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TJ Walker's raspy voice is difficult to make out over the sounds of the SkyTrain passing overhead and the constant traffic manoeuvring around him.

But as the slight man shuffles from his makeshift flower display at the corner of Expo Boulevard and Carrall Street to the curb, extending a dozen roses out to anyone who glances his way, his message is clear.

"Flowers for food?" TJ, as he prefers to be called, asks a pedestrian obviously trying to get out of the rain.

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"I don't have a girlfriend," the man shrugs.

"Well, not if you don't give her flowers."

The man smiles, but walks off.

But for every 15 people that walk or drive by the man with the heaps of roses and carnations near GM Place, one usually stops and buys, he said. And with those sales, TJ last month was able to get his first home after 11 years on the streets.

Business wasn't always so brisk for TJ, who has been selling flowers on the street for five years.

At first, the only flowers he could find were the ones he and a volunteer weeded out of a nearby community garden. The wilted fistfuls didn't attract much attention, let alone cash.

But he continued to sell flowers, he said, because "what else can you give someone and always get a smile?"

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Then one day, two years ago, a man in a Honda Civic stopped to ask, "How much?"

"Whatever you're happy to pay," TJ said.

The man, Marrett Green, a local businessman and homeless activist, said he was inspired by TJ's entrepreneurship.

"My heart just immediately went out to him because he's trying to do something with himself. So I thought if there's any way I could help him, I would," Mr. Green said.

It took dozens of phone calls, and a little begging of his own, he said, before he got his first bite.

Make Scents, a Vancouver-area flower distributor, agreed to help Mr. Green turn nothing into something. From that point on, other distributors agreed to do the same, and Flowers for Food blossomed.

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The concept was simple.

Every day, heaps of flowers arrive at distributors' warehouses across the country. The flowers are already cut, arranged in a sheet of corrugated cardboard and wrapped in plastic.

But sometimes petals get damaged, or bouquets aren't quite good enough for retailers to sell. So they are hauled off to a landfill. It's the same for bouquets returned to distributors when retailers aren't able to sell the flowers after a few days.

Instead of throwing them out, Make Scents sets the flowers aside on a cart every week at no measurable cost to the company, sales manager Trevor Punshon said.

Every Friday, a volunteer from Flowers for Food picks them up and distributes them to homeless people to sell.

Mr. Green, who is hoping to expand the Flowers for Food program across the country, said there is potential to give those like TJ a chance.

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"The resources are there. We have millions of tonnes of flowers going to the landfill every year," Mr. Green said.

Back at the corner of Expo and Carrall, scurrying between the flowers he has sorted by kind, colour and volume, TJ talks about his personal transformation over the past two years.

"I've gone from a person who was lost and unhappy and very miserable, a drug addict, I never ate. I was dirty. I didn't talk to people. And now it's turned me right around," he said.

"I'm proud to be able to walk out and look half-decent now. I'm not walking around with three days growth on my face and my hair a mess. It feels good to take a shower every morning and lay out my freshly pressed clothes. It means so much, the little things."

He's been drug-free for years and expects the same of anyone who he helps get involved in the flower program.

"Keep the drugs. I'm on a natural high. Meeting new people every day, talking to them ..." he trails off.

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Among those people is a businessman who's been buying flowers from TJ for months.

"The first time I saw him, he had just a clutch of daffodils in his hands at 11 o'clock at night and he was freezing," said the man, who did not want to be identified. "So I went around the corner, blinked my lights. I said I didn't want the flowers [then] but I said I would be back on Friday. I've been coming back every Friday since."

Thanks to this man and other Vancouverites, TJ said, he's changed his life and knows its possible for others to do the same.

"I'm somebody now. I'm not just some person lying in the back alleys, sitting there putting a needle in my arm. ... I can be honest to myself and other people."

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