Uncle Bill’s Homeless Story for Homelessness Action Week 2018

October 7, 2018

Uncle Bill, a member of Diverse Organization Providing Education and Regional Services (DOPERS) in Surrey shares his homeless experiences during an interview for Homelessness Action Week

Oct. 7-13 is Homelessness Action Week in British Columbia

Please scroll down to read full transcript of the video!



Nancy – I’m Nancy. I’m with Diverse Organization Providing Education + Regional Services. We are here to do interviews for the Homeless Awareness Week and right now I am here with Uncle Bill.

Nancy – So what’s your real name?

Uncle Bill – My real name is William Rose

Nancy – What’s your nickname?

Uncle Bill – My nickname is Uncle Bill and that’s another story in itself. It came way back when I was in the furniture moving business…I got out of the Semi in front of the house…this little girl in a solid dress comes running across the front lawn and said “What’s your name?” And I said “It’s Uncle Bill because in real life I was Uncle Bill two hours before then…my little nephew was born…that was 44 years ago or something because that is his age now and I have been called Uncle Bill ever since.

Nancy – How old are you Uncle Bill?

Uncle Bill – On August 10th, I was 68 years old.

Nancy – What’s your hometown?

Uncle Bill – Well, I came here from Thompson, Manitoba but I was an adult when I came here from there. I finished school in Thompson, Manitoba. I was born and raised in Ontario.

Nancy – What city do you mostly stay in?

Uncle Bill – I stay in Surrey pretty well. Exclusively now.

Nancy – Are you homeless?

Uncle Bill – I was homeless until a couple of months ago. I got into the Modular Housing.

Nancy – How did you end up homeless?

Uncle Bill – I guess I’ve been on the streets for so long…I sorta fit right into the homeless thing. I’m famous for helping out people and not helping myself so much. So I ended living in a tent actually one time. And in and out of the shelters…if you don’t…well they will find some way of kicking you out..just to smarten you up…get you back into the swing of things I guess.

Nancy – How Long Have You been Homeless?

Uncle Bill – I have been playing with it for 20 years probably. I’ve been here steady for 10 years. So I just got out of it so 10 years I’ve been homeless.

Nancy – Tell us about your journey?  What did you do before you came here?

Uncle Bill – Well I was a traveling salesman for years, I sold carpeting and flooring. My territory was Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario so I had full expenses…I owned a house. I owned a condominium, 3 different vehicles. Slowly went down from there. I divorced but we just grew apart. We were both traveling. My wife was a professional figure skater and I was traveling, selling, playing hockey and stuff…we just grew apart…we’d still be friends. She has since remarried, has a child…one child that I know of.  I ended up slowly going down…I could always look after myself, come up with money when I needed it.

Nancy – What do you notice about this city?

Uncle Bill – It’s changed quite a bit. I stayed away from politics. I sort of got into politics a little bit one time. I was staying away from politics but the Mayor tried desperately to clean up the place …they got rid of all the tents and stuff but that just spread everybody out. I notice that quite a bit because I’m involved in Rig Dig as another way to make money and get paid for it. Every second Friday I get a cheque for a couple hundred dollars so that’s good because I’m on pension now…so i got a pension..other money coming in…it’s alright.

Nancy – How hard is it to be homeless?

Uncle Bill – Well, if you’re not me…I think it’s pretty hard. Normal street person, it’s ridiculous. It turns people that are real nice people into a crime situation. They end up selling dope, doing other things they wouldn’t normally do if they were not homeless. Jobs and things they do anyway..hard to stay with them…everyone’s getting older and then it’s impossible for them to do any kind of work. I say it’s a pretty hard thing.

Nancy – Where do you live right now?

Uncle Bill – I just got moved into a Modular home…it’s really good for me. My own washroom, my own bed. It’s a nice clean place.

Nancy – Did you feel safe on the streets when you were living on the streets?

Uncle Bill – I felt safe. Everybody knows me. I know the good guys and the bad guys.

Nancy – Do you have any family?

Uncle Bill – I’ve got real family, one sister and my parents are dead.

Nancy – How would you describe your feelings about being homeless?

Uncle Bill – It’s not a healthy situation for anybody’s mind to be homeless I don’t think. Not the way I grew up, nice loving family…there was never a problem… homeless was something you didn’t ever hear. probably sheltered life I lived I guess.

Nancy – How do you do you make money?

Uncle Bill – How I make money now is legal..I stay away from illegal stuff..I haven’t done any illegal stuff for a long time.

Nancy – How do you feed yourself?

Uncle Bill – This Modular home we got… they feed us…well two good meals a day…they have cereal out in the morning  and stuff and coffee there.

Nancy – Before Modular housing, how did you feed yourself?

Uncle Bill – I used to say it was against the law to starve to death in Canada because there was food all over the place…around here the Front Room feed everybody…there’d be big lineups going around the block to get there food. Always good meal.

Nancy – Does sleeping where you are make it hard to get a job?

