We have a quite a serious problem with homelessness in Vancouver, Canada. It’s something that I think about every day. Most afternoons as I cross an important intersection downtown on my way home from work, I pass by a homeless man who sits on the pavement with his hand out. If I say, “I’m sorry” because I don’t have any coins on me (I don’t like to carry cash.) The man says, “Thank you, dear.” Recently, I decided to make more of an effort to have some cash in my pocket so I could help him. He asked me if I had any potato chips a couple of weeks back. I took a mental note.
Two days ago, I slowed down as I passed him. I removed my sunglasses and I squatted down so we could speak eye-to-eye. I asked him his name. Charlie then told me his story. He’s part black, white and native. He’s from Saskatchewan and he can’t work because of a disability. He spent his younger days hitching rides on the CP Rail trains, criss-crossing Canada and the U.S. He has a daughter. She’s 30. He loves to read. He loves potato chips.
Before I went, I gave Charlie $5.00 and a bag of chips. He gave me a long hug and then held my hand between both of his for quite a long time. The people who passed us on the street stared. It was the best $5.00 I think I’ve ever spent. I could have dropped that amount at Starbucks without significantly changing the course of someone’s day. But in that moment, I reached out to him and it felt incredible. From now on, I’m going to make sure to visit Charlie with chips and some compassion. I’m pretty sure that’s all he needs.
Once in a while, there’s a story in the news that surprises you. This is that story:
Since 2014, there has been a madman on the loose in Vancouver, BC. This asshole has been attacking defenseless folks in wheelchairs, robbing and beating them for sport.
Armed with a $16,000 wheelchair borrowed from GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre, The Vancouver Police Department decided to up the ante in their efforts to hunt down this clown. Veteran Police officer Staff Sgt. Mark Horsley posed as a quadriplegic with a brain injury in the hopes that the offender would come out of the woodwork. “Essentially the operator was our bait, and we were trying to catch the predator,” said Insp. Howard Chow at news conference Thursday.
With visible cash hanging out of his fanny pack, Sgt. Horsley spent five days and nights in the dangerous Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighbourhood using the back-story that he had been hurt in a motorcycle accident. However, he wasn’t harassed, attacked or robbed during his five days on the street. In fact, Horsley was both surprised and inspired by the compassion he received from the community.
One man reached down and zipped up his fanny pack, protecting him from robbery. Another pair chatted with him and later returned with pizza. In over 300 interactions with others, not a single person tried to take advantage of him or harm him in any way.
“I was ready to be victimized. Our plan was just to take whatever the assault or the robbery was… I was really taken by the politeness, the courteousness,” said Horsley, who has been going undercover since 1986. “In the DTES, I found that far more people would get down to my level to talk to me,” he said, adding people would often check if he had someone to care for him.
Despite not finding the person responsible for over 28 attacks on vulnerable victims in wheelchairs, the police aren’t considering the operation a failure. Horsley explained, “Part of what we’re doing, bringing awareness to a despicable person that might commit a crime like this… This community has soul. Victimizing the vulnerable is far beneath the people of the Downtown Eastside. They care and they take care of their vulnerable people.” – Staff Sgt. Mark Horsley
We still have a long way to go in tackling this homeless problem, here in Vancouver and elsewhere, but it’s refreshing to see that some of us still have our hearts in the right place. I’m no saint, but that small act of kindness felt so good and I hadn’t shared it with anyone until now. If everyone took a minute to see the people who sleep on the streets as PEOPLE, we could turn things around for them, I think.
A quote from my very favourite song and a man who inpires me. ❤
– John Winston Lennon