Homeless in Vancouver: A flip phone, iPhone, and a Nexus go into a restaurant…

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      A homeless fellow I’ve had a passing acquaintance with for many years approached me in McDonald’s a few weeks ago.

      Usually he does this just because I’m sitting beside the electrical outlet he wants to plug his flip phone into. But this time he also had an iPhone that he said he’d found. He was wondering if I could help him contact the owner.

      I looked at the shiny iPhone and the old homeless guy and decided that I just didn’t want to get involved.

      I tried to brush him off by telling him to wait for the owner to call their lost phone—if the battery ran down before that happened I could charge it up for him but otherwise he should just wait patiently (and go away).

      He tried to entice me by offering to split any reward that he received and otherwise kept pestering me until it was clear that the fastest way to get rid of him was to help connect him with the owner.

      Things to try if you find someone’s iPhone

      Generally, if I find a charged phone, it’s just a matter of maybe an hour before the owner notices the loss and finds a way to call their own phone.

      Reversing the process and contacting the owner is only possible if you can access the phone.

      There was no owner information specified on the lock screen of this iPhone but there was also no passcode to stop me from getting to the home screen and launching the phone app.

      A quick scan of the alphabetical list of contacts found nothing labeled ICE for “in case of emergency” but there was a number for “Mom”.

      I could have also checked the recent calls.

      Assuming the owner had friends and relatives they stayed in touch with, calling any of the top numbers should’ve done the trick.

      If the iPhone had been secured with a passcode, I would’ve tried asking Siri for help.

      Siri is the voice-controlled intelligent assistant that has been a standard feature of iPhones beginning with the iPhone 4S released in 2011.

      You can access Siri even if the iPhone is locked by holding down the Home button and asking a question.

      I could’ve tried asking Siri something like “Call home” or “mom” or “dad”.

      And if that didn’t work, I could’ve asked the feature to “read my text messages”. I haven’t tried this on a locked iPhone but normally, Siri reads each new message in turn, giving you the option to reply.

      Siri may ask for a passcode before reading text or email messages. Historically, the voice-activated feature’s chattiness has been a bit of a security flaw and I won’t be surprised if Apple has refined it to be more closemouthed when an iPhone is locked.

      If nothing else, I could’ve passed the time by chatting with Siri while I waited for an incoming phone call.

      It pays to be honest (even if it doesn’t)

      As it was, I called “Mom”, who lived on Vancouver Island. She explained that her son was visiting Vancouver and she offered to contact him via his Facebook account. Within minutes the son called his iPhone. I explained the situation—how homeless people had their sticky fingers all over his iPhone and I started to tell him where he could find us.

      My homeless acquaintance picked that moment to pipe up in the background and demand that I tell the fellow to bring money.

      I ignored this and finished giving the fellow clear directions. I explaining that I’d be the one in the window seat with a laptop but that I was simply helping the fellow who had actually found the iPhone.

      Off the phone, I faced my passing acquaintance who was showing a side of himself I’d never seen before.

      He bluntly explained that if the owner wasn’t going to pay him, he wanted to sell the iPhone downtown.

      I flatly countered that demanding a reward for returning someone’s phone was extortion and selling it was theft, pure and simple.

      He angrily declared that he wasn’t a thief and left the restaurant, taking both the iPhone and his situational ethics with him.

      When the iPhone’s owner arrived, he only managed to pop his head in the door and say hello to me before he was waylaid by the holder of the iPhone and diverted into the back alley.

      Later I heard that the owner happily handed over a $30 “finders fee” without the slightest bit of prompting.

      I didn’t hear that from my homeless acquaintance, though; for over a week he would only give me dirty looks in passing.

      I suppose that I hurt his feelings. I had clearly passed judgement on his honesty.

      But I don’t mean to leave the impression that he’s a bad person because I don’t believe that.

      He is, however, an older homeless person with a serious drinking problem—which is a fact rather than an excuse.

      Part of his problem is that he got help for his drinking. Over a year ago, he entered a long-term detox program that involved getting of the street and into a safe house.

      He successfully completed the program. I remember how clean and sober and healthy he looked when I’d run into him.

      But he could only stay in the safe house for the length of the program. He was not fast-tracked into social housing. He was sent back out onto the street.

      With predictable results.

      All this supposed new social housing coming online but nothing for an elderly homeless person who had stepped forward on his own initiative and successfully kicked his alcoholism?

      I can imagine his frustration.

      And I can understand why over the years I’ve heard some homeless substance abusers laughingly refer to detox programs as a kind of holiday.

      Maybe they didn’t take the programs seriously because they felt that the treatment providers didn’t take them seriously either.

      Same guy, different phone

      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      Two days ago (Friday evening), the iPhone finder suddenly started talking to me again and I couldn’t shut him up. He was in a very good mood, explaining to me that his sister had sent him $200. And he was scheduled to go back into detox in a few days.

      Would I, he asked, hang on to $20 for him and give it back to him the next day?

      I accepted a polymer $20 from him, quarter-folded it, and gave it special lodging in my wallet.

      He plugged in his flip phone at my feet and went away but only for a half hour. He came back towing a sore-faced guy who, it turned out, had a phone to sell.

      “Is this worth $10?", my homeless pal asked me as he handed me a black Android phone.

      It seemed to work but it had a visibly cracked screen and a bunch of masking tape on the back, which may or may not have been holding the case together.

      I explaining that I personally wouldn’t buy it; that I had no idea of the functionality of the phone or whether it was locked to a carrier or blacklisted.

