“By the time you read this, I will be homeless on the cold streets of Victoria’s Downtown core.”
-Sylvery Gray, Part One of Riches to Rags.
Riches to Rags: How Victoria, B.C. Drove Me to Homelessness Part 2
Disguising Myself as a Homeless Person in Downtown Victoria:
Before I begin to tell you my plan, you’ll need to understand what drove me to panhandling in the first place. When I lived in Victoria six years ago, I worked at Le Chateau for a few months as an Assistant Manager. I would frequently have lunch with a homeless man named Ron — a very interesting man with a very sad story. Ron lived in the Interior of B.C. and worked under the table as a carpenter. Late one night, his buddies and him got off work and decided to go to a local bar for a few beers. Although he was having fun, Ron admits he wasn’t the best at handling his liquor. Two bouncers hauled him outside and he was shocked to wake up after a six week long coma from the beating the bouncers gave him that night.
He had lost everything. He could hardly remember what the bouncers looked like, and to make his case worse the bar had closed down and the people who were employed there were nowhere to be found. Ron had no money to his name to pay for his hospital bills. He had already been evicted and his possessions had been discarded. He didn’t qualify for any government assistance, nor did he have insurance. He had no family or friends anywhere to be seen. He walked out of that hospital, sat down on the sidewalk, and began the first day of the rest of his life as a hobo. He hopped on a train to Victoria, B.C. where he now occupies the corner of Yates and Fort Street.
Ron likes a good reefer once in a while, but he isn’t addicted to drugs. The brain damage from the beating ensured that he cannot operate any kind of industrial equipment, which means he couldn’t even continue his passion for carpentry. Not even as a hobby. Today, he’s doing much better and makes as healthy a living as a homeless person can. He would come sit with me in the mall cafeteria on my lunch breaks from Le Shit-eau. Once, I watched him count out $170 in change. He even rolled it to bring to the bank after he insisted on buying my sushi. What a guy.
That said, you may see why panhandling would look appealing to a wise, broke gal like me.
I’m Not Alone
After reading several Craigslist postings from people experiencing the same problems with my previous or potential employers, I wanted to take a stand. I couldn’t just sit quiet and let these assholes get away with taking advantage of people by being misleading and exploitive. I’m choosing to panhandle to make a point.
My goal is to expose the employers who fucked me around, to show them how their actions can affect people, and to encourage others to stand for what they believe in. I want to panhandle in front of these dishonest businesses so people don’t crack a celebration beer for a job they were told they had- like I did. I don’t want to be silent anymore. I want to cause a ruckus, to make a scene.
I decided to go forth with my panhandling experiment to see if there’s a link between what I’m going through and what the local homeless people here in Victoria, like Ron, are going through as well.
What I will need:
One Nasty-Ass Outfit: And it has to be warm. The current weather here on the Island is five degrees celsius and overcast. Good thing I’ve worked in construction, because I have a men’s flannel shirt, and some nasty work boots. I’m thinking I’ll wear those with some gloves to hide my tattoos and keep my fingers warm. I’ll pull all my hair back and hide it under a TNA toque that I’ll be wearing inside out to hide the label. My old roommate, Dave the dumpster-diving-garbage-and-food-hoarder, left his trusty diving jacket behind when he moved. It smells like garbage, so I’ll be wearing that too. Finishing it all off with some stained sweatpants and logger dude socks.
A Disguised Face: I’ve gathered 1 1/2 cups of dirt from my garden, and I’m mixing it with some water to make mud. I’m applying it to my face, gently avoiding the eyes, and making it seem like I’ve been sleeping outside. I’ll use a blow dryer over it to give it a dried up, been-there-for-a-couple-days look.
Entertainment: As panhandling is boring-as-fuck, I’m thinking of bringing my iPod to work, but it’s my first day and I don’t want to get fired.
Locations: First I will hit that shitty five star dining restaurant that gets all its food from Sysco and charges out the ass for it. I’ll call the next location, ‘the shitty breakfast joint’. The idea of panhandling outside there and having the managers recognize me, gives me a thrill I can’t describe. It will also be my way of being a voice for all those other people who have been dicked around by these restaurants- because honestly, I have nothing else to do. After I’m done these two spots, I’m going to go around to Victoria’s ‘Hot Hobo Spots’ and see how much I can get to put towards my bills.