Uncle Bill – Well I am old and retired now, no…sleeping where I am ..there’s people in there and they worked all their lives…there are a couple of ladies in there who are flagmen…steady..I see them because I am up early all the time anyways…that’s being there. If you are in the shelter, you’re in a dorm situation…bunks right beside each other…Then there’s 40 people to want to get into one bathroom..sort of a situation…not a good one in itself. You have to put in your name for shower time…that’s a 15 minute thing…especially if you are a guy trying to shave, change your clothes and everything..15 minutes is pretty well impossible.

Nancy – What do you look forward to each day? What keeps you going?

Uncle Bill – I’m an early riser. I’m up early so I can have my bowl of cereal and stuff like that.  Right now, I work the weekends …so I’m working all weekend…I’m good there. I look forward to it actually. It’s only Saturday and Sunday…it goes by pretty quick when I am walking around…picking up rigs and stuff like that on the street.

Nancy – What is the hardest part of living in an tent?

Uncle Bill – Well the weather was not always favorable and even then when it was favorable..you leave your tent…it’s not like you are walking away and locking a door…people making a living ripping off anything you got. So if you aren’t carrying your valuables, it’s pretty well gone when you get back. It’s about the hardest part. My hardest part really was the weather…when it gets cold out there…there is no open flame in there… No propane allowed around or nothing….gets pretty hard to stay warm…just the way it’s wet  and when it’s wet and cold…you’re pretty well screwed..you try the best you can to stay warm.

Nancy – Thinking about your time living in a tent, before you got to be in the modular…What was the biggest roadblock you had to finding shelter?

Uncle Bill –  So much competition..if you are homeless and looking for…they know you are homeless..they want references from your last landlady…my last landlady was 10 years ago..”Yeah right…I am going to rent to you for sure!” That’s the biggest roadblock, you have no real references to give anybody. And most of us now have criminal records from one thing or another…you’re a no good person for sure…and lots of us aren’t. There’s pretty good people out there. It looks like on paper they’re a piece of shit…pardon the language …but that’s the way you are treated. There’s not even a chance to get to know somebody to talk and get to know somebody…about face and take a hike.

Nancy – What is the most challenging part of the day?

Uncle Bill – some days just getting to certain places, there are a ways to get to one place to eat…then you got to plan on your next place…not going to be eating for the next three or four hours…sometimes just getting there…a difficult situation…and even if it’s close by, they don’t want you loitering, no place around..you can’t sit down in a park bench…I’ve got sometimes a little bit of money…try to have a picnic out in the park and the police have literally told me to get up and get the move on. You can’t even you know…you could have friends and family in from out of town…and you got no place to take them but if you have a picnic…there’s picnic tables out there…but we’re not allowed to use them.

Nancy – What is life like in the homeless camp? Was it safer?

Uncle Bill – Well you got your neighbors..when he is looking after your stuff and when he’s gone, look after his stuff…you get to know the families around you..it’s pretty good…it’s pretty safe… people who usually come in.. robbing type people…you know them anyways…so they know better to stay away…sort of shoo them away…anywhere near our stuff.

Nancy – Are you connected with other homeless people in this area?

Uncle Bill – Yes…me personally I am connected to pretty well all of them.

Nancy – Do you feel there is a sense of community within the homeless population?

Uncle Bill –  Absolutely

Nancy – Do you help each other out with tips, ideas?

Uncle Bill – Yeah for sure…yeah oh yeah. You know there could be a block away, somebody over there giving away $100 bills in one case…well…it didn’t take too long for our little to secretly get over there…yeah…once that happened but it did happen..and I did get a $100 bill. Of course there was one little girl there who got 3 $100 bills…and she’s “I’ll pass them behind”…and a bunch of us saw her pocket them…she got a $100 bill for herself and the 2 she was supposed to pass on…she put in her own pocket. Of course we said something to her about it  but she just walked away.

Nancy – Tell us something no one knows about you?

Uncle Bill – I used to be a girl…no I’m kidding…I’m sort of famous for joking around

Nancy – What’s the worst perception people have of the homeless?

Uncle Bill – The homeless, there’s a lot…there’s more than 50% of the homeless are very good people…church going even…they just got stuck in a situation where they…and there is a lot of the people that I am pretty close to that are in a home that are worried about they won’t be able to pay the rent. Now what’s going to happen? They’re right on the edge… One paycheck from being actually worst off than I am. That’s the situation I’m sort of worried about because I know some good friends of mine….they’re in an apartment and stuff..living in and renting a basement suite and stuff..it’s a nice suite but they don’t know how they are going to come up with the rent for next month..they’re already living on..you know..they’re behind on their rent as it is right now.

Nancy – What do you miss most?

Uncle Bill – My youth…I can go with the flow a lot easier..because I’ve been up there and down there…Me with nothing..I’m still way better off than a lot of these people…that are just sitting in a home…they’ve got no recreation whatsoever…their whole being is trying to find food for the family…stuff like that…and there’s food out there..and sometimes your wife is sick and they’ll give you a plate of food but they’ve got too many other people.