      The seller protested. He had wiped the data and declared that it was easy to unlock any phone.

      Oh, for the love of Pete!

      I wanted them to both go away. I even ignored the seller when he declared it was a Nexus phone, a pretty high-end Android device that is only sold unlocked.

      The better the phone, the less inclined I would be to buy it off a street person. A real working Nexus phone doesn’t just fall into your hands for a mere $10.

      My homeless buddy finally left, remembering first to retrieve his charging flip phone. The would-be Nexus seller continued to haunt the McDonald’s and pester me until I left, saying that I had cost him a sale.

      Third flippin’ time’s the charm

      The next evening (Saturday), the homeless guy was waiting for me at the McDonald’s in the 1400-block of West Broadway. He was destitute and and I handed him his $20 bill.

      He thanked me and plugged his flip phone into the outlet near my regular window seat and then retired to his regular window seat that looked out on the alley, allowing him to watch his shopping cart.

      Nothing whatsoever happened. I was able to eat in peace and totally concentrate on whatever it was that I was doing.

      My friend left before me and wished me a good night as he left.

      I left an hour later and as I reached down to unplug my laptop, the first thing I touched was the charger for the guy’s flip phone.

      I could have left it plugged in, or I could have unplugged it and left it with the staff; instead, I packed it up to make absolute sure he got it back. After all I’ve seen him in the same McDonald’s every evening for the past four weeks at least.

      Every evening that is except this evening.

      Contact info could be the ICE-ing on your lockscreen

      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      It seems like a good idea to personalize your lock screen with some kind of alternate contact information—just in case of an emergency. This could help if you lose your phone or tablet or if you are found in medical distress.

      The Android OS, at least back to 2012 and version 4.1.1 (aka Jellybean), has allowed users to easily add text to the lock screen under Settings > Personal > Lock screen > Owner information.

      Hard to believe but this simple functionality seems to have never been built into iOS. Apple iPhone users have to hunt through the available ICE and wallpaper apps to find one that allows adding custom text to their lock screen wallpaper.

      In iOS8, there is a new feature that allows a user to create a medical I.D. that can be displayed from the lock screen. This could serve the same purpose as it includes a field for an alternate contact in case of a medical emergency.

      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.



      Stephen Rees

      Jan 5, 2015 at 10:30am

      On my Nexus 4 running Lollipop 5.0.1 there is no Lock Screen > Owner Information under Settings > Personal

      or anywhere else as far as I can see

      Stanley Q Woodvine

      Jan 5, 2015 at 11:00am


      Oops! It seems some Samsung devices put the option under Settings > Lock Screen > Owner information. Other Android smartphones may have it under Settings > Security, or similar.

      An HTG page has it under Settings > Personal > Security > Screen Security > Owner Info.



      Jan 5, 2015 at 3:48pm

      Apparently Stanley can find his way around phones and computers, he just chooses to not bother finding a place to live. Why? Don't blame society.


      Jan 5, 2015 at 9:15pm

      @Yada...and do you hear him blaming society? You have never met Stanley, don't know anything about him.
      I probably know more about you from your condescending asinine post!
      I thought that was a great story, yet you, Yada, missed it all...what a maroon!

      Martin Dunphy

      Jan 5, 2015 at 9:17pm

      Heh. "Maroon".

      Stanley Q Woodvine

      Jan 5, 2015 at 9:38pm


      Actually I have to thank society for throwing out all the neat toys (like the HP Pavilion G6 I'm typing on).

      Thank you society!

      If we could dig homes out of dumpsters like we can laptops and phones then far fewer of us would be homeless.

      Lovely L.

      Jan 5, 2015 at 10:36pm

      Stanley, I really enjoy reading your posts. Your integrity, kindness and humor always make for an interesting and thought provoking read. This also allows many of us to venture into a world that we know less of than our own.
      Keep up the great work, stay gold and don't change. We need more good people like you who set a good example.


      Jan 5, 2015 at 11:18pm

      I love this column and I look forward to every new edition. He really has some interesting Vancouver observations and general wisdom to offer. The author has written before about his living situation - I don't think that "not bothering" is really an issue - I'd guess it is plenty bothersome from time to time.

      Generations Upon Generations of Alkies in Lineage

      Jan 16, 2015 at 9:21am

      ...coming from abandonment and losing everything to an inherited disease exacerbated by circumstance is not something I would wish on my worst enemy.

      Going to treatment, getting help and hope then being abandonded by a broken system is sad. I understand why he started drinking again. You don't feel the cold, or your lonliness so bad when drunk or high.

      Blessings to everyone who cares, and especially blessings to those who have no comprehension or compassion for others. At least people who care can thrive on kindness.

      Stanley Q Woodvine

      Jan 18, 2015 at 11:43am


      You speak the truth.

      I haven't seen my friend since the Friday he was supposed to start detox again.

      I wish him well. He's had quite a lifetime being chewed up by a careless system, beginning with his childhood in residential schools.

      Not many people will see his personal triumph in simply living through his childhood but I see it and I see a man who has largely lived his life without bitterness or excuses.

      If he's back in detox and if his band council again pays for the halfway house post-detox treatment (over $3000-per-month), then I may not see him for over eight months.

      The best indicator of his ultimate success staying off alcohol and (system willing) off the street, is that I will never see him again.

      In my decade of homelessness I haven't experienced much loss of street friends to successful treatment and or social housing; I only seem to lose them to that other thing that takes every one of us, homeless or otherwise, off the streets eventually.