The founders of the SIDEWALK supper project share their stories as they connect with people living on the streets. This week, meet a young man who hasn’t given up hope that he can change the system.
There are many negative stereotypes associated with homelessness. These people are often marginalized, but it’s easy to forget that they aren’t all that different from you and me. We are all human, after all. We all have our struggles, our hopes and aspirations, and rely on those around us for support.
My partner Eddy and I came across Adam sitting outside our local supermarket, surrounded by creatively-decorated cardboard signs asking for food. He is young and appears to be fit and healthy. We stop to say hello and offer him a meal, and he tells us the best thing we can bring him is some bread and peanut butter—he’s in a group with four other people and that would go the farthest between them.
Once we return with the goods, we ask if he’s willing to chat with us. He seems genuinely surprised when we tell him what it is we’re doing, and welcomes us to take a seat on the sidewalk next to him.
Here is Adam’s story.
Note: Our words have been paraphrased for clarity, brevity, and because we relied on good old-fashioned pen and paper.
ANDREA: Can you tell us what brought you to where you are today?
ADAM: This isn’t the first time I’ve been on the streets, but last year my fiancé and I moved here from Toronto. We had planned to move up to the Okanagan together but then we found out she was pregnant. She moved into supported housing three months before the baby was due and wasn’t allowed to leave until three months after the baby was born. They kept us separated from each other that entire time because men are not permitted on the property. It put a lot of strain on our relationship. She eventually ended things and moved back to Ontario with the baby. After that happened, I had a mental breakdown.
ANDREA: What are your living conditions like at the moment?
ADAM: Right now, my friends and I are sleeping in a few tents in the woods near Second Beach. The cops have kicked a lot of people out of that area because they leave their stuff lying around, but they let us stay because we clean up after ourselves—we always use an ashtray for our cigarette butts and never leave anything behind. We keep to ourselves, so I think that’s why they leave us alone.
ANDREA: What are some of the biggest challenges you face living on the streets?
ADAM: It’s really hard to find work out here. People won’t give you work when you’re homeless so it’s almost impossible to get ahead. When I try to look more presentable and wear nicer clothes, people think I’m lying about being homeless, so I’m almost forced to look this way in order to get the help that I need. Otherwise, people think I’m a fraud.
But the bigger issue is that there’s no true anti-poverty coalition*. B.C. is the only province across Canada without one, so there is no one to fight for us here. All of the anti-poverty groups here don’t have any real power to change anything.
The services in the city are also really disjointed. There are all of these different resources and organizations, but nothing that brings them together. The system is set up in a way that makes it really difficult for people to get the help that they need. In the end, there’s no support system here in B.C. for people like me to fall back on. The people don’t care about us and the government doesn’t care about us.
It pushes people into stealing or selling drugs to survive, and I see a lot of people living on the streets doing just that. It’s such a struggle at times because I know I could easily sell drugs and make a lot of money, but that’s not who I am. I don’t do drugs and I don’t like being around people that use them. But sometimes, when I’ve sat here for hours and only have a few cents in my cup, I have to ask myself if I’m being stupid.
ANDREA: How do people in the community treat you?
ADAM: Honestly, a lot of the time people don’t treat me very well. I’ll be in a good mood and say good morning to someone and they won’t even look at me. Some people try so hard to pretend I don’t exist; they pretty much turn themselves into statues as they walk by. Sometimes I want to tell them not to try so hard. (laughs)
This is one of the most beautiful places to live, but the people here can be really ignorant. They don’t understand. It’s so frustrating because I can’t blame them for being ignorant, but I’m powerless to help educate them.
ANDREA: Do you have any plans to move back to Ontario?
ADAM: No, I want to stay here. I have a background in human rights and once I get back on my feet my goal is to create a website and run poverty tours to educate people about life on the streets. We would take them to shelters and different areas of the city where poverty is rampant. I also want to use these tours as a way to find sponsors for shelters and other services to help people who are impoverished. We really need a better support network out here, and I hope to change that one day.
As we are about to wrap up, a lady approaches and warmly offers us a foot-long sub and a couple bottles of cola. She asks if we’ve eaten yet and Adam happily accepts. He turns to us afterwards and says, “Seriously, this doesn’t usually happen!” We share a laugh and tell Adam not to give up hope before shaking his hand and parting ways.
As we walk away, I can’t help but wonder what’s keeping Adam here, given the lack of resources and support he’s described. Perhaps it’s the ocean views, but I believe he sees an opportunity for change. It’s difficult to see a young man who is so intelligent and able-bodied seemingly stuck in this situation, but knowing he has a dream to create positive change despite this gives me hope things will turn around. Our conversation also reinforced that while I do recognize homelessness is a problem in my community, I don’t truly understand the cause of it. And if we can’t grasp the causes, how can we ever hope to find the solution?
Adam is looking for work. He’s smart, fit, articulate, good-natured, and doesn’t have a substance abuse problem. He has experience in painting, roofing, and customer service. If you are hiring help and are willing to give Adam a chance, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
* We did some fact-checking and can’t verify if this is technically true. Feel free to educate us or share your thoughts.
About SIDEWALK supper project: We’re a group of young West Enders bringing the warmth of our kitchen to the streets, feeding the homeless with home-cooked meals and sharing their stories along the way. 100% non-profit. 100% love.