May 26, 2016 - 8:00 PM
LEARNED TO SURVIVE ON HIS OWN SINCE AGE 12
VERNON - James Gautreau has panhandled on and off between odd jobs since he was a kid. The cardboard sign he has with him in the parking lot of the Real Canadian Superstore in Vernon simply says: ‘Hungry, broke. Please help.’
“A lot of people don’t give you anything, but that’s all good. It’s up to them, right? I’m not asking for anything. I used to say spare change…. (Now) I just have the sign that says hungry, broke — which is true,” he says.
He says he’s been employed before, but when asked why things didn’t pan out, he replies "the boss didn’t pan out." He’s rented apartments before too, but that didn’t work out either for one reason or another. He’s currently living outside, and has been for awhile.
He panhandles for roughly ten hours a day, usually in the Superstore parking lot, but in other areas of the city as well. He gets a lot of food from people, mostly fruit and energy bars, and the odd homemade bacon and egger.
“This lady, you know what she did? She made it at home and brought it from her place. This little old lady. It was the best bacon and egg and sausage I’ve ever gotten,” he says.
He also gets between $80 and $100 a day from passersby, depending on where he’s set up.
He’s thinking about trying to get a job cutting lawns, but physical work has been a challenge ever since a car accident several years ago.
“I was the guy who got ran over up by Safeway in 2010 and was dragged five blocks on the highway,” he says, showing scars on his arm and the back of his head, as well as three missing fingers.
He suffered a crushed pelvis and was in the hospital for months.
Even if he could find a job, he doesn’t mind panhandling.
“I kind of like panhandling. I’ve always done it. I got kicked out at a young age, at 12. I’ve panhandled ever since I was probably 13 or 14,” he says, adding he’s been all across the country.
He doesn’t access resources like the soup kitchen because he says the food isn’t good, and sometimes makes people sick.
“After that I just gave up on it all,” he says.
So, he sticks to the street and happily accepts whatever food people give him. He uses the money he gets to buy more food, as well as cigarettes and sometimes a six-pack for his friends.
He’s heard the City of Vernon is taking steps to reduce the amount of panhandling in the city, and partially understands where council is coming from.
“There is some aggressive panhandlers and it kinda looks bad on me, because I’m not aggressive, and people know that. But the aggressive ones, I’ve seen them, they go right up, get right in your face. I wouldn’t even like that myself. Sometimes I tell them to stop bugging the person,” Gautreau says.
He believes people like himself should be allowed to panhandle, but thinks there should be some limits on how many people can do so in a given area because large groups of panhandlers may make people feel anxious.
For his part, he says he tries not to bother people, and watching him for a while suggests that’s the truth. He sits quietly on the curb, smiling at passersby, his cardboard sign, a garbage bag and a bunch of bananas someone gave him circled around him as he sits in the afternoon sun smoking a cigarette.
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