Dylan is an intelligent, resilient young man who wears a kind and inviting smile. We are very honoured that Dylan offered to share his story with us.
In order to do his story justice, we have broken it down into three posts that we will share throughout the next two months.
This post is the second of the three, and chronicles Dylan’s experiences, while at CHV.
Repeated cycles of no heat, no running water, starvation, exposure to violence, time in foster care, and the knowledge of what he no longer wanted to experience, led Dylan on his journey to Covenant House Vancouver.
Dylan Reflects on his time at CHV
Dylan realized that it takes a lot of self-awareness in order to break the cycle of homelessness. “There’s a lot of guilt that starts as soon as you gain that awareness, and so people avoid awareness. They avoid this monster under the bed, and it’s something that as soon as you realize it, you have to make your way out of it.”
“I think that’s a topic I’ve become very passionate about because it’s a very lonely transition [leaving the life he knew for 20 years], one that I’ve had to undergo in isolation, entirely. There’re so many factors that go into who I am and my personality, and one of those factors used to be my food security and how I felt about that. I had food insecurity. There’s just so many of these things that have culminated to create me.”
“That [being at CHV] was my very first experience having an abundance of food, an incredible abundance of food. There were so many different kinds of food. There were vegetables, which are something that is seen as somewhat of a commodity, where I came from, because vegetables are very expensive for how filling they are. They’re not as filling as rice, as beans, as macaroni, or pasta. They’re in a very different realm — they’re good for you, but they don’t fill up your stomach. And unless you eat a lot, and at that point you could have had so much more pasta.”
“Growing up, you want to fit into your peer group, but without a lot of money, it’s pretty much impossible to afford clothing that had a popular brand name attached to it. I wanted to wear nice things. I wanted to be proud of what I was wearing. I wanted to indulge in the stylistic sense that everyone was indulging in at the time.”
When Dylan came to CHV, he noticed something right away. “It was incredible. I was surrounded by so many colourful people, so many people with different hobbies, with different personalities, which was very new.” And with that diversity in people came a diversity in style. “I was just so shocked that people could be so different from each other. They could wear whatever they wanted, which interested me immediately. I started wearing a bunch of different clothes, a bunch of different styles. There was also the clothing room in Covenant House where they get designer clothes, donations, very expensive clothes, clothes that I would’ve stolen. I wore my clothes differently than I ever had before. It was a sense of expression. There was a sense of freedom in my expression that had been very quickly dismantled in my previous environment. It was a rebellion that I was undergoing. I was rebellious, and I was wearing very skinny jeans, and I was wearing flannel shirts that were colours that would aggravate people back home — things that would have been seen as so incredibly irrational or dangerous.”
“And then there were the youth workers, who had so much patience and kindness. They were essentially incredible parents. They were all just incredible parents working with children, working with the inner children of these people, or maybe helping lead them into what it’s like to be your own parent. This is what it means to take care of yourself. For me, the way they helped me learn to write emails, helped me learn to make phone calls that I thought were very daunting, how to make appointments; just so many little things that I didn’t need in my past life.”
Dylan Discovers the Power of Art
Dylan was aware that CHV had an art therapy room, but it took some time before he engaged. Eventually, Dylan decided to give painting a try. “I sat down. I said, ‘I’m just going to paint something because I’ve never painted outside of education, and nobody liked painting inside of education anyways. They’re always telling you what to draw. And then, they’re going to grade you on your ability to draw that. That’s not very fun.’”
“It very quickly became something that felt spiritual, because I had realized how I was feeling. I sat down with the paint, and I started painting. I felt this incredible sense of relief. It felt like I was speaking a truth that I had never opened up about. And it was just my emotions. It was very simple. It’s just how I felt. And I was letting it show. I’d grown up in an environment where when you’re sad, you don’t frown, you don’t cry, you don’t shed a tear. You just keep your stoic face. When you’re happy, you keep your stoic face.”
“Initially, I just chose a few colours. I chose to paint with black and white and red and sometimes a deep blue. But very slowly I started to create this collection of paintings that resonated so incredibly strong with me, and I felt proud. I felt like I could connect to people, which is an interesting thing to say because people might feel like they have been connecting throughout their whole lives. But when you have restricted and closed your emotional self off, you’re just speaking to people. You’re not letting your emotions understand each other, and you’re not letting yourself be understood.”
“Painting was incredible. I had realized that I can say the things that I’ve never been allowed to say in a discreet manner. It really opened up an avenue of expression for me, one that could be so incredibly vulnerable, because it’s a window into oneself. It was a window into myself that I was inviting people to look at, because you needed to be aware, and you needed to be vulnerable yourself, and you needed to be open to even start to decipher what I was painting.”
Eventually, Dylan decided to write poetry. “I had written poems in school, which raised a lot of red flags because they were seen as quite intense. I realized that poems were an immediate, always available avenue to sharing how I felt with the people around me that I cared about — especially because I couldn’t explicitly say anything. I felt paralyzed. My tongue felt paralyzed. I couldn’t say what I needed to because it went against everything I was raised up to be. I was raised up to be a man. In Indigenous culture, being a man means to be stoic. It means to be strong. It means to be able to provide, despite all of your weaknesses.”
“I had all these ideas that were within me, and I needed to break out; that’s where poetry came in. It was incredible too — just like the painting, just like the food, just the top bunk. As soon as I figured it out, it was like I had a cheat code to life. I have a means of communication.”
“Through writing poetry, through these ideas, through this colourful language, I was able to more effectively communicate, in general.”
“I had never experienced this freedom. Art allows you to bypass language, and it allows you to bypass any barriers. Having that realization that this poem is going to take a life of its own, this painting is going to take a life of its own; it’s just imbued with what I think, or my ideals or my feelings, but it’s entirely disconnected from me. And so that realization was empowering, and it was how I got around, and it’s how I got what I needed.”
“That’s another thing too — I learned how to play guitar. I had the time, and I had the energy and I wanted to express myself. I just wanted to learn guitar, learn how to write poems, learn how to paint, which are very valuable to me now and who I am.”
“I’ve seen what life can offer. I knew what it meant to be full every day. I knew what it meant to go to sleep and be a heavy sleeper. And I knew what safety had become. When I had entered Covenant House, I knew that it meant my room was secure. The people I lived with were trustworthy. There was always food, and it was nutritional food. And there was community. I had made so many friends. I’ll never forget that all these experiences that are linked to one central setting — Covenant House.”
Thanks to the support of the community, CHV was able to help Dylan on his journey to become the amazing young man that he is today.
If you would like to donate to CHV and help support youth, like Dylan, on their journeys, we have great news! Our Triple Match Campaign is on now! Bryan and Kim James understand how important it is to meet every youth’s basic needs. It gives us great pleasure to announce that, for the second year in a row, Bryan and Kim will be matching donations in our Triple Match Campaign.
For every dollar that you donate, during this campaign, will be matched to triple your impact. Donate today!