Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summary of Ryan Fletcher's Experience as an Undercover Homless Man

"I spent 10 days homeless in Abbotsford, Vancouver and Surrey. Incidents I came across on the streets of the "best place on Earth" were as distressing as some of the worst instances of suffering I've witnessed in war-affected countries. Thankfully, just the same as those countries, the streets of B.C. can be friendly, innovative and beautiful. The following articles give voice to the people I met on those streets, so often reported on or talked about -- but rarely listened to".]
- Ryan Fletcher

The above quote is taken from a link sighted in the original article found on the Connexions News feed entitled, "Finding Shelter in Vancouver, BC" by Ryan Fletcher. Fletcher's series of articles on this issue, and his experiences are printed in The Tyee: B.C.'s Home for News, Culture, and Solutions.

When Fletcher was 18 years old he found himself in a similar situation. His father had passed away, and he was tied to street drugs. Fortunately he decided to stop himself from spiraling out of control. However, he states that he understands how hard it can be not to fall into deadly habits. Fletcher's series is a story of his survival in Abbostford, Surrey, and Vancouver British Columbia, Canada while pretending to be homeless in order to share their side of the story.

This particular article is the last installment of his series and begins by describing a night without a bed. The sleeping bag Fletcher did have he gave away to a woman who he thought needed it more than he did. In his attempts at survival he turns to a First United Church located in the Downtown East side for breakfast. There he witnesses the beds that are full of homeless people, and describes a couple of the 70 - 80 people there who await food.

Fletcher describes the "Shelter" and The Salvation Army day centre on Pender in particular. After personal observation Fletcher sees that Vancouver's shelters are more cultured than that of Abbotsford and Surrey. Unlike the other two, which only had Bible's for entertainment, Vancouver had chess and other games available to play as well as different books, televisions, and coffee. In the above shelter Fletcher meets a 23-year-old man named Matt who is trying to escape society. Matt knows that being homeless is a temporary state and he aspires to buy a cottage in Ireland where he can continue to avoid society. Matt introduces Fletcher to the life of a non-addicted, homeless, and unemployed person. You can read more on this intriguing friendship and story here.

"Because we don't have any money, our lives are governed by the choices other people make for us". Fletcher says this in relation to how they spend their time. Daily homeless people are either waiting in line for food or occupying their time with the games (or lack there of) provided by the shelters. I think that this sentence is a powerful thought. It shows the limitations of those without jobs, and money. Some say money can't buy you happiness, but in this situation it allows you to be independent, free, and less bored.

Fletcher continues to write about his experience by describing the night he went to the Union Gospel Misson on Cordova. Before the homeless can recieve their food it is required of them to sit through a half hour service. The Priest is aware that he is "preach[ing] at [them]". Some of the people around Fletcher are listening to music, or simply not paying attention. Fletcher doesn't mention his thoughts on how the homeless are forced to sit through a religious discourse, but I think that this is unfair. You can't force individuals to have a faith, and you can't assume that those who do believe in a religion are believers of the particular faith you are forcing them to listen to.

The last portion of the article discusses East Hastings, which is an area for drug dealers to make their money and where addicts come to purchase. Fletcher interacts with some of the women who sell, and to his surprise one woman questions him about being part of the RCMP, and being a cop. It has been a week since Fletcher has been homeless, and he has not changed his clothes. It is interesting that someone who remains healthy and not on drugs can recognize Fletcher as someone different than the crowd even though he has been homeless for some time.

This article brings to light the different types of people who are homeless in Abbotsford, Surrey, and Vancouver. Fletcher's approach to his investigation - pretending to be homeless - allowed him to gain the trust of others in similar situations and tell their stories. His goal to raise awareness of homelessness in British Columbia is successful through this series. British Columbia is often spoken, written, and documented as one of the most beautiful places, and yet there is a lot of suffering, lack of jobs, and homes for its inhabitants.This has been an ongoing issue, but this unique series allows us a true scope into the lives of the homeless.

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