photos: Hendrik Beune

Vendor profile: Hendrik Beune

Hendrik on 65 years of interacting with his natural habitat

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“I can hardly believe it and, when I mention, neither can my friends. I’m becoming an old age pensioner on March 22, when I turn 65. At this age you are allowed to retire from your career and celebrate your achievements by focusing on doing the things you really enjoy or pursuing new interests that you like to devote more time to. Actually I’ve already been doing ‘my own thing’ for most of my life, but it’s a great feeling to allow yourself to be more relaxed and take time off from a busy schedule when you feel a need for it. Traditionally, the community you worked in would thank you with a parting gift, often called a golden handshake, and it meant a lot to me when I was a kid that, bearing the same name as my grandfather, I would inherit the inscribed gold pocket watch he received at retirement. Having been self-employed most of my life, I decided to buy myself a diamond ring to mark this milestone and remember my work in the community

 

“I haven’t made any plans to retire from being the community activist I’ve become, but I am going to allow myself to focus on my special interest, which is permaculture design. The principals of which ought to be pervasive in any kind of urban planning and community economic development. Simply put, designs need to be good for the planet as well as people. The design needs to be ergonomic as well.

 

“As a kid, I grew up on the edge of a village. I was always out in the meadows, and in the forest. My great love was the aquatic environment and at age 17 I became a scuba diver and later I spent hundreds of hours under water, diving all over B.C. and around the world. I grew up in the Netherlands. Sometimes I wish I still lived there, because it is a more caring, progressive society, with better social equality and services. Although I am a naturalized Canadian, in my heart I am still a Dutch boy. Most of my family still lives there and when I get off the plane I blend in right away, because I still speak my native tongue without an accent. The fact that I phone and speak with my parents just about every week certainly helps. I try to visit them and my brothers at least once every two or three years.

“When in Grade 3, somehow I already knew that I was going to leave the Netherlands. I was a big-time daydreamer. I was always outside of the classroom in my head. I wanted to be somewhere near mountains, Holland was too flat. I also wanted to be close to the ocean, and I would like it to be warmer rather than colder in comparison to the Netherlands.

“I was 19 when I came to Vancouver. I was a good but not a rich student. I studied marine biology and ecology. After graduating, I worked as a contract biologist for various government departments, and in my spare time I taught scuba diving and eventually built a couple of charter boats. I became an oyster and shellfish farmer and lived on the Sunshine Coast for 12 years ‘beyond civilization as we know it’ in Theodosia Inlet near Desolation Sound Marine Park. It was heavy, challenging work, but a healthy lifestyle set in a very beautiful, remote, and sometimes hostile environment. You learned to cope, be inventive as you had to fix or jury-rig everything yourself. After I turned 50, the work was getting too heavy for me. Then I came here, and I found another wildlife resort—not quite a resort, but definitely a refuge: the Downtown Eastside. In a way, it called to me like home. Here, people knew how to cope with a rough lifestyle. They were diverse and inventive in their ways to carve out an existence. I felt attracted to adapt my knowledge of nature to the ecology of the city.

“The DTES is a lively and also a noisy place. The liveliness was a welcome change from years of isolation, but the noise factor, especially the sirens that really hurt my ears, still bother me more than the rough conditions than the water ever did. You witness a lot of PTSD here. Most people who live here suffered trauma in their early childhood, and now suffer mental health or addiction problems as a consequence. Drug addiction is really self-medication. Most people are stuck with it for life. Harm reduction and prescribed medication will stabilize people’s lives. Experiments by local Simon Fraser University professor, Bruce Alexander, in the ’60s showed that by providing adequate space and a livable environment, animals would quite readily drop their addictions and become fully functional. Look up ‘Rat Park’ on the net.

“An often undervalued service provided by DTES residents is that most are ‘binners,’ recycling waste from the more affluent part of society that otherwise would end up in the landfill. Another unknown contribution of this community is the tremendous amount of volunteer work done. This creates a very vibrant connected community and the value of the work done—and if it were paid for like a regular job, it would exceed the money put into the community from government sources. The DTES is a valuable community and in many ways sets an example for mainstream society. Many volunteer organizations strive to improve the living conditions, social justice, and equality in this community. I am proud to serve on many committees and boards in the community.

“I have my own consulting firm called: Bioluminous Solutions – ecological consulting and permaculture design. I participate with many urban planning and CED meetings for the City of Vancouver as a resident advisor in public meetings and forums. I’ve done some media and international representation about the DTES as well.

“Upon reaching my retirement age, I have three wishes to make in this context: 1) that the City of Vancouver request a permaculture designer to act as a consultant to review and comment on any new structural proposals. Ideally we create a position for a permaculture designer on the city’s planning team; 2) That we strive to provide real wages for many of the volunteer positions and hire more local people for the jobs in our community. If we provide more equality and eliminate the poverty in our community, everybody will be happier; 3) Please, please, please reduce the decibel level on the sirens of emergency vehicles and use a friendly, less aggressive approach—and tune in like the service vehicles in Europe. Thank You!”

Hendrik delivers Megaphone to about 50 regular customers in the DTES and sells to the public at the Vancouver Farmers Markets. You’ll find him primarily at Nat Bailey and Hastings Park in the winter, and at Trout Lake and the Main Street Market at Thornton Park, across from Pacific Central Rail Station during the summer. Photo by: David Denofreo, Black Opal Images

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