Homeless in Vancouver: Former street people run away from home to rejoin the rough life
After some four years and four months living in a single-room-occupancy (SRO) unit in the Downtown Eastside, my friend Stix is once again homeless. Wednesday evening (October 4) he showed up in South Granville with a few full cloth supermarket bags and a slightly dazed look on his face.
Curiously, Stix is the fifth former homeless person that I personally know of within the last 12 months who has chosen to leave their free social housing and return to living on the street.
Stix said that he hadn’t wanted to leave the 106-year-old Holborn Hotel that he moved into in May of 2013—he described it as the best SRO on East Hastings. Only, he explained, some of the people living in his building had begun threatening his life, so he had no choice but to get out.
His story of being physically threatened by neighbours in his SRO is not as far-fetched as some may think. What’s important, though, is that if Stix believed that he was in such danger he really would see no other choice but to leave the building and return to the streets; he would never go to the authorities.
To make matters worse, Stix also told me that he believes he only has a year to live—that his liver is shot and that he has bladder cancer. All very melodramatic but again plausible: he’s been a chronic alcoholic as long as I’ve known him and though he says he is only 34 years old, he moves like a sick old man.
In his seeming despair, on Wednesday, Stix expressed a resolve to save some of the monthly provincial disability money that he receives and use it to pay for a trip, come December, back to his family in Ontario—to die, as it were.
When I asked why he wouldn’t make the trip on his next cheque, he explained that he had a November 16 court date to answer a charge of peeing in public.
After I left him Wednesday evening, Stix ended up running afoul of private security when he tried sleeping in a parkade on the north side of West Broadway. I found him Thursday morning curled up asleep in a doorway on the south side of the street.
The Sunday before Thanksgiving I watched him panhandle for a while on the median of the 1400 block of West Broadway. Afterward he told me that he was now sleeping on a friend’s couch.
By the way, Stix says that Thanksgiving (October 9) will mark exactly six years since he arrived in Vancouver from Calgary in 2011.
The strange case of reoccurring homeless people
I was surprised to learn in the spring that a formerly long-time homeless person named Chris (a.k.a. “Chuckles”) whom I’ve known since 2004, had put himself back out on the street in November of 2016.
Chris had been homeless for over 10 years when he was accepted into a new social housing complex called the Dunbar Apartments, early (I recall) in 2014. Like Stix, Chris is a chronic alcoholic and he has a skin condition ravaging the calf of one of his legs.
After Chris moved into the Dunbar Apartments, he told me how his welfare cheque of $235 was cut back to only $60—apparently because the social housing complex served its tenants a meal every day. I was outraged to hear this but Chris didn’t want me to make a fuss about it in my blog for fear that he might lose his remaining $60 of welfare.
Needless to say, with his social assistance monies almost eliminated, a chronic drinking habit, and being of an age and a physical condition that made him unfit for jobs involving physical labour, he had at least as much need to collect returnable beverage containers living in social housing as when he lived on the street.
Chris explained to me this summer that he was eventually shuffled out of the Dunbar Apartments and into a social housing complex in Marpole and finally that he was expected to move into an SRO hotel in the Downtown Eastside—which he was not willing to do. That, he said, was why he moved himself back out onto the street in November of 2016.
Another housed homeless fellow that I have only ever known as “Beetlejuice” unhoused himself, no later than spring of 2017. I do not know his reason.
Likewise in the spring, I think, a white-haired French-Canadian with the inevitable nickname of “Frenchy” evicted himself from social housing. Like virtually every homeless binner I’ve ever seen go into social housing, Frenchy continued to bin. Reportedly, he told several people that he could make more money binning if he just stayed out on the street, presumably because he was always near the alleys.
Sometime earlier this year, my friend Aaron, another old-timer, went back to being homeless. I haven’t gotten a specific reason out of him but, like Frenchy, he now can be seen binning every day, beginning very early in the morning.
This small handful of recidivist homeless people—Stix, Chris, Beetlejuice, Frenchy, and Aaron—have two things in common: They are all well-seasoned homeless people, with a good five to 10 years of living on the streets under their belts before they went into social housing. And all are principally, or exclusively, serious or chronic alcoholics.
Although I can personally only point to the five, a sixth binner—my friend Jeff—mused about perhaps going back to being homeless in the spring. He never did it. But he also fits the the two characteristics above.
A friend of mine named Brian who has never been homeless but until 2016 was a daily binner, tells me that he has a binner friend named Larry who also also gone back to living on the streets after spending some years in social housing. This Larry fellow, however, is neither a heavy drinker nor as user of street drugs, according to Brian.
No doubt a certain number of formerly homeless people inevitably “relapse” back to the street, but this is the first time that I have personally known of this many doing so in such a short span of time and that fact is, I think, worth noting.