We are waiting for a street light to turn green when my daughter says, “Oh dear, I hope that man is okay.”
A truck is blocking my view of the man she is referring to. When it passes I see the man. He is lying in the doorway of a building on the other side of the street. Half-in. Half-out. His legs on the stair above him. His head resting on the sidewalk.
We cross the road, pass two business men deep in conversation and approach the man where he lies just behind them.
“Sir? Sir? Are you okay,” my daughter asks him.
His legs are twisted where they lay on the step above him. He spills out onto the sidewalk like a slinky running down the stairs.
He opens his eyes. Befuddled. Confused. The braid of his long grey streaked black hair lays at a right angle to his head. His clothes are tattered and worn. His boots are untied.
“What happened?” he asks.
We’re not sure but we tell him it looks like he has fallen on the street.
“How can we help?” my daughter asks.
“Help me sit up. Please.” he says.
Both my daughter and I think we should call 911. What if he hurt himself when he fell.
No. No. He insists. I just need to sit up.
“We need to make sure you can move before we help you sit up,” I tell him. “Can you show us that you can move your legs?”
He wiggles his feet. I sense a bit of a mischievous smile as he does it. There is something engaging in his nature, even as he lays on the ground at our feet.
Alexis and I help him sit up.
“How can we help?” we ask again.
“If you have some spare change I can go get a cup of tea,” he says.
“I’d rather you not move just yet,” I tell him. He seems disoriented. Weak and oh so vulnerable. “I’ll go get you some tea.”
And I cross back over the street to the fast food deli on the corner while Alexis stays and chats with him.
His name is Frank she tells me when I return with tea and cookies. I tell him my name. He thanks us profusely.
The two business men on the corner finish their conversation and move off. We stay and sit with Frank and chat for a little longer. We give him money for fried chicken and chips from the ‘joint’ just up the street. His favourite he says. He promises me he will not use the money for more booze. I tell him I trust him. He smiles, and there’s that glimmer of endearing mischief again. He tells me I have no choice.
Alexis and I leave him sitting there with his tea and cookies. We discover the building just down the street is a Drop-In Centre. We go in and let the woman at the desk know about Frank’s condition, his fall and our fear he may have hit his head harder than he imagined.
She goes out to help him and after stopping at the deli on the corner further down the block for a bowl of soup, we see that Frank is no longer sitting in the doorway where we’d left him.
We hope the worker has taken him into the Drop-In Centre to keep an eye on him.
We have done what we can.
As we continue our walk towards downtown, Alexis tells me that Frank has told her he is 70 years old. I drink a lot, he said. What else do I have to do with my life?
His words sit heavily in my heart.
The latest Vancouver Point-in-Time Count of Homelessness found 1,847 people experiencing homelessness. 539 of those people are unsheltered.
It is everywhere in this city. Homelessness.
There are people ensconced in sleeping bags lying at the corners of almost every busy intersection in the downtown core. There are youth. Men. Women. Dogs too.
They sit, their cardboard signs telling the same story. Asking for the same thing. Hungry. Grateful for any help.
The cost of living in this beautiful city by the ocean is spiralling upward and upward. And people are falling faster and faster through the cracks. It feels like a heavy and daunting task — to end homelessness. To make sure everyone has a home.
Alexis and I met a man named Frank. His body lay sprawled across the street. We could not end the homelessness that has swept him up in its mighty torrent. We do not have that kind of super human strength just as he does not have the super human strength he needs to pull himself out of the waging waters.
As a society, we must find our collective strength to make the choices needed to stop the flow of humanity falling into the raging waters of homelessness.
We must find ways to build bridges so people can find their way safely to the other side before being dragged under homelessness’ turbulent depths.