Homeless in Vancouver: What B.C. Family Day means to some of us

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      Monday morning (February 12) was Family Day here in Vancouver, B.C.

      This is a statutory provincial holiday that has been observed in British Columbia on the second Monday in February, each year since February 11, 2013, thanks to the government of then premier Christy Clark.

      If nothing else, Family Day means that homeless people like myself, who call parkades our bedrooms, can sleep in, at least a little bit.

      I finally got up and out of bed just before 8:30 a.m.—after two of the building’s employees arrived and parked in their usual parking spots—neither of which, fortunately, happened to be the spot where I was sleeping.

      For these two people, their jobs clearly meant more to them than Family Day.

      You’d think a holiday is time to sleep but no—I had to get to a depot!

      9:38 a.m.: Sign at Go Green indicating shorter hours for the statutory holiday.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      I already had a large load of returnable beverage containers on my bike trailer, so after I was all packed up, I headed straight to a recycling depot in East Vancouver to cash in. I was certain that by the time I arrived, it would be after 9 a.m. and the depot would be open.

      The Go Green recycling depot at Ontario Street and 7th Avenue was indeed open and empty when I arrived but it quickly began filling up.

      Before I was halfway through sorting my load of returnable beverage containers on one stainless steel table, six more binners arrived to sort their bottles at six other tables: one of them was pushing a shopping cart, two walked in carrying bags, two more rode in on bicycles, and another drove up in a car.

      As I waited at the main counter for my sorted and crated containers to be counted and their total value determined (and to be paid), I read the sign—hand-written in black marker on a white letter-size sheet of paper—that was taped up by the cash register:

      “Open Monday
      Family Day”

      This sign told regulars, like myself, what we already knew: that every statutory holiday, this recycling depot shortens its business day by two hours.

      So, for binners who preferred to use Go Green, Family Day meant less time to collect and cash in recyclable beverage containers.

      Different kinds of park life with little relation to each other

      9:49 a.m.: A lone homeless sleeper seen in Jonathan Rogers Park.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      My route out of East Vancouver and back to the Fairview neighbourhood took me by Jonathan Rogers Park—a one block, platter-like lawn square—the northeast corner of which is at the intersection of Manitoba Street and West 7th Avenue.

      This large park is fringed by trees on its south and east sides, while east of its centre features a small playground, an always empty wading pool, and a small rectangular building housing the barest of washroom facilities. The entire west side of the park is designed as a sports field.

      In actual practice, however, some two-thirds of Jonathan Rogers Park, starting at the western end, is a year-round dog zone and the extreme eastern end, which is perpetually shaded and sheltered by conifer trees, is often occupied by homeless people.

      Barring extreme precipitation and cold, the playground in between is well-played-in by neighbourhood children and the grassy southern side of the park is a very popular spot to sit, read, eat lunch and otherwise enjoy the magnificent view afforded of the sky and the North Shore Mountains.

      9:52 a.m.: Dogs and their owners would have been in the park holiday or not.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      Monday morning, a shaft of ice-cold sunlight picked out the only homeless person to be seen apparently sleeping under the big trees on the east end of the park. He was wrapped in a sleeping bag and sitting up with his back against a bicycle loaded with bulging paniers on both wheels.

      He and the bike were both leaning against a tree trunk. His head hung forward on his neck and his eyes were closed.

      All Family Day could have meant to him was that, for better or worse, no City of Vancouver park board ranger patrol would disturb him.

      Meanwhile, over on the western end of the park, the usual subset of the area’s “dog people” held sway, as they almost always do. Here were real families but not because of Family Day. They would have been here holiday or no holiday.

      As for what Family Day could possibly have meant to the cosseted pooches seen running around the park—it’s hard to say, considering that every day for them is something of a holiday.

      The Broadway of looking at Family Day

      10:08 a.m.: Management and staff of a restaurant closed for the holiday had good advice for how to spend the day.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      Meandering southwest, I reached the intersection of Cambie Street and West Broadway. This is the eastern edge of Fairview and from here on, I hewed straight along Broadway.

      West from Cambie, for several kilometres, Broadway is all retail store fronts at ground level. But not so many of the stores were open, just a handful of mostly restaurants and coffee bars.

      For the people operating the stores which were open, Family Day must have meant something of a gamble, business-wise.

      On the other hand, for the management and staff of the Red Ginger restaurant in the 900 block of West Broadway, which was closed, Family Day meant both a holiday and an occasion for some humour. Three hand-lettered signs in the window read:

      “Family Monday Closed
      Go Gardening
      Closed Sundays”

      Crossing Oak Street, the first sign of activity I saw was from a Canada Post employee delivering mail to the businesses in the 1000 block. Obviously, Government of Canada employee that he was, the provincial statutory holiday meant nothing to him.

      As for the various owners of the storefronts along West Broadway that are for lease, such as 1067 West Broadway (which, according to Google Street View, has been empty since at least May of 2015), I don’t know, Family Day may have left them all feeling a bit empty.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine
      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.