The East Hastings area of Vancouver, British Columbia is a rough neighborhood. I have volunteered in shelters in the Old Town area of Portland and I promise you, Portland has nothing to compare to this. Throngs of homeless people live on the sidewalks and in buildings that should be demolished. Many of them are drug addicts, so it has a desperation that you can almost taste. It felt to me like everyone was unpredictable and could be violent.
Last year, as a first-year university student, I volunteered in East Hastings every Saturday afternoon at a drop-in community kitchen for kids. Sometimes I felt very brave and most of the time I felt unsafe. I didn’t know where I was going or how anyone would react to me. If I needed help, would anyone help me? The first time I tried to find my way back to the bus stop, I was followed all the way by two guys. My sense of direction is not my greatest gift, and I was scared. After that happened, my tactic was to call my Mother on my cell phone as I walked from the bus stop to the kitchen, and later, on leaving the kitchen, to talk with Mom until I got on the bus.
I loved working in the kitchen and didn’t want to stop just because the six blocks from the bus stop scared me. The staff at the center reassured me that I would be ok walking around down there. I thought they were just used to it. I thought they knew how to handle it all and weren’t telling me.
After a few weeks, I decided to walk to the bus again without calling anyone. It was just getting dark. I put my hood up, my eyes down. I didn’t want to make eye contact. I just wanted to get to the bus. I was biting my nails, dodging people sitting on the sidewalk, trying to make it quickly from streetlight to streetlight.
Suddenly a very large man blocked me. I couldn’t move. He started yelling at me and waving his arms over his head. I thought I was going to be stabbed. I thought I might pass out.
“Girl, Girl!” he yelled. “Stop it! Stop it right now! Stop biting your nails! It’s really bad for you!” He ran off into the alley. I made it to the bus stop.
I realized that people do look out for each other and that the people living in such desperate situations were still like the people I grew up around – genuinely good and willing to help others, even if their ways of offering help are unstable or not what I am used to.
This man could have been Jesus. Really.
— Mia Edera