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Tyee News

Int'l Prize for Tyee Article

Sean Condon's portrait of Vancouver homeless man's last weeks wins global award.

By David Beers 18 May 2009 | TheTyee.ca

David Beers is editor of The Tyee.

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Paul "Duncan" Geisbrecht, subject of honoured article.

An international award for coverage of homeless issues has gone to Sean Condon for his story published in The Tyee.

Condon's article, "Falling through the Cracks", told the story of Paul "Duncan" Geisbrecht, a homeless man struggling with mental illness and addiction, whose body was found on the shore of Vancouver's Stanley Park.

Condon's piece received the Special Award for External Press: Advocating for the needs and rights of homeless people, given by the International Network of Street Newspapers at its annual meeting last week in Bergen, Norway. The INSP celebrated its 15th anniversary this year and includes 101 street papers in 37 countries on six continents.

"Falling through the Cracks" originally appeared in The Tyee in October, and then in Megaphone, the street newspaper in Vancouver that Condon edits.

Condon's sensitively reported piece traced Paul Geisbrecht's path to being a well-liked homeless man with schizophrenia in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Geisbrecht "was the heart, soul and inspiration for all us down here" said a friend who described himself as a "street brother". But Geisbrecht tragically slipped through the cracks of the social service network. The day he was found mysteriously dead, a social housing room was being prepared for him.

Condon was on hand in Bergen to receive his prize, as well as another award for Best Photograph: Evoking deeper perspectives on poverty and injustice. That prize went to a photograph, published by Megaphone, taken by Ahmad Kavousian. Titled "Functionality," the image shows a hammock ingeniously rigged within a large piece of public art on a Vancouver beach.

The Tyee caught up with Condon before his return to Vancouver, and here's what he had to say...

On how it feels to win:

"It is an immense honour to have won two international street paper awards. There are so many incredible street paper publications around the world, which have been a huge inspiration on Megaphone's work, that to be recognized amongst that group is an incredible honour and actually quite humbling." 

On what the awards say to him:

"The awards tell me that the work that Megaphone has been doing is beginning to have a wider impact. For the last decade, there has been a core of volunteers and vendors in Vancouver who have been selflessly and quietly working away to help homeless and low-income people have an opportunity to become self-sufficient. 

"I have always been so overwhelmed by the support the street paper has gotten in this city. People have volunteered countless hours with the sole goal of giving a voice to the city's voiceless. Organizations like The Tyee have gone above and beyond in offering us their support, without which we would not be where we are. I am glad to have accepted the awards on behalf of everyone who volunteered their work and time to Megaphone." 

On how it feels to be among so many peers at the global street paper conference:

"It is extremely exhilarating to be at the INSP conference. Often, working on a street paper can feel quite isolating, so being amongst my peers is as encouraging as it is inspiring. The INSP is such an empowering and unique organization in the sense that street papers actively work to help each other. There is no competitiveness amongst the members and the bigger papers act as mentors to help the smaller members like ourselves. The goal of street papers around the world is to collaborate and support each other so we can become a stronger organization and end poverty in our countries."

On the message this recognition sends to those struggling against poverty in the Downtown Eastside and elsewhere in Vancouver:

"I believe that the awards tell Vancouver's homeless and the people in the Downtown Eastside that the world is paying attention and is outraged by the poverty that afflicts them. Because Vancouver will be hosting the Olympics in less than a year, there is a heightened sense of curiosity about what is happening in our city and a sense of disgust that such a rich and beautiful city can allow such suffering. 

"I also hope that the awards give Vancouver's homeless community and the Downtown Eastside a sense of pride and courage. They should feel a sense of pride that their stories are having a powerful impact across the world and a sense of courage because people around the world want to hear their stories and want to help them."

Related Tyee stories:

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