A homeless Christmas

I am going to spend December 23rd to 30th sleeping on the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.  Downtown Eastside (DTES) is known as one of North America’s poorest communities.  This community is frequently under attack by the media, which labels the DTES as a dangerous, lazy, sick, and unproductive part of our society.  I will spend my Christmas holidays on the streets of the DTES to form my own conclusions.

I will be starting with no money, a sleeping bag, and enough clothes to keep me warm during the winter holidays.  I decided to do this project to raise awareness about homelessness and to remind some of us how fortunate we really are.  I would like to dedicate this Christmas getting to know some of the people who consider the streets their home.

I am blessed to be born into a gracious family.  Therefore, I want to apologize to them for not being able to attend Christmas dinner this year.  Your support and love has surrounded me throughout my life.  It is because of you that I feel obligated to give back to the community.

I have set myself a few guidelines to follow while living on the streets.  I may panhandle to raise money for food.  I will not take drugs, smoke, or drink with any money that I shall receive.  The money I make from panhandling will be donated 10-fold to an organization that I believe provides the most benefit to homelessness.  All of my conversations and experiences will be documented in my notebook, which will be updated throughout the day.

Since I will be living on the streets for 7 nights, 77 meals were donated to the Union Gospel Mission even before I set out on the streets. Moreover, I am vegetarian, so if somebody was to buy me a pepperoni pizza or give me a turkey dinner, I will eat it rather than waste it.

I will try my best not to take advantage of any homeless shelters provided by our city.  However, I may pick one night to stay at a shelter so that I can document my experiences.  I am not here to take advantage of any resources required for the homeless.  Instead, my experiences are to be shared with those who are interested in bridging the gap between “us” and “them”.

I realize that other Vancouver residents have done similar projects in the past. The following documentaries may be of interest to you with regards to this topic:  Streets of Plenty, Carts of Darkness and Through a Blue Lens.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas.


Today is December 30, 2010 and my project has been successfully completed.  Over the next few days, I will transcribe the 120 pages that I have written in my journal into a shorter and more readable format.  As I went through my journey, my outlook and purpose changed into something completely different.

What you are about to read is a collection of real people having real conversations in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside.  Most of these conversations took place in alleys, some at coffee shops and others at community centers.  I would like to thank everybody I met along the way, and everyone who made this project possible.

Please read the following posts with an open heart and open mind.  My experiences have changed my life in a positive way.  I am certain that it will have the same effect on you as well.

Happy New Year.


7 responses to “A homeless Christmas

  1. I have volunteered for an organization where they provide food for the homeless. I have to say that when I was volunteering, my perspective on homelessness totally changed as well. Just like you, I also realized that there was a sense of community. I think, these people are way more brave than we are as they can still smile and laugh knowing that they may not have food for the next little while, they may not have a roof over their heads for god knows how long. Yet, they manage to help each other out, sometimes. I, personally, realized that they are no different than us. They are humans just like we are and have the same needs and wants like us. However, I will say that when someone asks me for money, I hate it and not willing to give because so many of them, just go and buy drugs. But talking to them, is something I would personally like to do and have been wanting to for a while but have just been very negative about it. You don’t want to tell them a lot about yourself either because you don’t know what they are like. Sorry, don’t mean to be rude, just an honest fear.

    But, the fact that you spent some good time among them is definitely respectful and considerate. Looking forward to your journal.

  2. Hey… sleeping on the street… it’s on my bucket list. My friends say I’m crazy… and none of them would like to experience it with me :( If I had known you at that time, I’d totally do it with you. This isn’t an “adventure” that I’m seeking. I want the experience of living how homeless people live. And yes, I’d write down on my journey of how things went too.

    Are you going to try the homeless shelter too? And the soup kitchen? And digging through garbage for aluminum cans and bottles?

    I once encountered a man who told me that he makes and delivers sandwiches every Christmas to homeless people on the eastside. I admire his action and his good heart. This is why I plan to go to foreign countries and do something similar.

  3. Erm.. sorry about the homeless shelter and the soup kitchen part. I didn’t read your entire blog before commenting. I’ll keep on reading your blog though :)

  4. Stranger, at the end of my blog I will make a list all of things that worked for me. However, I do not want to be responsible for anything that could happen to anybody that is interested in trying a similar project. One thing that I can definitely say is that if you are doing this with good intentions, and if you are willing to give up all your possessions while being on the streets, then you will be fine. Just do not turn it into a Macho, “I can survive the streets, and check out my biceps” story. That would be very disrespectful, in my opinion.

    It is highly unlikely to be robbed while living on the streets. The few trouble makers that do live on the streets would rather rob someone that is actually wealthy. A man who had lived on the streets for many years told me that he was robbed twice in his life, by the same person. He told me that he hasn’t seen that man around anymore. There are a few twisted and sick people out there, but the majority mind their own business and are actually sincere, warm and kind people. They just like you, want to live in peace.

  5. Hi Nima,
    I saw an article (a reprint from the Ubyssey in a Victoria college paper) about your experience.
    Have you found anyone for the traslation into French yet ?
    I am a French instructor and I could help you with that.

  6. What organization did you donate to? I guess I have to keep reading :)

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