Formerly homeless poet shines light on issues on Okanagan city’s street

Author up for literary award sheds light on homeless situation

“It is too damn easy to live on the streets in this town.”

John La Greca is brazen as he speaks about the homeless situation in Vernon.

Formerly homeless and now living in an apartment for the last two years, La Greca still skirts around the street-entrenched population in town.

“Most of the ones I meet are typical of what everybody expects: addicts, alcoholics, hookers, dealers, but there are a few others that are living in cars trying to make a better life in some ways,” said the 64-year-old.

Sporting his bushy beard, La Greca also speaks from his own personal experience. It is one that he shares boldly in his book of poetry, Homeless Memorial, which is up for a literary award. Homeless Memorial has made the George Ryga Prize longlist.

See: Vernon poet shares shines bright light on struggle with homelessness

“I think I reflect the values that George Ryga wanted in his work,” said La Greca, whose book of poems is up for the $2,000 social awareness award, which will be presented in Vancouver in June.

Homelessness is an issue many communities are struggling with, especially Vernon.

“I think life on the streets is a pretty hot topic in B.C.,” said Harold Rhenisch, editor of Homeless Memorial. Rhenisch is a 2007 recipient of the George Ryga prize, which has roots in Vernon with local John Lent, who initiated the award along with BC BookWorld’s Alan Twigg.

See: Vernon poet makes poetry prize shortlist

Between shelter, food and general social support, La Greca says Vernon is attracting a homeless population from other areas.

“A lot of the people that are coming here now are here because the services elsewhere have been terminated or the police, the bylaw enforcement officers or other people in other communities are making it tough on those kinds of people to live the lifestyles they want,” said La Greca, adding that these individuals are creating a real impact on Vernon.

“They are very aggressive, anti-social and could not care less about fitting into the community. Not that the other ones do but the ones that are here, they make use of the common service. They like the community and they want to fit in as far as not making waves and not drawing attention to themselves because it would upset those that subsidize their lifestyle.”

But La Greca says many people in the community are far too tolerant and understanding.

See: Issues with street-entrenched people increase for Vernon business

While he is no longer homeless, La Greca still frequents various services, such as food at the Upper Room Mission when times are tough, and anywhere he can use a free computer.

“They (homeless) know about me but they’ll never invite me into their campfire…I’m different than the average street person out there.”

Often ridiculed for “talking like like a university professor,” La Greca is sometimes outcast in his own community.

“They’re more comfortable with other people that share their same background,” said La Greca, who spends a lot of his time reading, writing and walking around.

Periodically, he does get the odd street person who approaches him to say they enjoy his writing.

Meanwhile, the average person in the community sees La Greca, with his baggy clothes and beard, just sitting outdoors with his nose in a book and often make assumptions. He’s had people ask him where to get drugs or if he needs spare change to get a coffee.

“The thought that somebody would feel at peace outside of their apartment or their room reading a book is amazing to most people,” said La Greca, who is currently reading a book co-written by Dick Francis and his son about a suicide of a female jockey.

Speaking of horse racing, La Greca says there’s no room for a race track in Vernon anymore.

See: At Random: Race track’s second chapter at the gate

“Stuff like that takes up a lot of space that should be taken over for industry and housing.”


@VernonNews
jennifer@vernonmorningstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

In health care, it does take a team

Julie Lowes is the manager at the Queen Victoria Hospital in Revelstoke

Okanagan-Shuswap weather: A sunny Easter Sunday

Temperatures will peak at approximately 20C region-wide

Revelstoke ladies make 2,200 cabbage rolls for charity

The money raised was donated to former NHL player Aaron Volpatti, who is raising funds for ALS

Revelstoke Golf Club open weeks early

The club didn’t open until May last year

Okanagan-Shuswap weather: Clear skies and pushing 20 C

Environement Canada forcasts a sunny and warm Easter weekend

Update: Fire destroys Peachland home on Somerset Avenue

Crews are still on scene pumping water onto the blaze

Okanagan township’s open burning winds down

Spallumcheen reminds residents of regulation changes as open burning concludes April 30

QUIZ: How much do you know about Easter?

Take this short quiz and put your knowledge to the test

B.C. VIEWS: NDP’s lawyer show is turning into a horror movie

Court actions pile up over pipelines, car insurance, care aides

Global Affairs warns Canadians in Sri Lanka there could be more attacks

A series of bomb blasts killed at least 207 people and injured hundreds more

Waste not: Kootenay brewery leftovers feed the local food chain

Spent grains from the Trail Beer Refinery are donated to local farmers and growers, none go to waste

Summerland student examines effects of sound

Science fair project will go to national competition in New Brunswick

Cuteness overload: duckling thinks dog is its mom

Vernon photographer Fiona Hook shot a cute video after noticing one of her ducklings had taken a special liking to her dog.

Most Read