Glenn’s portrait took on movie star qualities with his dark eyes, moustache and twinkle. Glenn does in fact work as a extra in the film industry when he can. Behind the smile, he faces many difficulties. He suffers from bipolar disorder, hepatitis C and has a serious back injury as the result of a beating that left him in the hospital with spinal infections for 5 months. He has not entirely recovered.
He has been homeless for many years and has been sleeping on a Vancouver beach for three years. “The police know me but I don’t cause trouble.” He helps keep the beach clean by picking up garbage; he asks people to refrain from throwing bottles and breaking glass out of concern for children and others. Glenn does occasionally get beaten by youths on the beach who come across him when he is sleeping. He also had a stint in jail where he was beaten resulting in a broken nose and broken ribs. Sometimes he sleeps in shelters, “but there is a lot of thievery in most of the shelters.” He is finding it hard to find housing. Everyone wants references and he can’t give one. He has one daughter, aged 21.
“Life ain’t fun. Thank God for shelters that help and feed us.”
Derrick was helpful, polite, well spoken and showed a good sense of humour. Growing up in Montreal with a younger brother, his childhood was marred by a physically abusive father. Marks on Derrick’s body were noticed by his school teacher who alerted the authorities. Unfortunately the social worker’s home visit led to a very bad beating and Derrick missed a week of school as a result. Derrick maintained a good relationship with his mother until her death. Derrick left home at 15 years old to escape his father’s physical abuse. He left for the states where he picked fruit never returning home to live. Along the way he picked up skills as a cook. He worked steadily as a cook throughout a long marriage and the raising of his two children. For a while he was a cook on the railway which he enjoyed very much.
Recently Derrick has volunteered as a cook at the MPA and is recognized by the staff as being very knowledgeable about food. Derrick’s marriage ended two or three years ago when he became depressed and unable to work. As a result he suffered severe financial hardship. Once diagnosed with depression, he received medication and “became himself again.” However, after a course of treatment the medication was stopped and he relapsed again into depression. Derrick feels he will be on medication permanently. At the time of this portrait sitting, Derrick was newly employed in a pub. They appeared to be delighted with him. I have not seen him for a few months and hope he is doing well, wishing him all success in the world.
Maggie has strikingly beautiful features and can be found selling flowers on the streets of Vancouver in the evenings.
Adopted into a loving family, Maggie spent the first part of her formative years in Toronto, then moved north to live in the wilderness outside Haliburton where she “had to take a snowmobile to meet the school bus.” Her mother became blind when Maggie was only seven which was a blow to the family. Her father died when Maggie was 18 and she was left to look after her mother. Maggie began drinking heavily and soon ran away to Toronto with a lover. “Love was everything, all I could think about”. Maggie’s resilient mother went on to remarry, twice.
Maggie moved to Vancouver around 1978. She worked as a deck hand on a fish boat but had to leave due to the advances of the captain. She trained as an army recruit for the first ever women’s platoon but didn’t continue on. She worked, for 5 years, with the department of Fisheries as a lab tech on Salmon Enhancement Programs. She loved this work because it kept her outside much of the time and she got to travel around BC.
Maggie joined the Barmaid’s union making good money but began “drinking and drugging” herself into poor health at the same time. After a hospitalization of eight weeks for a chronic foot infection, she cleaned up and went to work for her brother in Toronto and was living successfully for a time.
Maggie returned to Vancouver and fell into another stint of drinking and “urban camping”. By keeping her sleeping arrangements secret she managed to avoid the abuse many suffer outside. Eventually she was assisted in finding living arrangements through an organization called Independent Living and later the Motivation, Power and Achievement Society.
She now lives a sober and healthy life in the downtown Eastside. Diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, Maggie keeps her symptoms at bay by walking and biking. She plays guitar in her spare time. “I’m glad I’ve quieted down, I’m more patient now. I like selling flowers, not in the bars, but outside of them. I like the portrait. It looks classy and it feels wonderful.”
During my sculpture session with Steve, I was touched by him saying to me, “ you know the guy that sleeps outside the Salvation Army? That’s me” Steve agreed to meet me again and share some of his life story.
When Steve was young he wanted to be a police officer or perhaps a fireman because he wanted to help people. Ultimately he worked in the oil fields and in construction for for 23 years. “ I was married. I had my own construction business. I had twelve men working for me. I had my own house, boat, truck and all the toys, I did the normal things”. He has two sons, from different marriages, and a grand daughter. He hasn’t seen any of his family since his mother’s death. A death that precipitated the onset of clinical mania and depression. I can go extreme high to the extreme low.
Steve took a leave of absence from work to care for his dying mother. “It was something we promised we would do for each-other if we ever got sick. We wouldn’t let each other end up in the hospital. I didn’t take into account how much of an impact that would have on me. I didn’t realize how far the health issues would extend. I was putting IVs in her and giving her morphine, helping her use the bathroom. Apparently it was more than I could absorb. It was overwhelming and on top of everything I had to watch her going from a vibrant person to this skeleton person who had no idea who I was. She had brain cancer so you can imagine that her faculties went pretty quick. Her first symptom to death took about six weeks.”
