“If you have a friend or a son or daughter or even someone you know on the street with a drug problem or a dog, you would know that there aren’t a lot of places for them to go.”
By Gagandeep Ghuman
While volunteering in Philippines, Raymond Heise met a five-year-old kid with an ambition that didn’t square with his circumstances. Both his parents had passed away with Tuberculosis and there was no one to support his education. It would be a miracle if the child reached high school. The child and his desire to become a doctor stuck with Heise when he came back to Canada, so much so that he took a flight to Philippines one more time to so he could put him in school.
“I thought if I can’t help everyone here, at least I can help this one kid with his ambition. And he didn’t become a doctor, but he is a pharmacist in his country now and doing quite well,” he said.
Five-year-olds rarely walk up to Heise in North Vancouver, but he does know some grownups that can use what seems like an innate desire to help the strangers who need it the most. On the corner of Bewicke and Second Avenue, he sees that need every day, especially for those homeless men and women who don’t want to use the nearby shelter for one reason or other, and are forced to either sleep under the bridge or live in a tent close to the shelter.
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The tents don’t protect from elements, and are often dismantled in the morning as many fear questioning from bylaw and the police.
Heise recently went before the council to propose a solution he says many homeless people agree could work for them: micro shelters. “If you have a friend or a son or daughter or even someone you know on the street with a drug problem or a dog, you would know that there aren’t a lot of places for them to go. There are a lot of people working on affordable housing, but there aren’t a lot of people thinking about the problem of housing for those living in the streets,” he said.
After talking to several homeless people, he worked for several days in his yard to build a four by seven shelter for the cost of $300. The homeless people he showed the shelter to were pleased, but wondered if the city would allow these to be installed in a public place without a change in zoning.
Heise has been trying to get an answer to that question since November. He wrote to the City of North Vancouver officials about his proposal, and recently appeared before the City of North Vancouver council when he didn’t hear from the officials.
Heise says there is an even better solution than actually building the shelters. For about a $1000, he could assemble a garden shed which could be modified as a living space for the homeless. He has found a place close to the homeless shelter on Bewicke Ave where there is sufficient space for his pre-fab micro-shelters.
Heise said council could think of the micro-shelters as a kind of a bus shelter, which he says don’t require a special zoning or bylaw to be installed, and he hopes the council will give the same consideration to homeless people. “If we can think of people standing in the rain in the bus shelter, we could certainly think about people who need this,” he said.
An engineer by profession, Heise is now retired and has volunteered in several developing countries, where he saw how necessity birthed enterprise and ingenuity. There can at times be too much complexity in seemingly simple solutions in North America, while simple solutions exist. He said he started talking to homeless people at the recycle depot a few years ago, where he found that daily survival was a challenge. While shelters are helpful, some didn’t use them because of a drug habit or just because they didn’t like being there.
“It could have been me, and it could be my children, but really I’m not much of a talker about this. I’d rather do something when I know I can and this seems like something could be done here,” he said.