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