The Girl and the Ghost

{Image via Professional Recreationalist}

When I moved to Vancouver the first thing I noticed was how many homeless people lived there. At first I was scared and would avoid eye contact. They were pushy. The first time I took the sky train to school, a homeless woman asked for some spare change. I gave her a loonie. She said, “You have more there.” and so I gave her another loonie. “Give me a break,” she replied, but if I gave more I wouldn’t have any left to take transit. I avoided her from then on.

I was particularly scared of the men. There was a certain corner on Commercial Drive that homeless men hung out at. I always hurried by walking home at night from the coffee shop. En route to a friend’s apartment on a Friday night, I saw a man throwing up and having what seemed to be a seizure. I wasn’t really sure what the hell was going on though since he was still walking around mid-puke. Looking back it’s pretty clear that it was an overdose, but at the time, I let fear overtake me and I quickened my step.

A homeless man climbs a light post for a loonie.

{Image by Speshul Ted}

Most of the students in my program were out of towners. So it was new to all of us. But I think it was shocking to us all. One of my friends told me that an acquaintance had challenged a homeless man to climb to the top of a post for a dollar. The man did it. I remember telling her I thought it was disgusting and she acknowledged it was awful. According to the photographer that took the photo above, there’s a homeless man that approaches people on the street asking for a dollar for climbing a light post. I still haven’t a clue why people would agree to it. It’s demeaning. But then again, who the hell am I to point fingers?

Vancouver, as most of you probably know, is a rainy city. It drizzles on a good winter day. But mostly it pours. And it was on a miserable rainy day, while heading God knows where on Granville street that I saw her. A girl in a tank top, huddling beside a red Canada Post mail box, drenched. She was shivering. And the look on her face was agony. It’s the only way to describe it. Agony. And I walked by. I didn’t stop. I didn’t give her my umbrella or rush into the pharmacy two steps away from her and buy one. I just walked by. I have regretted that. Deeply regretted it.

I saw her once more on Granville street. This time she was under an awning near a skytrain entrance. But she had the same look on her face. I asked her if she was ok. She uttered something I couldn’t understand. I tried to ask again but….it didn’t help. So I moved along.

That girl has entirely changed the way I view homeless people. It’s changed my view of myself. If it weren’t for family and friends, who’s to say that I wouldn’t be homeless? Shit happens. People lose their jobs. People get caught up in drugs. People suffer from mental illnesses. It doesn’t make them less than. It doesn’t make them lazy. And it certainly doesn’t make them invisible entities, ghosts that wander our streets waiting for someone to acknowledge their existence.

I will likely never see that girl again. And yet I see her face every time it rains.

Obviously I need to do something with this. I’m just not sure what. I know that I’d like to help in some way – either the homeless in Vancouver or here in Ottawa. But I’m not sure what route I’d like to take. I will say, that I am entirely impressed by what 21-year old, Veronika Scott did for Detroit’s  homeless. She’s an inspiring young lady.

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One thought on “The Girl and the Ghost

  1. Hum…this post made me think about how I treat homeless people. I sometimes give change. I sometimes look away. I sometimes smile sympathetically. I have considered volunteering at an Ottawa shelter (there’s one for runaway youth). I haven’t done it yet…

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