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Pushcart Bob has left modular housing (temporarily, I hope)

June 12, 2018

The last thing I expected to see in a Fairview back alley yesterday (June 11) was my formerly homeless friend Pushcart Bob, living out of a shopping cart again. but there he was.

Pushcart was supposed to be happily living in the Reiderman Residences—the new temporary modular housing (TMH) complex, completed in February, in the Marpole neighbourhood. He moved there in early March, along with at least four other chronically homeless guys that both he and I know personally from the Fairview neighbourhood.

By March 24th, enthusiastic firsthand reports of how drug and drama free the Marpole TMH was, gave me confidence that “Pushcart”, “Juice”, “Chuckles”, “Suitcase” and Rick, had all finally found a place that they could call home.

So, until I found Pushcart Bob standing beside a shopping cart loaded with his personal possessions in the back alley on the south side of the 700 block of West Broadway Avenue, I had no idea that Marpole had lost him.

He still can’t think inside the box of housing

Pushcart Bob—a man of few words and even fewer poses.

Pushcart Bob told me that he left the Reiderman Residences and returned to homelessness on May 1st—though he didn’t say it in so many words. Pushcart is not chatty.

The reason he gave for leaving the housing complex was simply: “it was too crazy.”

Whether this assessment referred to an environment created by other tenants or by the TMH’s operator: Community Builders Group, I cannot say because Pushcart did not elaborate. He did mumble some stuff that leads me to believe he may have felt boxed in by rules.

Whatever the exact trigger, like other formerly homeless people I have documented, he simply walked away from the problems of his social housing and returned to the simple homeless life that he knows so well.

This is a perfectly understandable reaction to stress for someone, like Pushcart, who has probably been homeless for as long as he hasn’t.

Not the 40th anniversary most people would celebrate

Pushcart tells me that he first became homeless 40 years in 1978. That was in St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador province, where both he and his accent say he was born and grew up. He has been homeless, off-and-on, ever since.

I don’t know when he first came to Vancouver. He was already long-established in the Fairview neighbourhood when I first became homeless in 2004.

Back in 2004 he was the same soft-spoken elderly man of few words, who liked his beer, that he is now. The most notable differences are that 14 years ago he pushed a bicycle and trailer and today he is pushing a shopping cart.

Also he is 14 years older.

Pushcart didn’t mind telling me that he is all of 74 years old now. When I asked how his health was, he responded with a dismissive curl of the lip and a “Meh.”

He knows that he’s fine staying out for the summer but readily admitted that he doesn’t want to do another winter on the streets.

After my initial surprise on first seeing him, Pushcart managed to surprise me a second time by volunteering that he was hoping to get into the temporary modular housing coming to the parking lot adjacent to the Olympic Village, at 595 and 599 West Second Avenue.

Here’s hoping that he gets in. And if he does (but only if he does), I almost hope that the winter of 2018/2019 is a bad one; that way, at least, Pushcart Bob will have the necessary incentive to give housing a real chance.

Temporary modular housing in a nutshell

Temporary modular housing (TMH) as Vancouver is doing it, consists of prefabricated, three-story walk-ups, of between 40 to 100 self-contained apartment units each. These prefab buildings apparently have an anticipated useful life of 10 years and can literally be dropped in an existing parking lot. They are clearly seen as the fastest and least-expensive way make an immediate dent in the city’s burgeoning homeless population (estimated in March at 2,181).

A rush $66 million program to build 600 units of TMH has been underway since late 2017.

So far, in in 2018, 196 units-worth of TMH have been completed and tenanted at four locations in Vancouver, Including the 78-unit Reiderman Residences in Marpole. Some 350 units are listed by the city as either proposed, approved, or under construction.

All told, together with a pilot, 40-unit complex completed at the beginning of 2017, about 446 units of TMH are finished, or in the pipeline. Click the images to enlarge them.

  1. I suppose after living on your own terms, it’s pretty hard to assimilate. I hope he will find a more agreeable place for the winter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You have to want a thing before you want it. The mere fact that someone else wants you to want it doesn’t usually cut it. I’m sure Pushcart will want to get out of the wet and cold of winter.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Slowcrow permalink

    Very well put. There should be REAL choices, tailored to each individuals ACTUAL wants (maybe even THEIR dreams), would be nice and more respectful. Finding a roofless person a “home” in say, Chillawack, is doomed, in my opinion. Sure, a ‘homeless person’ has a ‘home’, but there’s something flawed in that thinking, in my VERY uneducated opinion. I also believe some find it extremely boring after being entrepreneurs, and very capable of looking after themselves with a few less hurdles to deal with. You have addressed these many times. You are a fantastic advocate. Some of the abuses going on are just NOT believed when a ‘street’ person even BOTHERS to use up energy to mention them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Every time I see an anti-poverty advocate write how awful it is to be homeless, I remind myself that they they are almost certainly writing from the point of view of someone who is not homeless — or, perhaps, newly homeless.

      In my experience, longtime homeless people do not dwell on the awfulness of not having a roof over their heads — usually because they do not see homelessness in so one-sided a way. It can be tricky, engaging, occasionally frustrating and always lacking certain wished-for amenities — even boring — but never just awful.

      For longtime homeless (roofless) people like Pushcart Bob (or myself), being homeless can be tolerably compared to riding a bicycle.

      Just like learning to ride a bicycle, homelessness is frightening at first. But once you learn how to do it, the sheer freedom of it can be exhilarating. Certainly you have to get used to being exposed to the elements but it’s very inexpensive and it allows you to go virtually anywhere you want.

      To complete the parallel, homelessness is exactly like riding a bicycle in the sense that longtime homeless people like Pushcart will never forget how to do it. And to stretch the comparison some, dangling apartment keys in front of Pushcart may be like dangling car keys in front of a lifelong cyclist.

      However, we will all eventually get too old to either ride a bike or thrive as homeless people.

      I hope that B.C. social services has the understanding and sensitivity to see things from Pushcart Bob’s point of view and offer him services conditional with his needs and wants.

      Liked by 1 person

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