where he’s currently pitching his tent, lest officials again swoop in and leave him even more homeless than he already is.

      For his part, Borik is refusing all offers of charity, saying that he just wants to claim his Keno prize and get on with is life.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.