Nancy – What needs to be done for the homeless? What do the homeless need?

Uncle Bill –  They need a roof over their head and some running water and that’s the hard part…you get to a point…you just can’t have a shower…you got no place to go…like the Front Room now..it’s not a drop in anymore. You go to the Front Room..you’re not living there…it’s a shelter…that’s what it is now…if you’re not one of the people who had a bed in there…you don’t get to go in there and eat…you can’t go in there at any time now and have a coffee, sit and watch TV…only the people who live in there can go in there and have a coffee and sit and watch TV. You don’t live there, you are not allowed through the doors.

Nancy – What would help you overcome your challenges?

Uncle Bill – I don’t know …I had a few opportunities…I was so busy looking after other people for some stupid reason…I wasn’t helping myself. I still need some help…I haven’t done my taxes for a couple of years now.

Nancy – What is your drug of choice? How do you manage that?

Uncle Bill – My drug of choice would have to be heroin. Well my addiction is…I’m in the middle…I’m not selling the stuff..but people who are looking for stuff.. and good clean stuff …they come to me and they sort of piece me off for making sure they don’t get ripped off and they do get dope that got a little bit of heroin in it….whatever dope you’re looking for has all pretty well got fentanyl in it…even the smoke dope got fentanyl in it.

Nancy – What do the drugs do for you?

Uncle Bill – Just mellows me out… Takes the edge off…so I can fall asleep easier… I’m more relaxed in my daily routine.

Nancy – What are some stressful situations that you encounter on a daily basis?

Uncle Bill – I have a problem with police that are ignorant..to beating on people…then even the vice versa…some of the convicts are just as bad or worse.

Nancy – Do you have any beliefs you live by?

Uncle Bill – We all got to live together…some cases I outright make people get along.

Nancy – What is the best part of your day?

Uncle Bill – The best part of my day…I’ve been cutting down on my smoking…but the best part of my day is actually sitting down and having one cigarette…that will make me go fo another three hours.

Nancy – Do people really want to solve the homelessness issue?

Uncle Bill – I think they do…it would sure make it a lot easier for a lot of people’s lives if the homeless thing would go away. Our city would be a lot better looking if we didn’t have a homeless problem running around. People are running around in front of the Bylaws, and hiding and setting up their tents…but the Bylaws been doing it for a long time too..they know all the hiding spots…just like me picking up rigs…I know where all the spots are…there are people going out picking up rigs…getting 25-30 rigs in a day..I get..you know…300, 400 and that’s every day. I get from walking from home to here…I got 5 rigs today..I just brought in a whole big thing…pick up any needles and stuff that are around the building and I do that everyday for free and I deposit them in here in the back office.

Nancy – What does the future look like for you? What are your hopes and wishes for you?

Uncle Bill – What I’m working on right now…the Modulars aren’t there forever…behave myself and go along with the little rules. I got to prove to them that I can look after myself in this situation. I’ve got my own bed, my own shower, my own toilet…if I can look after myself in there…they will let me move into one of their new apartments and stuff. It will be a brand new situation all together. It will be mine till death do us part.

Nancy – What was your last steady job?

Uncle Bill – My last steady job was probably Allied Shipping company.

Nancy – How long ago was that?

Uncle Bill – That was 15 years ago

Nancy – Do you have any children?

Uncle Bill – None

Nancy – In conclusion,  in one sentence to sum up your current situation, what would that be?

Uncle Bill – The homeless has a real problem with the gangsters that are running around and they are not even homeless but they are running around in the homeless crowd hiding in and out to pull their gangster moves off…it makes it look like the homeless are all in on the situation when they are not…these guys are making money off the homeless people.

Nancy – If you could tell your story to Premier Horgan or Prime Minister Trudeau, what would you say?

Uncle Bill – Well the first thing I’d like to tell Mr. Trudeau was that I was a licensed guide instructor for the Province of Manitoba and I did do a little bit of that in Northwestern Ontario. I ran into a canoe trip where Prime Minister Trudeau, his father..Pierre Elliott Trudeau wrote a little note in the middle of one of these canoe trips and you sort of have to go on a canoe trip to run into that situation but he’d know what I’m talking about because him and his brother were there on that canoe trip with their dad…Mackenzie route and stuff like that on one of their portages and it’s all mapped out on the canoe trip. So I’d let him know about, we go way back to when he was even younger…he was a littler kid than I was when I was on that canoe trip. But then, from there right on to me being a homeless person…that’s a long route. There was a long route for him to go all the way… I went from there to being a homeless person and he went from there to being the Prime Minister of Canada…I’m sure we would have a few things we could talk about.

Nancy – Got Final thoughts?

Uncle Bill – Yeah…I need a group hug.

Nancy – Thanks Uncle Bill.

Uncle Bill – From the Whole World, I need a group hug.

Nancy – Thanks for sharing.

%d bloggers like this: