Homeless people as community contributors

Lyle isn’t just the Walmart greeter of Vancouver’s English Bay, but that’s how he first strikes you.    At the biggest crosswalk entrance at the middle of English Bay where pedestrians intersect with the bike path and Beach intersects with Davie, Lyle works most mornings for three hours, as he has for the past three years.  He thought someone should be here in this busy tourist area, helping people, providing information to any who ask, and making the city seem like a welcoming place – he calls himself the unofficial ambassador for English Bay.   He wishes good morning to everyone leaving the street to head down to the beach, and to everyone leaving.  He helps Mike the hot dog guy unload, or watches his equipment.  When anyone has a map or looks confused, Lyle is off to provide assistance.  He loads his cart with maps and tourist materials to help when he can.

In the afternoons, Lyle is usually down at the West End Community Centre, where his activities include spending an hour a day helping a 70 year-old Iranian immigrant learn English.

He’s intelligent, clean-cut in his baseball cap, Gore-tex jacket and grey beard, loves helping tourists, and spends his waking hours contributing to our community.  Yes he does live in the West End as well as volunteer here, he says –  in Stanley Park.  Near the farm in the park, by the playground, there is a sheltered area with picnic tables, and that’s where Lyle sleeps.  Everything he owns – a travel bag and garbage bag-wrapped sleeping bag – fits on a carry-on luggage vertical cart.

Lyle reshapes my image of homelessness.

In what other ways I have not seen, I wonder,  do homeless people make contributions to the communities they live in?

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