Thursday morning (June 21) may have marked the start of the first official day of summer in Vancouver but for homelessness it was more or less business as usual.
The only difference being that business (as they say) was booming—at least in the part of the Fairview neighbourhood where I breakfast most mornings.
After leaving my own sleeping spot at around 7 a.m., I often see someone else bundled up and sleeping in the 1200 block of West Broadway.
Up to our knees in a rising tide of homelessness
Thursday morning, though, I didn’t see my first rough sleeper until about 7:15 a.m.—in the 1400 block of the alley on the south side of West Broadway.
This was a woman, sitting hunched over in the narrow space between an air conditioning unit and a Dumpster.
I admit that I disturbed her rest, but only in order to make sure that she really was sleeping.
Apropos of nothing, she was dressed all in black and had a strikingly attractive face, with big, dark eyes and framed with long black hair.
Continuing on my way, next door I saw a couple with shopping cart and possessions, who were sleeping soundly in the loading bay behind Jordans Furniture.
This was my homeless friend Henry and—judging by the henna-red hair curling out from under a blanket—his wife of many years, who occasionally leaves her social housing downtown, to join him for a few days on the streets of Fairview.
By himself, Henry might have chosen to sleep in the recessed doorway on the east, alley-side of the Dick Building, around the corner from the McDonald’s at 1482 and just across from Jordans.
But there was another homeless man—new to the area—sleeping without a blanket on cardboard in that doorway.
He was curled up with his back to the neighbourhood residents who briskly passed him by without a glance.
Most of these people were just focused on getting to West Broadway—perhaps to get a coffee and breakfast at McDonald’s, or to catch a bus, or get to work, or perhaps all of the above.
“Fast food joint as homeless shelter” raises its ugly head
Inside the McDonald’s, there was a not-so-rough sleeper stretched out under a blanket on the booth seats along the back wall of the restaurant. While I ordered my breakfast I could hear the staff discussing what to do about him.
He had been there, it was said, since 6 a.m. and was well-known to the staff, whom he simply ignored.
A manager called in the private security guard provided by the South Granville Business Improvement Association and in no time that guard had politely coaxed the homeless man up and into a sitting position.
But someone had also called the police, because two plainclothed officers showed up—a man and a woman. They took over from the SGBIA guard and quietly, but firmly, escorted the homeless man out of the restaurant.
Wrapping up another exciting morning of homelessness
At 8:30 a.m., Henry—all bleary-eyed—having just decamped from the Jordans loading bay—shuffled into the McDonald’s and headed straight for the men's washroom, to complete his morning ablutions.
At about 8:45 a.m., another long-time homeless regular in the area showed up and—explaining that his partner had just smashed his phone—asked to borrow mine to make a call.
In passing he told me he had just come from panhandling in front of a South Granville Starbucks, where a customer had complained to staff that he had harassed her—apparently, he explained, by simply opening the door for her and wishing her a “good morning”.
And now that the two police officers were gone, the young man they had left out on the sidewalk beside the bus bench in front of the restaurant, was sleeping on said bench.
And my hot breakfast was getting colder by the minute.
Good morning indeed!