The last thing I expected to see in a Fairview back alley yesterday (June 11) was my formerly homeless friend Pushcart Bob, living out of a shopping cart again. But there he was.
Pushcart was supposed to be happily living in the Reiderman Residences—the new temporary modular housing (TMH) complex, completed in February, in the Marpole neighbourhood.
He moved there in early March, along with at least four other chronically homeless guys that both he and I know personally from the Fairview neighbourhood.
By March 24th, enthusiastic firsthand reports of how drug and drama free the Marpole TMH was, gave me confidence that “Pushcart”, “Juice”, “Chuckles”, “Suitcase”, and Rick, had all finally found a place that they could call home.
So until I found Pushcart Bob standing beside a shopping cart loaded with his personal possessions in the back alley on the south side of the 700 block of West Broadway, I had no idea that Marpole had lost him.
He still can’t think inside the box of housing
Pushcart Bob told me that he left the Reiderman Residences and returned to homelessness on May 1—though he didn’t say it in so many words. Pushcart is not chatty.
The reason he gave for leaving the housing complex was simply: “It was too crazy.”
Whether this assessment referred to an environment created by other tenants or by the TMH’s operator—Community Builders Group—I cannot say because Pushcart did not elaborate. He did mumble some stuff that leads me to believe he may have felt boxed in by rules.
Whatever the exact trigger, like other formerly homeless people I have documented, he simply walked away from the problems of his social housing and returned to the simple homeless life that he knows so well.
This is a perfectly understandable reaction to stress for someone like Pushcart, who has probably been homeless for as long as he hasn’t.
Not the 40th anniversary most people would celebrate
Pushcart tells me that he first became homeless 40 years ago in 1978. That was in St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador province, where both he and his accent say he was born and grew up. He has been homeless, off-and-on, ever since.
I don’t know when he first came to Vancouver. He was already long-established in the Fairview neighbourhood when I first became homeless in 2004.
Back in 2004 he was the same soft-spoken elderly man of few words, who liked his beer, that he is now. The most notable differences are that 14 years ago he pushed a bicycle and trailer and today he is pushing a shopping cart.
Also, he is 14 years older.
Pushcart didn’t mind telling me that he is all of 74 years old now. When I asked how his health was, he responded with a dismissive curl of the lip and a “Meh.”
He knows that he’s fine staying out for the summer but readily admitted that he doesn’t want to do another winter on the streets.
After my initial surprise on first seeing him, Pushcart managed to surprise me a second time by volunteering that he was hoping to get into the temporary modular housing coming to the parking lot adjacent to the Olympic Village, at 595 and 599 West Second Avenue.
Here’s hoping that he gets in. And if he does (but only if he does), I almost hope that the winter of 2018–2019 is a bad one; that way, at least, Pushcart Bob will have the necessary incentive to give housing a real chance.
Temporary modular housing in a nutshell
Temporary modular housing (TMH) as Vancouver is doing it, consists of prefabricated, three-story walk-ups, of between 40 to 100 self-contained apartment units each. These prefab buildings apparently have an anticipated useful life of 10 years and can literally be dropped in an existing parking lot. They are clearly seen as the fastest and least-expensive way make an immediate dent in the city’s burgeoning homeless population (estimated in March at 2,181).
A rushed $66-million program to build 600 units of TMH has been underway since late 2017.
So far, in 2018, 196 units-worth of TMH have been completed and tenanted at four locations in Vancouver, Including the 78-unit Reiderman Residences in Marpole. Some 350 units are listed by the city as either proposed, approved, or under construction.
All told, together with a pilot, 40-unit complex completed at the beginning of 2017, about 446 units of TMH are finished, or in the pipeline.