Vancouver
2 min

Door crashers

Homelessness at work

For three years I got up at the crack of dawn to open a coffee shop on Davie St. “Time to make the doughnuts,” I would hack, staggering up Barclay St like someone who had been repeatedly kicked in the head.

“Hello, can I get by?” I said one morning to a couple sleeping in the doorway.

One of them stirred.

“Oh, hey, sorry…” he drooled, nudging his partner to move. “C’mon, get up. The owner is here to start work.” The woman moaned and pulled the sleeping bag closer to her.

“Can you just move your suitcase so I can get through the door?” I asked. He had been using it as a pillow.

“Okay, yeah, sure,” he said. “What time do you open?”

“Seven,” I said, thinking, “There’s no way in hell you’re coming in here.”

Something was preventing me from closing the door. I looked down to kick it away and saw that it was a box cutter with a half-inch blade–positioned right where the guy’s hand would have been if he were sleeping on his side.

I was so distracted by the box cutter I forgot to turn off the alarm. It was a blood-curdling noise; as bad, if not worse, than getting stabbed. I looked toward the front door expecting to see the homeless couple glaring at me as if I had set the alarm off on purpose. Instead, the woman was smacking the glass door like it was an alarm, trying to make it stop.

For the entire hour-and-a-half it took me to open the shop, I anticipated what it would be like to tell the couple they were not welcome to use the bathroom. I dreaded the scene that would ensue. I resented them for bringing the inner asshole out of me so early in the morning.

It’s amazing that whenever politicians talk about the homeless they never discuss what it’s like to actually have to live with it. When has Stephen Harper ever stepped over someone to get to work? Instead of programs, they give us laws that don’t work and expect baristas and bartenders to do their jobs for them, at minimum wage. When will they admit we don’t have a surplus, that’s just the money they once used to spend running the government?

Right before I opened the shop, the homeless guy pounded on the door. “Here it comes,” I thought. He pointed to a spot on his wrist. “Quarter to seven,” I said.

He woke up his girlfriend and they folded their things into neat piles, eerily at home. I braced myself for him to pop the question. All packed, he turned and faced me.

Then he did the honourable thing and saluted me.