"I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Downtown Eastsider. I was born here, went to school at Strathcona and my daughter went there, too. I spent a lot of time in the penal system, in New Westminster and in the Valley, but aside from that, the Downtown Eastside has always been my home. My heart will always be here. When I grow old, when I die, it will be here. I care about this community and being part of it—that’s part of why I volunteer with seniors, and part of why I sell Megaphone.
Meet Mark Irvine
“I started volunteering through Cooper Place and the Vancouver Second Mile Society. I was approached by a beautiful gal named Irene, who is now 76. She had seen me around and I guess she had kind of kept an eye on me. She recognized signs and symptoms that I was going through a depression. One day in 2002, Irene knocked on my door and said, ‘Would you like to get up off your sorry ass and come help me?’ I don’t know what it was about her, but she got away with that and it didn’t offend me.
“I was depressed, and volunteering helped get me out of myself and out of that little room where I’d been hiding. That’s where my nickname, ‘Mark the Spark’ came from—the seniors picked up on my outgoing nature, and the name just stuck.
“In 2004, I was having a tough time making ends meet. I started selling Hope in Shadows as an opportunity to advance myself. That first year I wasn’t good—in fact, I sucked. I just stood there like a sack, silently, and held the calendar.
“When [Megaphone director] Sean [Condon] suggested Megaphone, I didn’t think much of the idea, but I had got myself into a hole and become desperate. It was either payday loans, or try Megaphone. Once I started, it was better than I expected. I made a decent wage. Now, I’m getting out of the hole, and after three years of selling, I have really loosened up—now I approach everybody, even dogs! I have sold to kids, to people in cars, on bikes and on skateboards. Even though my nickname is Mark the Spark, I’m a rainy day person. I like selling on rainy days.
“I’m doing pretty well now, and Megaphone has been a part of that. I lost my wife Joanne about a year ago. Her passing broke a cycle of unhealthy codependency, but it created a void. My daughter, Buffie Jo, was quick to fill that void. Since then, we’ve become very close. She’s like me in a lot of ways, and we can spend a lot of time together and not actually talk. One of our favourite activities is bird watching.
“Megaphone has meant a lot to me. It affords me a chance to meet people, to interact with the public. I get a lot of positive feedback. I feed on that positivity and it helps me. At the end of the day, when I go home after selling, I feel better about myself. I feel much more confident, even if I haven’t sold much.
“To my customers, I want to say thank you for all your support—it keeps me going.
“I’ll see you folks on the Drive!”
Mark Irvine sells Megaphone outside the Charlatan Pub at Commercial Dr. and Grant St.