A Sign and Something for Spare Change: I found some cardboard in the garbage and I’ve created a sign that reads, “Thought I was hired, but I was just lied to. Will work for money! Anything helps :)” I deliberately didn’t use scissors as I thought it would give off the Tres Hobo Chic look, and I’ll use a mixing bowl for change. I’ll also need some spare change to throw into the bowl to get things started. Costs money to make money, right? Seventy five cents should do.
Let’s see if I can make more than minimum wage simply by sitting on the street, smelling like garbage and begging for change. If it’s successful in one hour, I will continue and who knows, maybe I’ll actually get into a full blown “bum fight” or maybe harassed by the police for panhandling in front of a five star restaurant.
Two Hours and Tons of Public Ignorance Later…
The results were as follows: No bum fights and police didn’t care about my fake homelessness, nor did I run into any of my old or potential employers; but I did notice that the people who were willing to help me were the people who had nothing to offer. One homeless-looking man gave me two cigarettes, which I gave away to another homeless man because I don’t smoke. I ran into a friend on the street who supported me with a ten dollar bill, so that doesn’t count.
The most interesting finding was when I sat with a guy who calls himself ‘Space’. We chatted for a while. He was offering poetry and had a talking puppet on one hand while the other one waved around a sign saying, “Blessing you”. He told me I was going about it all wrong, that if I wanted to make his average $15 a day panhandling, I should lose the “spare some change?” approach.
‘Space’ told me that people give to others who are thankful and happy for what they already have, even if it isn’t much. He also told me that he gave up “conventionalism” almost 15 years ago due to lack of employment opportunities in Victoria which drove him to the understanding that when you have blind faith, the Universe will take care of you. I gave him my ten bucks and said goodbye.
At the end of my shift, I felt pretty good knowing I made almost a day’s wages for the average panhandler, leaving with $10 and two cigarettes (all of which I gave away). Something that didn’t sit well with me as I watched busy Victorians walk passed me on the street, is that in an intimate city like Victoria, I didn’t feel a sense of community. We live in a culture where people are more offended by middle fingers and obscene language than they are about poverty, lack of opportunity and the lack of resources.
I began panhandling as an experiment, but instead, I learned to take on a new experiment, to have blind faith in the Universe.
‘Space’ refuses to subscribe to negative thinking. When you stop worrying, you will truly start your journey into a new life full of love and abundance. If you let go of the things you cannot change, have love for those who hurt you, and feel grateful for what you have, the Universe provides for you abundantly. A negative mind will never give you a positive life.
I admit that I am human, and I have been harsh, rude, and judgmental in some ways. I have made mistakes, and hurt people. I’m not looking for sympathy, hell, I’m not even looking for a job anymore. What I’m looking for is the thing we have all seemed to have lost over the generations. That sense of community. That love for humanity. A lot of things are inherent in life- change, loss, poverty,- but it’s up to us to decide to concentrate our energy on future possibilities. I can honestly say after this month’s stresses, I am living an amazing life. My son came to my friend the other day and said, “I want to be just like my mom when I’m older.” When my friend asked why, my son responded, “because she isn’t afraid of anything or anyone. And I like that.”
We’ve all heard the phrase, “curiosity killed the Cat”, but that that’s not the whole phrase. Society only used that part of the phrase because it likes to run us on fear. Fear of not being liked, fear of being poor, fear of not having love and acceptance. Fear of not getting that job. But the whole phrase goes like this, “Curiosity killed the cat, and satisfaction brought him back.” So I am going to leave you to ponder on that. Go out there and be curious and speak your mind. Don’t let anyone or anything get in the way of you being satisfied. Be honest with yourself and others, even if it’s scary or embarrassing. I promise you, you will be rewarded with the gift of life.
Feel free to Email me your results. Or, give me something to do by checking out my Linkedin Profile as I’m self employed and always looking for new projects.
Words by | Sylvery Gray
More Articles by Sylvery Gray:
Riches to Rags: How Victoria, B.C. Drove Me to Homelessness Part 1
Escorting is a Fucking Stupid Job
Hot Women With Tattoos and How to Annoy Them
What Your Shoes Say About You
POF: Plenty of F*cked-Up
This article was accomplished by the author in the author’s personal capacity. HUSH Magazine is a place of conversation and platform for independent voices. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of HUSH Magazine.