Riverside English 12 students in Mr. Phil Barrington’s class were all tasked with bringing awareness to a problem in society, as well as trying to find a way to combat it. One such problem in society is homelessness, which is apparent in every community in British Columbia.

One student, Savannah Whitman, focused on the homelessness epidemic in Vancouver. In order to really experience what a homeless person might go through she and her family took a trip to downtown Vancouver. “Some of what I learned was shocking, such as what I found out from the Women’s Shelter website. Most of the women in the shelters are there because of trauma that they hadn’t received support or therapy for. I think a lot of it I knew because my family is down there a lot volunteering,” said Whitman. Her biggest take away from the project is that getting involved matters. “Every little bit counts; even if a person volunteers once a month or buys someone a slice of pizza, it really makes a difference in that one person’s life. It’s the little things that count.” Even just donating old clothes to a thrift store can help change someone’s life who might really need it.

Whitman thought she was successful in bringing awareness to this problem, which was one of the outcomes that Barrington hoped his students would take away from this project. The project was based off their English 12 Literature Circles. The students were asked an inquiry question. “How has one’s identity shaped their role in the global community?” The students could pick and research any topic they wanted and reach out to two different individuals in the community and find out how these problems are present in society.

“The biggest thing that I want students to get out of this is that when you read literature, make sure to really understand the insight into the Human Condition,” said Barrington. “And connect that to the truth about how people in communities in BC live,” There are many different issues out there, and Barrington wants his students to pick something that they really connect with and find out why we should be aware of this problem.

The students came up with many different topics and were encouraged to pick something they cared about and talk about it. This assignment was one step in being prepared for future jobs. “With many jobs, they ask you to pursue your own passion and it’s one of the things I would like them to do with this project.” Barrington was impressed with the abilities of his students and was intrigued by the different topics chosen.

“Sometimes the ideas they come up with are very valuable, and they can help us all more forward into a better community. We all live on this planet, and we all have our own lenses. As individuals, we must be more open and perceptive and to not be as restricted,” said Barrington.

Connecting research one learns in English class to the community and the world at large is the whole point of learning. Students demonstrate their knowledge of connection from literature to the world while doing these projects. How can you help make a difference in your community?

See Savannah’s paper below about homelessness.

According to The Reader’s Choice Awards in 2018, Vancouver was listed as the 10th best city in the world. Vancouver is known for the beautiful scenery, good food and how green we are, although living here, you see there is much more to this beautiful city. When visiting, tourists will be bombarded by “bums”, “hobos” and “beggars”. But tourists can’t help the problems within our city. The homeless population in Vancouver has been rising since 2002. It is now up to Vancouver locals to help the ones around us struggling. This epidemic connects to identity and the idea of putting yourself into someone else shoes. As a young female high school student, with a stable personal life along with access to education, I am very fortunate. What some people can’t see, is that not all people have the same opportunities and upbringing. My goal is to get rid of the negative stigma around homeless people.

There was a survey conducted in the year 2014 by Stanley Q. Woodvine. Woodvine states the biggest factors that make up the homeless population in Vancouver are: Drug Addiction, Alcoholism, Mental Illness and Unemployment. According to Recovering Connections, a recovery based website helping support family and friends of addicts, the number one reason for drug use is self-medicating. People who have undergone some sort of trauma as a child or young adult will often use drugs to ease their pain. While my family and I were downtown volunteering one day, I came across a very young man. He wouldn’t give me his name or age but he said that the reason he was homeless and addicted to “Black tar heroin”, all came down to the fact that he grew up in a “shitty household”. He said that when his mom and dad split, he began using marijuana. He was living with his mother at the time and she slowly began abandoning him. He was a single child. She would leave to sell her body for grocery money. Shortly after becoming a prostitute she began using drugs. This is just one example of how one can end up homeless and addicted.

The Downtown Eastside Women’s Shelter, is a shelter specifically for women who are struggling with drug addiction, poor living conditions or any sort of abuse. It is a safe place for women to feel welcomed and included in something positive. The shelter provides food, clothing, blankets and warm holiday meals. They provide the structure these women need to get back onto their feet. In the latest annual shelter report, 65% of the women who entered the shelter were homeless, 80% lived with addiction and 75% were Indigenous. The shelter is always in need of donations or volunteers. Lots of the time, after women are out of an abusive relationship, they are unable to go back to a normal life. They are left with deep pain that can’t be forgotten. Many of these women who are left alone and with trauma, look to drugs for an answer to their unresolved pain.

Instead of looking at these people as below us or uneducated delinquents, we should focus on having compassion for them. Simple things like sitting down and talking with someone can make their entire week. Just asking how they are and treating them like a regular human being. I remember hiding my face while driving through the Downtown Eastside as a child. I was so scared of the homeless people. I thought they were dangerous and intimidating. One day I saw people with a table set up. It was a family that were barbecuing hotdogs and hamburgers for the homeless. After that my family began going down and handing out food. After talking with some of the homeless and meeting them first hand, I realized they are just human and that they are some of the most down to earth and gracious people I have ever met.

The main solutions to getting rid of the negative stigma around homeless people are simply sitting down and talking to a homeless person for five minutes, taking the time to buy them a coffee or slice of pizza, and to spend time volunteering at a local shelter or taking the time to set up tables and some sort of hot food or drink for them. In today’s day and age, it probably seems crazy to spark up a conversation with someone when it’s not over text, but it really means a lot to these people. Volunteering also really does make a difference and helps in an extremely positive way. Not only are the less fortunate benefiting, you are as well. All you feel is happiness while helping others in need. There is no feeling like going to bed after knowing you made someone’s life a little bit better than it was yesterday. Finally, two very well-known quotes to take away with you are: Put yourself in their shoes and Treat others how you would want them to treat you.