Trying to get warm when you live outside

Sleeping outside on Commercial Drive in Vancouver BC, Nov. 2010. S. Main phot

Sleeping outside on Commercial Drive in Vancouver BC, Nov. 2010. S. Main phot

This post is a bit of a departure from my usual topic of workplace safety – but it’s something to think about during this season of charity when many people make donations through work.

Today I talked to a man who lives in a tent, deep in the bushes above a railway track in East Vancouver. He uses an old hibachi to heat up discarded food from restaurants and the garbage – mainly eating the protein and sprinkling bread crumbs around for any rats, mice, or raccoons that might stop by.

Heating his tent with burnt newspapers

You know those free newspapers people give out at the Skytrain? He takes them, does the crossword, then rolls them up “like a presto log” – which he demonstrated. He puts the paper into his hibachi, lights it on fire, puts it by the entrance of his tent, and opens his tent so the heat of the fire will “warm up the inside.” This puts him at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning or smoke inhalation, which has killed others in similar situations, and he’s also vulnerable to hypothermia.

When I asked him how he vented the smoke safely, he laughed and said: “Oh my tent has lots of holes!”

Recently he mentioned his battle with bedbugs and mice in his hotel room, and when I saw him today, I asked what had happened. He said the hotel did nothing, so he threw out the mattress, went to the welfare office, and left with a cheque for $50 to get a new bed. Then the welfare agent sent the hotel a bill to recoup the $50, and in response, Ben said, the hotel owners got angry and kicked him out – so now he’s living in the tent.

At the end of our chat, he walked away with his cart, and I went back into my warm house. But I keep thinking about him and the many other people in Vancouver without homes this winter.

2011 Homeless Report

The 2011 Homeless Count is a “24-hour snapshot of homelessness” taken in Metro Vancouver on March 16, 2011 – with a final count and report issued by the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness (RSCH) and the Aboriginal Homelessness Steering Committee (AHSC).

A total of 2,623 people were found to be homeless, says the preliminary report, including “‘unsheltered homeless’ or people who were found outside on the street, in parks, at drop-in programs and ‘sheltered homeless’ or those who spent the night in shelters, safe houses, transition houses, hospitals, jails, remand centres, and detox and recovery facilities.”

How can we help?

Cash, food, blankets, coats, toiletries, and many other things are needed at the shelters – so check out these organizations and please consider donating to their programs.

Raincity Housing

Lookout Society

First United Church

Union Gospel Mission Annual Christmas Campaign

Covenant House

Salvation Army BC Division


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