Today I met a guy named Dean, and I spent 20 minutes learning about his background and his philosophies of life:
1. A negative attitude won't get you anywhere. Learn to enjoy and appreciate the little good things that happen.
2. Believe in yourself even when nobody else does. Care for yourself when nobody else seems to care.
3. Don't judge a book by it's cover. Don't judge a person by their appearance, or by what you think you already know about them. People can surprise you.
Dean really surprised me. I had seen him on the street a few times in the past week or two, usually holding a paper cup on the hook that serves as his left hand.
Dean told me that at one point, he had been working as a well-paid tradesman. He said that he got too arrogant, worked too much and spent too little time at home with his wife, and eventually, the relationship fell apart. Later, he ended up living on the street for 11 months, and as a result, spent many weeks in hospital recovering from double-pneumonia.
He told me that when he was in Nanaimo, he estimated that maybe 1 in 300 people who walked by him on the street would stop and talk to him. In Vancouver, it's much, much worse. Most people just ignore him - even avoid eye contact.
Once, he found a big plastic bag of clothes outside BC Place Stadium. The men's clothes he kept for himself. The women's clothes he gave to some of the women he encountered out on the streets.
Not long ago, Dean saw a necklace in a water fountain down by the T&T Market, near the Stadium SkyTrain Station. He dug into the water, amidst all the pennies, and fished out an inexpensive necklace - the kind that young girls buy themselves. He could have sold it for a few bucks, but for some reason, he decided to hold onto it.
Later that day, while Dean was panhandling near Georgia and Granville, he was approached by a Japanese lady and her young daughter. The little girl went up to Dean and carefully put a loonie in his cup, while her mother watched her.
Dean told the little girl "Wait a minute. I have something for you." The girl was unsure and a little nervous until she saw the necklace he placed in her hand. She was thrilled to get the gift from him, and in return gave Dean a big smile, dropped a chocolate coin into his cup and walked back to her mother. Dean said they waved to him all the way as they crossed the street.
Dean now has a place to stay and welfare to help things along, but his main goal is to get back into a trade and get his life back on track.
He told me that he is on his way up, slowly. He knows that it will take him a long time to dig his way out of the hole he's in, but he absolutely convinced me of his resolve to do it.
He said that it's the people who believe that the despair and sadness is all they have left - the ones who either have given up or can't see the hope anymore - they are the ones who are really lost. "You can't lose your humanity" he told me, and he hasn't.