Every Building on 100 West Hastings by Stan Douglas
Winner of the 2009 Downtown Eastside Writers' Jamboree Writing Contest.
To resort to this—living on a pew at the low-barrier homeless shelter at First United Church at 320 East Hastings. In the newspaper you find the opinion that the shelters are like resort vacations for “these people.” For us people this church is a last resort. Media becomes alien. In public opinion we become “these people,” and to us people society becomes “them.”
Life in this shelter is hard, especially at first. Beginners find places near the back door or in the hallway. Cold. The light always on. Heavy traffic going back and forth. It isn’t long before you learn the closer to the altar, the better the sleep. Dreaming you are surrounded by people, you wake up surrounded by people. Those first nights when you are unfamiliar with routine, they are traumatic.
Feeling at home takes time anywhere. People watch out for each other. When a blanket and a place to put it is social mobility, it gets easier to set a person up in the world. Dry socks, cigarette butts, rolling papers, a meal—these are more than gold amongst us people.
A lot of people are trying to work. Other shelters may be more geared toward working homeless, but if you work odd hours or overtime you can’t make the curfews. You wind up back at First United, where nobody is turned away.
The low-barrier shelter under the Granville Bridge that closed down in 2008 was hard for working people. It allowed dogs, which in a way created a home and security, but the trauma affects the dogs too, and they cry and bark in the night. This is the pattern: someone causes a disturbance such as snoring, another person is disturbed, which disturbs a third person, which disturbs others until what finally wakes up the last person is someone whining to God to make it stop.
When I was a security guard I would call in a UD (undesirable) on any of these people. Wet pant cuffs. Too many jackets. We look like addicts and we look like mental patients because “these people” look poor.
The only way through it is the struggle. Sometime each night, you doze off.