Day 208 - Francesco (3rd person I approached)
July 27, 2014 - Francesco was sitting outside in the sunshine, looking like he was waiting for someone. Sometimes that’s a deterrent for me, and I won’t approach that person Because I want to avoid only getting half of a story. However it worked out today, and Francesco was happy to chat with me.
“I was born right here in Vancouver (British Columbia - BC),” he said with definite pride in his voice.
“I was born at the old Grace Hospital, which is now BC Women’s and Children’s Hospital. I grew up in the Mount Pleasant area, just off of Main Street.” Francesco is the youngest of three boys.
“My oldest brother and I share the same father, and my other brother and I share the same mother, so we didn’t all grow up together. But they’re my brothers,” he said.
“My mother was seventeen and worked at a fast food stand in a shopping mall when she had my (middle) brother. She was underpaid and likely undereducated. My father is Canadian of Italian descent, and my mother didn’t know her father. She is French Canadian mixed with we think possibly First Nations.”
Francesco went to elementary school in east Vancouver.
“In high school I moved around a few times. In Grade eight, I got jumped at school by a group of guys, for no reason and completely unprovoked. And I got kicked out of school for that,” he said, with a tone of disbelief still in his voice.
"Then I went to another school and some kid pulled a knife on me in the hallway of the school. A teacher came along and simply told everyone to get to class. There were no questions, the police weren't called, no consequences. It was crazy. Regular school just wasn’t working out for me. I found out about an alternative school called Total Education. I had to go and get my Grade ten completion to get into the Total program, which I did,” said Francesco.
“The Total Education Program helped me get through the last two years of school. There was a counsellor there by the name of Marybeth who made such a difference for me. If it hadn’t have been for her, I don’t know where I would have ended up. She listened to me, gave good advice, made suggestions and checked in constantly to see how I was doing. I didn’t have that kind of relationship with anyone, not even my mother. Marybeth was there for me, through the entire two years. My mother was dong the best she could, but she had some of her own things to work through. It really was a combination of support and encouragement, and Mary Beth lead that, without a doubt. I trusted her,” Francesco said. (*Fact Check - see link below.)
After finishing high school, Francesco started working in the building trades.
“I was working in construction. I didn’t have any experience, but I’m a fast learner when it comes to using my hands and figuring things out. I like being creative and making things and it was good to be learning. I did that for five or six years,” he said. During the time of working in the trades, Francesco started abusing drugs, and alcohol.
“It became more and more part of my life. I was hanging around with some people that weren’t the best influence for me. I was using a lot, and was becoming depressed. I got offered an apprenticeship in mechanical installation. I started that while I was trying to figure out how I was going to move my life forward,” he said.
Francesco met Mark, the owner of a local restaurant called Foundation, on Main Street.
“Mark and Annmarie, his partner were an incredible help to me. They offered me a job as a server and just really showed kindness and genuine care toward me. I left the apprenticeship. I couldn’t work in construction any longer, coping with the racism and sexism that seems to be a regular part of every day. So I became a server. I worked there for seven years. I was meeting new people who were enjoying life and were creative and happy. They didn’t abuse drugs or alcohol and I soon realized that I needed to surround myself with people who would lift me up. I had kept in touch with a few people from the Total alternative school as well, and made some big changes in my life.”
Francesco had a cloth shopping bag with him and it had 'Insite' the supervised injection site's information printed on it. (**Fact Check - see links below.) I asked Francesco about his association with Insite.
“My brother is an addict and has lived in the DTES (Downtown Eastside - the poorest neighbourhood in Canada) for the past twenty years or so. I had lost contact with him for a long time and we just recently reconnected,” he said. Francesco had been thinking for a few years about the direction he wanted to move his life, going forward.
“A few of my friends work in mental health and addiction services. I wanted to move into that area of work, but with my brother living in the DTES and being an addict I didn’t know if it might be too close to home. I applied for a job with PHS. (The Portland Hotel Society, an organization working with homelessness, mental health and drug addiction issues. ***Fact Check - see link below). I went in for a few shifts and they offered me a job,” he said.
“I’m a mental health worker, support worker and I work the front desk for intake as well.”
Francesco is married and has a three year old daughter now.
“I met my wife when I was a server at Foundation. I had a crush on her and wanted to ask her out, but I didn’t ask because she was a regular customer. So I went out to a few places that I thought she might be at, to see if I might run into her. The third time, I did run into. I asked her if she’d go on a date with me and she said yes,” he said laughing.
“On our first date, she arrives and trips and falls right in front of me. I helped her up, she was pretty embarrassed. We go into the restaurant we were going to be eating at, and she goes to sit down and her chair isn’t there and she falls again. I knew right then that she was going to be my wife,” said Francesco, smiling. His wife is a Doctor, having completed her Masters and Doctorate.
“She studied Sociology and Feminism, and is a sessional teacher at UBC (University of British Columbia). It's kind of tough. Because of funding, sessional work means that she isn't able to build a rapport or longterm relationship with the students.
The work that Francesco does now at PHS is very demanding.
“I work twelve hour overnight shifts including weekends, so it's the peak busy time when I’m working. The job is challenging and hard, without a doubt. I sit and I listen. I listen a lot, and I open my heart to the people I’m listening to and caring for. And I love what I’m doing. It just feels so good to help.” #notastranger