He’s sitting on the concrete, just tucked inside the pedestrian walkthrough to the rear parking lot. My stomach is in knots when I see him, no fear, just the usual feelings of not knowing quite what to say. I try anyway. I say hello. Mention the beautiful day. Same as any other conversation starter. Then, I talk a little about Metro and what we are up to in Kelowna, and suddenly he is talking and I am listening.
His story has been told, he says, on Facebook and on some video thing. Youtube, I ask, he says yes, and in the Penticton Herald.
Sure, you can share it, he says, once it’s out there you can’t take it back.
We talk about the good and the bad, his ongoing troubles with bylaw, and the woman who often defends him with her ‘nasty pen’ writing letters to the editor when she finds out he has been put upon agin. Like the two tickets he was given in one day for panhandling, and he joked with the bylaw officers when they said they’d give him two more tomorrow, and he said why not now so the load is balanced in his pockets. They want to red-zone me from downtown he says. They don’t like the tourists to see me.
I feel powerless like I usually do when I’m talking with people on the street and they are obviously struggling and frustrated, but I stay, listen, try to hear what they need in the moment. I go buy Paul a sandwich and some water. We keep talking. Paul tells me he can’t use the low barrier shelter, too many trigger points for him even though he’s not had a drink in 20 years. I sleep outside, he says, and shows me the spider bites on his shoulder. Sometimes I camp overnight on a patio. The owner of the place calls me his overnight security if bylaw gets involved.
My life right now is really hard, he says. I can’t get a break. I don’t have enough money for rent, for my meds, for eye glasses. I can hardly see. Try my readers, I suggest. He does, but they make it worse. There are one hundred of us out here, but I don’t know many of them very well. I keep to myself.
It gets really lonely. I wouldn’t wish this life on anyone.
It’s time for me to move on, and I say what feels trite when I know I can’t begin to touch what Paul is going through. Stay safe out here, I say, even though my stomach twists with the thought that I could do more. I say I have another friend named Paul on the streets of Kelowna, so I won’t forget your name. We shake hands, strong and warm. God bless you, he says. And I feel it again, a lingering sense of meaningful presence.
Story by Lesley-Anne Evans, photograph by Penticton Herald (permission).