Please note: Unlike other articles featured on this site, the following is a personal story from the CEO & founder of The Burrard Street Journal. For privacy reasons, I will not divulge the names of the people involved.
As an Irish immigrant (living in Canada for the past 5 years), I was recently made aware of a young family from Ireland facing the very real prospect of being forced to live on the streets of Vancouver, by the end of May.
After eventually making contact with them, the father agreed to meet with me, to tell his family’s heartbreaking story and the impossible dilemma they face…
Less than 6 months ago, a 26-year-old man, his wife and their two young daughters (7) and (4), immigrated to Vancouver from Co. Leitrim, Ireland. On first impression, they were blown away by the city, its size, endless activities and “lovely weather”. The couple instantly “felt at home”, quickly finding jobs, an apartment, a local daycare, and even a nearby Gaelic football team.
Unfortunately, the family’s exciting adventure quickly turned sour, as the couple were shocked to discover that Canadian wages do not cover the exorbitant rental prices in Vancouver.
Unable to continue paying the “outrageous” costs of renting their West-end loft, and frustrated by the lack of affordable options, they reached out to family and friends for financial assistance. Through no fault of their own, they were ultimately unable to source any form of accommodation, either temporary or otherwise, for next month. At the time of our meeting, the father explained their landlord had given them 7 days to pack their belongings, before they would be evicted.
After sharing his heart-wrenching story with me, the father asked if I had any information on which streets would be best to sleep on in the Downtown area, “especially while raising a small family” he said.
As requested, I provided a detailed list of as many Vancouver streets as I could think of, ultimately suggesting Hastings St. [pictured above] as the most viable option. I did offer my apartment to them, suggesting I could sleep on the couch for a while, but this seemed to only embarrass him, and he shook his head, saying he wouldn’t want to impose. He thanked me for my advice and said his family would stay on Hastings, until they could get back on their feet. I begged him to reconsider but I knew he wouldn’t.
After he left, something didn’t feel right with me. I knew deep down that I hadn’t done enough. I thought about this young family sleeping near Hastings and Main, and I suddenly felt a deep sense of responsibility, to help my fellow countrymen in their hour of need. I felt obliged to do more, to ensure that another young family wasn’t forced to live on the streets of this city, as the local government farcically tries to deny even the existence of a housing crisis.
So I made some calls.
I reached out to almost everyone I had ever met in my half-a-decade in Vancouver. I explained the situation and explored every possible avenue open to me and my company. A few days later, after moving some money around, I called the father back and asked him to meet me again.
When we met for the second time, he was filled with questions for me about Hastings St. and particularly about a homeless centre near there.
“What if I told you, you didn’t have to sleep on the streets or a homeless centre?” I said, interrupting him. His jaw dropped, and he asked me what I meant.
I explained to him that the Burrard Street Journal would be sponsoring him and his family to live for one year, completely rent free, in a three-bedroom apartment, close to all amenities (including schools, transit, etc), in the up-and-coming city of Surrey.
The man looked stunned, seemingly unable to speak. After a few minutes, I asked him what he thought of my proposal. He paused for a moment, looked me straight in the eyes, and said: “So the homeless shelter… was that West Hastings or East?”
Covenant House opens doors to Vancouver’s homeless youth. As expensive as housing and rent is for the rest of us, these are the people at risk the most. To donate food, clothes or whatever you can, click here. To donate cash directly, click here.
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