Observations on Sixth St. sleepers

This is a guest post from Waferboard. You can find him on Twitter @waferboard or on Friendfeed.


A makeshift windbreak at the Anglican church on Carnarvon
A makeshift windbreak at the Anglican church on Carnarvon


For the second year now I’ve noticed there are more people sleeping on Sixth Street in the winter than in the summer. The cold and the wetness of the season are probably contributing factors.

Following my commute route down Sixth Street from Sixth Avenue down to the Columbia Skytrain station, here are a few of the spots that have attracted overnight visitors. Obviously this is not exhaustive and perhaps not even representative of the city.

Shop doorways

Sixth & Sixth

In some ways I’m surprised not too see more of these types of sleepers. They’re fairly common in Gastown and Downtown Vancouver. However, a closer examination of the architectural peculiarities of New Westminster show that there are fewer recessed (and hence sheltered) doorways here. I have a suspicion that Gastown may have fewer alternatives to doorways than New Westminster as well. The disadvantage of the doorway is if someone wants to use the door, you have to move. Popularity: low

A peculiar recess by a window

Sixth & Fourth; Sixth & Blackford
If I was homeless this would be one of the first places I’d check out. I’d like to know what the original purpose of this recessed window was, with its own little privacy wall. During the summer its home to a bed of lava rock, and in winter it can hold two, or maybe three (if you’re close friends) people. The wall and the fact that it’s recessed means almost total privacy and shelter from the elements. It’s also conveniently close to the 7-11 across the street. I’ve been surpised more than once by a friendly “Good morning!” by an occupant, that’s how out-of-sight this location is. Popularity: high

The well-lit covered business entrance

(See #3 on the map above)

It’s a peculiar and counter-intuitive fact: many homeless prefer to sleep in well-lit, very public areas. It’s safer, presumably. The Re/Max building entrance has a few low walls to bed against and lots of light. The covered area is quite large and is suitable for parking shopping carts or for people with lots of stuff to lug around, or for groups of people. However, it is exposed on two sides, despite the low walls and I suspect it must get quite windy. Popularity: low

The Anglican church on Carnarvon

Anglican Church on Carnarvon

It’s not on Sixth, but it’s pretty close, and it’s also a really popular spot, both in winter and summer. It’s not hard to see why: there are two covered areas, a nice lawn, a door-step round the back with a fair view and a soup kitchen. The covered areas are large enough for several people, carts and lots of baggage, and it’s location on a steep slope facing south helps protect the otherwise open area. Popularity: high

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3 Replies to “Observations on Sixth St. sleepers”

  1. When the Royal Bank building was built across from the mall on 6th avenue, I immediately noticed the street sleepers and panhandlers in the alcoves of the building. It was not long before the property owner installed steel shapes in those spaces to prevent that. I think it is a shame tey didn’t make the steel shapes bike lockups.

  2. Those steel bars are interesting from all sorts of angles. I've noticed the numbers of sleepers has gone down. They haven't disappeared though. Panhandlers use the bar as a sort of arm rest and as a space divider. The bars are also, inadvertently I presume, garbage catchers. Stuff that gets over the barrier seems to stay there.

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