This is a guest post by Suzanne Ahearne, a multi-media journalist, digital storytelling instructor and Master of Journalism student at UBC. Suzanne recently covered senior homelessness and the election for UBC’s Thunderbird. Suzanne interviewed 64-year-old Kenneth (photographed by Suzanne to the right), who journeys from Alberta to Vancouver by Greyhound every winter, and often stays in Kitsilano.
I met Kenneth early one Sunday morning in Kitsilano a few weeks ago. It was a week or so after Remembrance Day. He was pushing his shopping cart along the sidewalk and stopped to pick up a poppy. He pulled out the pin and dropped it in a nearby garbage can. Then he took out a plastic bag from his pocket and put the poppy in it. I noticed that the bag was full of poppies. I couldn’t help asking . . . why? This is the story he told.
The text below is a transcription of part of the conversation (more of an impromptu interview really) I recorded on Broadway. I hope today is the beginning of a better season for Kenneth.
Suzanne: Why do you keep these poppies in your pocket?
Kenneth: They’re found items in the street. People dropped them by accident or threw them away. The other day I found one pinned to a tree. I think they’re an indicator of the season coming: Christmas.
I find it difficult during Remembrance Day and then after Remembrance Day the season turns brighter. So I collect them and then I have a celebration after Remembrance Day and throw them away.
Suzanne: What do you do to celebrate with the poppies?
Kenneth: I find a special spot and I deposit them there when the Christmas season starts. Probably U.S. Thanksgiving day, or the day after.
Suzanne: How many do you have there?
Kenneth: About 20. 20 lost poppies.
Suzanne: And you also keep a lot of shoelaces?
Kenneth: That’s to keep my cart tied down. Not much security but one time I didn’t attach my cart to something and someone rolled it away. So I tie it down now. Sometimes I tie it over the tarp. This year I haven’t been robbed.
Suzanne: How long have you been homeless?
Kenneth: Quite a few years, yes. It’s an annual event coming to Vancouver, from Alberta.
Suzanne:What time do you usually arrive?
Kenneth: Hallowe’en, before or after. When it gets snowy there. Snows usually on Hallowe’en in Alberta.
Suzanne: How do you get here?
Kenneth: By Greyhound.
Suzanne: When you come to Vancouver, do you usually come to Kitsilano?
Kenneth: Kitsilano or Main and Broadway.
Suzanne: Why this area?
Kenneth: The weather is milder here. The interior is cold. All over Vancouver really. I go to Lulu Island sometimes. Kitsilano…because I just know it I guess.
Suzanne: How old are you?
Suzanne: How do you survive?
Kenneth: Asking people for money. Sometimes they give me money. Sometimes not. Like yesterday, I stayed in one spot where a lot of people were coming out and no-one gave me money, but it was raining. I guess when it’s raining, people tend to hurry out of the rain. It’s ok.
Suzanne: Do you get social security?
Kenneth: I get CPP, I asked for it early. They cut it a little.
Suzanne: How much is that?
Kenneth: $225 because I worked for minimum wage when I worked.
Suzanne: And next year, will things change?
Kenneth: Old Age security will have kicked in. I’ll get $550, same as everybody.
Suzanne: How will that change your life?
Kenneth: When it rains you can just sit in a coffee shop and have coffee, right? Or go some place out of the rain. It might be less healthy because I’d be walking less.
Suzanne: Would you consider looking for housing then when you have income?
Kenneth: No. I don’t look. I’m disillusioned. I don’t want the disappointment, so I won’t look for housing. Because of my experience in the past. It was negative. So even if it was given to me no strings attached or anything, where I didn’t have to do anything I probably wouldn’t take it, because of disappointment in the past.
It’s not such hardship now. Not really. It’s only when they steal my cart. That’s a hardship. Or when they say you can’t sleep here. That’s a disappointment.
Suzanne: As you’re getting older, is your experience changing on the streets?
Kenneth: You mean do they treat me more kindly because I’m older? No, I don’t think so.
Suzanne: Are you finding it harder to be moving all day long and finding a spot to be comfortable at night?
Kenneth: No, I’m relatively healthy. The difficulty is the crowd situation though, the urbanization in Vancouver. I can’t sleep in some spots I used to sleep.
Like my friend says, foxes have dens and birds have nests, so one foxhole is as good as another foxhole.
Suzanne: Where’s your favourite foxhole right now?
Kenneth: I don’t want to say where it is but it’s quiet and they accommodate me. They know I’m there.
Suzanne: When you come back every year, are there a lot of the same faces?
Kenneth: Street people, yah. People that I meet and ask for money, sometimes the same faces. But things change. Everything changes. Nothing’s forever. I just have to adapt. Right?
Last modified: November 28, 2011
Thanks to Kenneth for his willingness to share a small piece of his story and to Suzanne for caring to capture it. Beautiful. The spiritual overtones are not missed if one opens a Bible to Matthew 8:20 and Luke 9:58. I wonder what Kenneth dreams about beneath the disappointment. Our human story is as complex as we are and as simple and that never changes. I wish that this “brighter season” as Kenneth refers to it will be a balm for the disappointments that lodge deep within us all.
Thank you Kathleen.
I looked that up and was surprised. For others reading this, here it is:
Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
~New International Version (©1984)
Thank you for publishing this….I hope we find Kenneth during the week before Christmas. My husband and I give out food gift cards and cash that week to the homeless here in Kits and the downtown Eastside. It is a yearly tradition with us, 5 years this season, it is a small offering to those who have to live on our streets due to a variety of reasons. I honour these people in my heart, they are the strongest people in the city.
My hope in publishing this is for neighbours to recognize the needs of neighbours, whether housed or not, and help out. Thanks for the inspiration to act.
PS.Sunday morning, golden arches.