Shane Patmore is trying to engineer a better world.
The 41-year-old homeless man drew praise for his architectural ingenuity this week, as thousands read an Abbotsford News story describing a foot bridge he built using shopping carts, pallets, plywood, carpet and a small set of metal stairs.
Patmore explains that it’s the second bridge he has built over the creek under the Highway 1 overpass near Vedder Way. But the original design didn’t cut it, he told The News Friday.
“It was much lower to the water and it was a couple pallets in the water – some wood going this way, wood going that way – and you’d have to tiptoe across and it was wobbly,” he says. “Some people had fallen in and I didn’t like getting wet myself, so I thought this would be more structurally sound.”
Patmore set out to design a better bridge and found the perfect material right in front of him. The bushes around him were full of abandoned shopping carts. He says he didn’t steal a single cart of the 10 or so used in the bridge. He didn’t have to.
“Shopping carts allow water to pass through; the water level can come up when it rains and [the bridge will] still stay structurally sound. It’s safe for everybody – if people are going to use it, it’s going to be safe.”
And people do use it. Patmore says it makes life much easier for homeless men and women who come and go between the Lookout Shelter on Riverside Road and both Vedder Way and Lonzo Road on the other side. It saves at least 10 minutes over walking the long way around down the road, he says.
But it’s not just Abbotsford’s homeless population coming and going across the bridge. Patmore says he sees a group of men cross the bridge every morning and afternoon as they walk to and from work – hard hats on and lunch pails in hand. He’s seen cops, firefighters and paramedics use the sturdy shopping cart structure.
Abbotsford police officer Const. Pat Kelly told The News earlier this week that the Ministry of Transportation has been informed of the bridge and he anticipates they’ll dismantle it. Patmore says he hopes that doesn’t happen and its removal could pose a safety risk.
“If somebody is overdosing or something, this is an easy accessible thing for people to obtain a response,” he says. “Somebody might need to run across here to get to Walmart to use a phone or something.”
Patmore hasn’t restricted his industrious energy to bridge building. He’s also taken it upon himself to build five separate camps in nearby bushes.
“They’re all built by me and utilized by people that are homeless, because not everybody has the time or can do that,” he says. “And I leave a note for them to leave the camps as they found them, but please use them and if you go, if you don’t need them anymore, just leave it as you found it.
“That way I can try to build a clean area where people are together.”
Patmore says he spends hour upon hour each week cleaning garbage from the area under the bridge and around other homeless encampments in Abbotsford. An added feature of the shopping cart bridge is it catches garbage floating down the creek, making it easier to collect and carry away, he says.
“It’s important because I’m trying to give an image as well to the homeless that we can be clean, that we can care when we have nothing,” he says. “If we can try and be better ourselves and then maybe things will turn and change for us too.”
Patmore says he has been homeless for seven months, ever since the home he was living in caught fire, destroying his collection of 1,700 sports jerseys and putting him out on the street.
“I lost everything I had. I’m 41 years old and I’m on the streets since my house burned down … and now I’m forced onto the street because of that fire and now I’m part of that fighting community to get back into a house.
“It’s not easy.”
The Gladys Avenue home went up in flames on Jan. 10. The abandoned home, taken over by squatters, was the site of multiple arrests and drug overdoses over the years. It was condemned following the fire.
But Patmore says it was a welcoming home for those who had no other. He says he and other occupants would often welcome people in when there was no room at the Salvation Army shelter next door.
“Police will label that house as something else, it was a good house, it was good for people. We helped a lot of people there,” Patmore says.
Patmore lives in a camp of his own, not far from his bridge. He hopes to find a new home but says it’s impossible to find a place to rent with the $375 monthly shelter allowance that would kick in with his welfare checks once he finds a place. For now, he tries to get by on the $200 he receives each month.
He also says it’s hard to find employment while living on the streets.
“It’s not that I don’t want to work, it’s not that I can’t work, because I can and I love to work.”
The evidence of this, he says, is in the hours of work he’s put in trying to make life a little easier for homeless men and women in Abbotsford.
“I can do the work, it’s a no-brainer but who’s going to take me?”