Monday, November 29, 2010

Snow Day

Monday we had a snow storm. It was -8 with windchill hitting -16 according to Environment Canada. The roads were treacherous. We had to ground our Outreach RV. Luckily there was another agency out doing some outreach so the sex workers on the street weren't left with nothing.
As I sat in my warm, dry suite I was eternally grateful for the roof over my head, the electricity that allowed me to make a hot cup of tea and my big puffy duvet on my bed. I thought back to the last winter that I worked on the street.

I wasn't "hooked up" with services. In fact, the services at that time were far fewer than there are currently in Vancouver. I was scared of them and I didn't know any of them and I would turn away when they drove by. I didn't want to talk to them thank you very much.

It was -14. A cold snap for sure in the usually moderate Vancouver. The pavement sparkled that sharp, pointy light that a good freezing spell will create. I was wearing a pair of tights, a short skirt, a cardigan and dollar store gloves. You know those little throw-away ones. It was starving out. I might have seen 10 cars the whole time I was out. I stayed out until almost 4am that night. I broke twice. The last guy was a walk-by and I took him into the alley behind my corner. He kept complaining how cold my hands were even though I was handling him with my sleeves over my gloves. Eventually I got mad, thinking "it's uncomfortable for YOU?" I gave him his money back and told him to keep walking.  I think I made 60$ that night. Chump change.

Monday night the wind was blowing ice and snow all over the place. Great swathes of the Islands were without power. Cars were stuck in the ditches and in intersections. My little suite was even chilly and I had a space heater going that night. I started bitching in my head. Bitching about the cold, bitching that I couldn't get my truck out of my parking spot. Then I remembered.

It will never be that again. It will never be me on the street at -14 with some guy complaining that my hands are too cold. For me. But it's still that for the others working the street though. Our RV wasn't out and although many of the shelters had opened extra beds, you can't make money in a homeless shelter. AND some of the people working the street had homes... just no money. When I was out there I had a home. I was still freaking cold that night.

Today it's snowing; it's been snowing for four days now. The people who could make the decision to not go out to work on Monday during the really cold snap are starting to go back out. They're running out of money or food or cigarettes. Rent day is coming up and summer is a long way away.

This is not an "oh look at the poor hookers" story. Just me remembering what it was like, in the winter, working the street and knowing someone else is there now. Someone referred to us as "tissue people". Pull one out and another takes their place. Although I resent the implication that I'm a tissue, I understand the feelings of hopelessness and futility sometimes.

Then I see the people around me. People who've gotten out and started doing other things. People who've moved their work inside. People who've found warmer, safer and more lucrative ways to work. We, as a community, aren't tissues. We are, however, a work in progress.

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