“I went home after the funeral and basically trashed everything there and walked out the door. I left everything I owned and walked away from my entire life and I haven’t seen it since”. “Now I don’t live anywhere”. Steve’s youngest son recently tracked him down through a newspaper article on homelessness. He was surprised to hear he had been out on the street for nine years, “a lot longer than I thought”.
“I was physically becoming a mess because I wasn’t allowing myself to eat properly, I wasn’t sleeping. I was making myself sleep in the snow with no blanket, things got really really crazy. And I never realized it while it was happening. I didn’t comprehend it as anything weird or abnormal. It was like being a hermit amongst all these people. I never talked to people. I didn’t participate in anything normal whatsoever. I spent all my time by myself. “It is like a dark cloud came over me and it stayed for so long I thought it was normal. I don’t remember what it was like without it.”
Steve spent time in and out of jail for petty theft. He thinks he might have been deliberately getting himself sent back. Once, although diagnosed with clinical depression, he was released from jail without his prescription and has not been on medication since.
“I stay at this shelter, Union Gospel once in a while. I began to volunteer here, because I can interact with people. I start to pay attention to other things that are going on in this world other than, you know, a big blank. (However), I don’t spend much time there. It is a depressing place. It is hard not to participate in games when you are surrounded by it. There is a lot of violence there, a lot of theft, a lot of disrespect towards females and towards each other in general. I just like to do my own thing. I keep stuff in the storage there so I can tell myself in my head that I do have somewhere I can go.”
This portrait was of the first things that basically started to change my state of mind. As crazy at that sounds. I was so impressed that someone wanted to do that, (a portrait), that it has never left my mind. If gave me the sense that if she thinks it is worth doing, I should be thinking that.” … I love the portrait, I think it is great, I’m totally impressed. It’s not like a picture. I’ve seen busts of Lincoln’s head and famous people, and they’ve been gone for so long, but you look at a bust and it is like looking at the person, right there. It’s like someone has given you immortality if you will. Years down the road, as long as that thing is still there, they could look at that and say, oh yeah, that was Steven Reid.”
Christopher is 32 and is very happy to be currently living inside. He grew up in the lower mainland and has been homeless for much of the last 5 years. His parents are still involved in his life and he just had a nice visit with his dad. His mother took him in for six months last winter. He has an older brother and two sisters.
3 ½ years ago he joined the Motivation Power and Achievement Society, (MPA). He is bipolar and said having the manic-depressive diagnosis “is tough and hard to swallow but it’s part of life, you know?” He suffered from depression in high school and told me mental illness runs in the family. “It was really lonely growing up. I didn’t fit in very well, but now I do. I hated high school.”
The At Home Program in MPA helped get Christopher a place to live, a room in a shared facility for now. He is looking forward to moving into a small apartment in the near future. “I am so happy that I have a home to go to. The hardest part about being homeless is not having your own personal space to do anything, not even being able to get up in the morning and get ready.” He often stayed in the “Bat Cave”, a bunker under a viaduct. He lived there mainly by himself although other people came and went. It was “very scary there especially at night” and he often stayed up all night. He said he was safe there though.
“I don’t want to be homeless. It was not a choice. You don’t ever want to be there. It’s scary.”
About the portrait, “I think it’s beautiful, it’s cool, it’s trippy. It was weird seeing me up there.That’s me. It was just really neat… I sat there and I did it and it’s going to be in a show.”
I am a rebel
I’m proud to say.
I’m one of a kind
And I like it that way.
Country music and rock and roll
Are in my soul.
A honky-tonk and a cold glass of beer.
Everybody sings along with the band
And starts to cheer.
If they don’t like me, oh well.
They can all go straight to hell.
I’m a rebel and I’m proud to say.
I’m one of a kind, and I like it that way.
Author: Bruce Stenhouse November 8, 2007
born Wiarton Ontario, 1948
“I’ve been homeless forever. I’ve never lived in a house. I think I lived in one apartment, maybe two. All the rest were just fly by night hotel rooms, motel rooms, on the street whatever. I think I’ve always been that way. I don’t know any other way to live. I think one day I’ll just drop dead, quick, at least I hope it’s quick.”
“All homeless people aren’t bad. They aren’t out to hurt you. Most homeless people are just normal, well I wouldn’t call them normal, but they are just regular, they’re alright, they’re OK. There is always the odd one. However, you live.”
“I was a farm boy, so you know, hard working, regular childhood. Eldest of 6 children. I always done my chores but I was just wild. We didn’t have a whole lot of money. We always ate good and everything but cash was hard to find. My grandfather used to make wine. I used to sell wine Saturday nights at the dance for cash. I was about 13 or 14 at the time. My grandfather knew. It was his idea. That’s how he made his money when he was kid.”
Harold went to 9th grade, but he had “wanderlust” and wanted to see what was on the other side of the hill. He joined the Marines when he was 17. He served two years and went to Vietnam where he saw some combat.
