This morning when I pulled into my parking lot I noticed something I never noticed before: a gate surrounding the vent on the east side of my building. There it was in its shiny black metal brilliance blocking the warmth of the vent. Thinking of how cold it was as I rushed to the door I was immediately saddened.

When you walk the streets of Downtown Vancouver you will come across quite a few of homelessness. Since April, that vent had become the home of Alan, a vet who was down on his luck and couldn’t figure out how to make ends meet as a civilian. I met Alan back in April when I sat outside one day for lunch. 

“Hi, missus, do you have some food to spare?”

Homelessness doesn’t scare me, however, normally I try  not to speak to strange men when I’m alone. Alan, though, had a sadness in his eyes that I couldn’t turn away from. I looked down at my sandwich and apple, my mind racing a million miles a second.

Do I talk to him?

Do I say no and eat in front of him?

Do I go back inside?

Who is he?

I looked back up and said, “I actually brought enough to make two sandwiches. Why don’t you have this one and I’ll run downstairs and make me a new one and come back up.” I handed him my sandwich and off I went. I didn’t think Alan would be there when I came back to the surface. Nor did I think he thought I’d come back. But, within a few minutes we were both sitting in the grass, eating a simple pastrami sandwich. It was in those 20 minutes that I learned about Alan. His wife left him when he was serving overseas for the second time. He has a son he’s never met. He doesn’t have family in the area but doesn’t know where they are. He slept on the vent when he didn’t make the list for a bed in the shelters he can walk to.

Through 2017 I’d stop by the vent if he was there and give him hot coffee, water, or if I had anything to spear food. We didn’t say much to each other after our lunch except me telling him to take care and he telling me thank you. As the weather has begun to turn I’ve continued my tradition of a hot beverage for breakfast and lunch. Until that fence went up sometime during the weekend.

I’m wondering today where Alan is. Has he found a shelter? A permanent home? It’s cold out, what has become of him? All these questions going through my head but, you know what? Alan isn’t the only one out there. There are so many people who need help. Homelessness is an epidemic in the US and it’s really distressing to know winter is here and so much people will suffer through it. Last year alone there were multiple homeless deaths in the metro Portland/Vancouver area. What are we doing to combat that?

There are always shelters, but don’t leave it all for them. There are so many different ways that we can help in the fight of homelessness. For me, giving Alan something to drink didn’t seem like much. But, during lunch he had told me how grateful he was that I even took the time to look at him. You can drop off a blessing bag, offer them a hot meal, give them a warm coat. You can donate to charities that help with homelessness. Or volunteer your time. A little goes a long way.

For me, I need to stop making the excuse that I’m so busy that I can’t get involved. Or that helping Alan is my “good deed.” Often times, like Alan, those who are without feel lost, terrified, embarrassed, scared. They can’t seem to tell what was is left or right. They only know one step forward means survival. Let’s be a compass, beacon, light that they can take another step this Christmas. Bless them, love them, be a little more selfless. There is always something you can do. How about we do it together?

And Alan, if you ever read this, I want you to know that I’ve kept you in my prayers since April. Prayed for you, your son, and the ability to forgive yourself for serving and losing everything because of it. I know I am grateful for your service. Merry Christmas. xoxo