Homeless in Vancouver: How I’m choosing to earn money these days

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      Like seemingly hundreds of other men and women across Vancouver today, I went out and earned money by collecting beverage containers. I don’t know about everyone else but I did good under the circumstances.

      I don’t mean to brag and neither am I complaining. A commenter wrote in reply to one of my posts, that “we all make choices” and I have been making the choice to support my homeless self by collecting beverage containers.

      For the sake of argument, let’s look at my two biggest choices when it comes to making a living as a homeless person: casual day labour versus collecting refundable beverage containers (panhandling isn’t a choice; apparently it’s a calling).

      What choice does a street person have?

      I could get up very early and make myself available at one of several places for day labour that may or may not be available. If it was, it would be the back-breaking kind like carrying 10 pallets-worth of masonry bricks up 20 flights of bare concrete stairs in an unfinished condo because the construction elevator was needed to move more important things.

      If I was injured in the course of this Sisyphean task I could, as I understand, look to no one but myself for any extended medical care.

      As earlier explained to me by various walking and limping wounded who’d been there before me, neither the labour exchange that gave me the work lead nor the construction company I did the day labour for would be my responsible employee—I would be doing the work as a self-employed person and thus responsible for my own medical.

      If things went well and I survived the day, I’d get a cheque—maybe even that day—but I’ve no idea how I’d cash it without ID.

      So maybe I’d have money to eat, maybe not. To top it off, my clothes would be filthy and I would probably reek, with absolutely nowhere to go to get a shower.

      Keep in mind that I could only have tried for day labour of the construction sort if I owned construction boots (construction sites may provide courtesy hard hats, I honestly don’t know). If the day labour was painting, I would need to own my own painting whites (I’m positive, however, that the brushes are provided).

      On the other hand, I could go binning—collect discarded beverage containers to recover the refundable deposit people paid when they bought the bottles and cans of pop, juice, and alcohol.

      It wouldn’t take anything like eight hours of binning to make enough money to feed myself. I could stop when I knew I had enough containers to pay for my day and for the next morning. Or I could just stop whenever I wanted to.

      I could time my binning around the short hours that public showers are available in Vancouver or any other thing I needed to do. For instance, I could stop while I still had time to go to a laundromat.

      And I wouldn’t get a fraction as dirty and sweaty binning as I would if I was doing day labour.

      So there wasn’t really any choice at all

      I made my decision, and after my breakfast this morning, I went binning—I covered a very large area and I was thorough.

      As expected, I made enough money to buy a few coffees and my dinner this evening and my breakfast tomorrow morning and still have some money left over. I did it without ending up covered in mud and concrete dust or paint and I was done and relaxing in a park by 4 p.m.

      My basic work day today was the same as yesterday and the day before and will be the same tomorrow.

      The whole last week and a half has necessarily been a case of working hard and making do.

      The five-week flood of competition

      Provincial government welfare and disability cheques are issued two days from now, on Wednesday—five long weeks since the July cheques were issued.

      In the last two weeks of a five-week wait between government cheques, it seems that everyone takes up binning for returnable beverage containers. Would-be binners pour over the map of Vancouver like the contents of an enormous bucket of water, spreading into every nook and cranny.

      Your work-a-day binner has to bear down and deal with the flood of wanna-be binners and accept they may average less-than-average income right up until the night before cheque day.

      Recipients with bank accounts can receive their government monies via direct deposit, which happens by 1 a.m. Wednesday morning. Everyone else, who either pick up their cheque or receive it by mail, have to wait till nearly the middle of Wednesday.

      Once the government money tap gushes, much of the pressure in the back alleys will abate if not disappear, at least for a while.

      I would then expect my return on effort to be much better, that is to say, more containers for less binners means more containers collected per hour of effort.

      So in this way, those of us binners, homeless or not, who do not receive any government money, still look forward to government cheque day. It means a little or a lot more money in our pockets—assuming we’re willing to work to take advantage of our window of opportunity. 

      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.



      Just Asking

      Aug 27, 2014 at 6:17pm

      You choose how to earn your money. Do you choose to be homeless?

      Stanley Q Woodvine

      Aug 28, 2014 at 4:48pm

      @Just Asking

      No. I didn't choose to be homeless but seeing as things worked out that way and for as long as I am, I choose HOW to be homeless.


      Nov 16, 2014 at 12:26pm

      I commend you as to how you are living day to day and I am very impressed by the composition of your eloquent writing, I am going to stick with you for awhile.
      I am not homeless but I could have been as I came very close to it whilst living and working in Vancouver many years ago, all it would have taken was a stronger reliance on alcohol. Thanks for your writing.