The underground bike economy helps shape the lives of homeless people in the Downtown Eastside

Informal economy players are known to respect everyone’s scavenging territory, while businesses leave out a steady supply of second-hand items and bike shops offer free repairs.

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A network of busy sidewalks, alleys and roads is vital for dozens of Downtown Eastside residents who rely on the daily collection of recyclables, as well as their bikes, to make ends meet.

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For these Vancouver binners, nurturing community ties is invaluable – those involved in the informal economy are known to respect each other’s scavenging territory, while businesses leave out a steady supply of items used and that bike shops offer free repairs.

The phenomenon of the “underground bicycle economy” is the subject of a study published in the journal Mobilities, examining the day-to-day lives of five middle-aged Downtown Eastside men who set up “traplines” to carry out the works. Participants interviewed in January and February 2020 were either homeless or living in single-room hotels.

With about 10 per cent of Vancouver’s homeless population participating in green business, the study’s lead researcher says the city should offer them a greater voice in Vancouver’s transportation planning and policies. ‘coming.

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“Based on our finding that the needs of some participants are currently unmet, we suggest that cyclists living in poverty be considered so that they can continue to do their jobs safely,” Jeanette said. Steinmann, doctoral student in kinesiology at the University of BC

As Steinmann commutes through Vancouver on a bicycle, she said her typical route differs from that of residents she interviewed.

“For me, cycling is a choice, going green. However, some people are limited in their transportation options. Their bike is no longer a necessity.

As part of his research, Steinmann rode alongside study participants. “Access to certain bottle depots was tricky. In one instance, a pole in the middle of the sidewalk made it difficult to cycle over an overpass,” she told Postmedia.

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Rebreather Michael Leland holds a picture of himself, aged five, on his way near the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club.
Rebreather Michael Leland holds a picture of himself, aged five, on his way near the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

Michael Leland, 64, has been an independent recycler in Vancouver for more than two decades.

‘I started seeing all these beer cans along Hastings Street and thought I could make a few bucks to buy some booze,’ said the SRO resident who was not part of the study.

When he started out as a binner, he was lucky enough to win $40 after 10 hours of transporting recyclables on foot.

“When I started in 2000 at 45, everyone was upset. Companies didn’t like you rummaging through alleyways,” Leland said.

However, after several years of collecting, he said he was able to build trust with the people of the community and add regulars to his itinerary.

“Once they got to know me, didn’t intrude and did a good job, their attitude completely changed.”

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His first bi-weekly pickup at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club coincided with the decision to transport his recyclables by bicycle. “The bike made the job so much easier, and the tow trailer I modified allowed me to haul 150 pounds.”

As returns for beverage containers 1 liter and under jumped from 5 cents to 10 cents in November 2019, Leland earned $160 a day.

“The yacht club would only release their bottles for me. Many times they even put aside a steak for me.

For those Steinmann studied, the relationships they established at work “represented an element of stability and reliability in the lives of recyclers, for whom so much of life was precarious,” according to the research.

“The social bonds that informal recyclers fostered over years of recycling were important not only for social support, but also to ensure a steady supply of recyclables,” he said.

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Most of the city’s recycling depots have moved from downtown to industrial areas, including the Regional Bottle Depot, an east Vancouver location known to accommodate regular recyclers.

“Any time you receive a return receipt for your bottle, you can sign your name on it and enter to win a monthly draw for $100,” Leland said, adding that the depot owner had already come to his aid after the theft of his bike. .

The Four Directions Trading Post, formerly known as the Downtown Eastside Street Market, also offers recyclers a place to buy cheap bikes when needed.

Leland said that since establishing himself as a recycler in Vancouver and starting a nonprofit, The Binners Project, to support others in the can collection community, he has new life.

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“I found more purpose with work and quit drinking. Recyclers like me are more respected and discover the positive impact of our work on the environment.

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Bonny J. Streater