“It’s all fun and games until they start to use real bullets. Then it’s hard to describe. It happens, then it’s over, not like the second world war where there was sustained fighting. These were small skirmishes, jungle warfare, guerrilla warfare. It was miserable. You just want to forget about it. I found you didn’t make too many friends. You try not to get too close to anybody because you didn’t know what was going to happen tomorrow. So you find yourself kind of lost, you can’t get too close. You stay away, so you don’t get hurt. You can’t hang around moping and having your feelings hurt. Got to pay attention to what is going on around you too. You can’t be daydreaming and wishing you had done this and wishing you had done that. It’s a little late for wishing.”
Harold was discharged after two years and stayed in the states for about 30 years living in San Fransisco, Miami, Los Angeles and other places. “In those days I was just lost. I didn’t know what to do, where to go. Just drifted around for a long time. I think they call it…where you seem lost, there’s no where to go, you don’t belong. It’s a weird feeling.”
I meet some interesting people quite frankly. I meet some really interesting people. Some generous people, some tight people. People that have got attitudes. Personally I have found that for every one that is really good, there is a mean one. Most people are more in the middle. There is one thing I’ve learned about life. There are two sides of every coin and you got to remember that. Once you forget there is two sides then you are really a mess. I think that happens to lots of people. Say you make ten thousand dollars today, tomorrow you can’t expect to make that next ten thousand dollars because it is the other side of the coin. You’ve got to roll with it. If you have your good day, then you’re going to have your bad day. If you have your bad day, you have to roll with it. There is no sense in getting mad at the world. The world ain’t got nothin’ to do with it. It’s just the other side of the coin.
“I found that most people all over the world are the same. They get up, eat breakfast have a cup of coffee, smoke a cigarette and go to work. You find out, they are not as bad as everyone makes them out to be. Just because they believe in this kind of religion or that kind of politics. They are still a human being. Once you figure that out, life becomes a little easier. All your prejudices go down the drain. As long as you can get up and look at yourself in the mirror every morning and think, I ain’t such a bad person, things are ok. It’s when you can’t look at yourself in the mirror that something is wrong. Some people can’t even do that.
I thought the portrait was super great. Couple of guys mentioned that it was a really good likeness. Made me very proud to be in the show.”
Rob grew up in Port Coquitlam on five acres of land. He had a brother who died last year and still has a sister. When he was young he wanted to be a lot like his Dad who was a construction and steel iron worker. He continued on that path despite the fact that when Rob was eighteen, his father ended up killing his mother in a domestic dispute. He is estranged from his father now.
As an Iron worker he travelled all over BC including the Tumbler Ridge Quintette coal mine, Prince George, Kitimat, Cache Creek and Fort Nelson. He helped build gas plants, pulp mills, the Alex Fraser Bridge, Canada Place and Cathedral Place. When the union found out that Rob suffered from epilepsy, they suspended him on medical grounds. He lost his driver’s license for the same reason.
He is now living on the streets of Kitsilano, Vancouver in no particular place, sometimes the beach and the park. He does not want to stay in a cheap hotel on the Eastside. He says, “they are not fit for human habitation. They are infested with bed bugs, lice and scabies”. He would rather live on the street. “I would like to live inside but it would have to be a clean apartment.”
On the meagre amount of money Rob has he cannot afford to go inside at present. The Motivation, Power and Achievement Society helps him by providing coffee and affordable food, showers and a place to wash his clothes.
“I think it (the portrait) is an excellent job. People say it looks a lot like me. It’s scary. I’ve never actually looked at the side of my face like that before. It makes me feel as though I am looking at my brother. I miss him, he’s dead. I never actually noticed how much we look alike.”
Mike lived on the streets of Kits for about 6 years and often spent the night in an underground parking lot. Living in a hotel in the downtown east side which had bedbugs at the time of this interview, Mike was hoping to get on a list for subsidized apartments. According to him you must be able to live in one of the city hotels for a year before you’re eligible. “You have to prove you can handle it.”
“I’m from Michigan originally, until I was 13 then I moved up here, to Canada, in ’72 with my parents. My dad was a chiropractor and he passed away in ‘92. My mother, she worked for Syncrude for about 18 years. She is now in an Alzheimer’s clinic in Edmonton. Before that, she worked for Michigan State University for 18 years too.” He has several siblings that he has lost touch with. He left home at 14 and at 15 years old he made good money in Fort McMurray for a while.
He was first diagnosed with schizophrenia in Alberta. Mike said that his doctor told him he should stay on the medication for eight or nine years. He went on it for eight years and it “worked perfectly” and then he quit. At one time he had a provincial pension from Alberta Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped or AISH that did not transfer to BC when he came here.
“I got sick of the harsh climate. I made good money but they didn’t have a place where you could get good deals in Fort McMurray. You could only get so much time off … you spend it all real quick anyway, and what’s the point? It’s a vicious cycle. Here I can wander around with two dollars in my pocket and not have to pack a parka and I have friends. I like it much better.
People here say it (the portrait) looks like me. She is a very good artist, that’s her job. It gives you a chance to look at yourself.”