Privilege and a journalist-in-training

58 West Hastings, Vancouver, BC

It was never a secret, but in case you didn’t know: I’m sheltered. Privileged and very sheltered. I’m so blessed and grateful to have grown up in a safe home where I was encouraged to dream and pursue those dreams. I’m so incredibly grateful for parents who loved me as a troublesome child and who still love me as a quasi-adult.

My family was protective of me growing up; I’m the only daughter, so there were things I wasn’t allowed to do and places I wasn’t allowed to go. I always had a chaperone, and never once did I use the school bus: caretakers or my grandmother always brought me to and picked me up from school. I never minded or questioned any of it because what mattered the most was that I was comfortable at home, I got all the books I wanted and anytime I asked for anything, I got it (shoutout to that dress my dad bought me last week). My parents always treated me like a princess, mollycoddled and shielded from the world.

When I moved out at 17, I thought I was finally getting a taste of the real world — and when I moved back home at 22, I was so confident that I’ve seen all that needed to be seen. University was a madhouse, and living alone in such a foreign city with no one to help me, it was all especially harrowing. Surely I’d lived! Surely I’ve seen it all! I’m now an independent woman, and I can do anything.

Save for getting over myself, apparently.

As you might imagine, I had an ugly collision with reality. We were tasked with finding a story for my radio class; I had to interview people, record ambient sound, and put everything together. I remember being so fired up: I knew exactly the story I wanted to chase, and where to go for those streeters. Armed with my portable mic and my phone, I went straight to the Downtown Eastside after school. It was raining that day, so the park I went to was deserted. There was someone sitting at a bench, soaking wet from the downpour, but I was stuck on the other side of the street. I chalked it up to the jitters you get when you first come up to someone to introduce yourself. I decided not to talk to him and instead went to 58 West Hastings.

If you didn’t know, 58 West Hastings is (rather, was) a vacant lot — used as a community garden — but was slowly used by the homeless as a place to set up their tent and have some shelter. The City of Vancouver wanted it dismantled, which gave me the idea of interviewing someone from the “tent city”. But I never did get an interview. I couldn’t do it. I stood outside the fence, looking at the tents inside the lot and just… cried. I stood there and cried. I thought I was “too good” to set foot inside the lot where there was ankle deep trash. I thought I was “too good” to talk to the man who crawled out of his tent, vomited and went back in. I was that girl with the expensive stuff and all of a sudden, I felt like I was too good to be there.

But I also cried because I was mad at myself for thinking I was “too good” for these people when I really wasn’t. I was sad that I had a warm home that I’ve been taking for granted. I was upset that there was so much suffering in my own city and I never saw it until then. I was angry that I was disgusted at the sight, wigged out by the very people that I said I wanted to represent and give a voice to — it turns out I can only do it in theory, not in reality. And that hurt because “too good” was really just an arrogant way of saying “I’m fortunate”.

I didn’t end up interviewing anyone from the tent city; I didn’t even do that story at all. I did learn a lot about reality that afternoon though, and about myself. Had it not been for that day, I don’t think I ever really would’ve taken a hard look at myself and my privilege. I don’t think I would have seen that I’d been sheltered. I don’t think I would’ve seen that the homeless my dad talks about helping are actual people, that they need compassion — and I didn’t give it to them; I never have, seeing as I always avoided them up until that day.

Let’s count our blessings and be grateful for all that we have; but let’s also open our hearts to those who need it, and spread the love we’ve been freely given. I have a long way to go, and it’s been a rough start, but it’s a great start and I wouldn’t have it any other way.