World Homeless Day 2019
Every story of homelessness is unique. There are many reasons why people become or stay homeless: addiction, disability, incarceration, physical abuse, mental breakdown, poverty, to name just a few. But everyone who experiences homelessness has one thing in common – they all want a safe place to call home.
For 125 years, it has been our mission to help people on that journey. On World Homeless Day, we share the stories of Maya, Julian, Dorothea and Terrance – four people who came to Fred Victor, overcame the challenges they faced, and rebuilt their lives. Through their stories, we see the change that is possible as we continue our work to end homelessness in Toronto.
We moved to Toronto when I was seven. From seven years of age to 14 my father sexually abused me. He was also really abusive to my mother. We were in and out of shelters a lot, so I never got to finish school.
I ran away to escape all that, but then on the street, I just kind of gave myself away. I started selling sex as a way to get by. Soon I was a prostitute, addicted to heroin. I was homeless for more than seven years. By 22 I had had four children. I was pretty screwed up… but I knew I wanted something better for my kids and I gave them up for adoption.
After three years on heroin, I stopped on my own. I’ve been clean for more than nine years. I moved into Fred Victor’s Housing on St Patrick’s Day and that’s when my luck changed.
I started seeing a support worker. My worker was the coolest. She showed me how to get a backbone. I’ve always been bold, but I never was able to stick up for myself, she helped me stand on my own.
I go to school now and I am training to be an assistant cook. I thought school would be a drag, but I look forward to getting up each morning and going to school. I have a part-time job now in a kitchen in a social service agency. I have my own bachelor apartment. I’ve grown up. I believe in myself more. I was a prostitute and a heroin addict. Today I am student. Tomorrow I am going to be a chef.
You can get used to being broke, but you never get used to being invisible. When I was on the street it was like I didn’t exist. Like I didn’t matter.
I was vice president of sales in a courier company in Montreal. I had a wonderful life – a beautiful home, a wife and three children. I had it all. My career ended when, without warning, I had a brain aneurysm. I was in a coma for 45 days. When I awoke, I couldn’t speak and I could barely walk. I had no idea where I was or what had happened.
It was terrifying. I was in therapy for a year. They tell me I’ve made a good recovery. I learned to walk again and learned to speak. But my memory still fails me. The years after my illness were extremely difficult for me and for my wife. Two years after the aneurysm she told me that she did not love me anymore and that she wanted me to leave.
I fell apart. I had nowhere to stay. I hit rock bottom. I wasn’t working and my biggest fear was that someone would see me like this, one of my kids’ friends or their parents. I had to get away, so I moved to Toronto
I came to the drop-in off and on. One of the staff saw my state and helped me get a room in housing for seniors. The apartment is shared with three others, and it is rent geared to income. I also got help getting disability support. It’s not a lot, but enough for me to live on.
Being housed gave me back my self-respect, it gave me stability and I feel like a human being again.
I was in my mid-60s when I used to sleep at City Hall. There were people all around; some had cardboard boxes. I had sleeping bags and blankets. I carried everything on my back. I had a little red guitar. I’d play it and sing few songs, just for myself, not for anyone really. I mind my own business. I’m basically a loner.
I had been living at a Housing and one day the sheriff came to the door and said I had 15 minutes to get out, and 48 hours to find storage for my stuff. People kept telling me that I didn’t have to pay rent that my rent was covered and I believed them.
Now I sometimes ask myself, “What was the matter with you?” Everyone should know to check priorities and know when things are happening for real. I was staying at Fred Victor’s Women’s Hostel. One morning, I got up and I walked over to Fred Victor Housing and I said, “Do you have a room to rent?”, and he said, “Yes!” He showed it to me and I took it right away.
Now, I’m solid. My goal is to keep my feet on the ground. I was thinking of getting a cat.
I had my first drink when I was six or seven.
My parents split up when I was very young. I was in and out of foster care. It was pretty rough. I’ve blocked a lot out, but I remember I was pretty messed up. As a kid I would cut myself. I have more than a hundred scars on my forearms .To me, it felt good, like I was releasing something bad from inside me.
I quit high school and got a job in shipping and receiving. I was making good money and I could afford to drink. Sometimes I’d be drunk by two or three in the afternoon. Drinking started getting in the way. I was blacking out at work, and I got in trouble with the law, petty stuff to help support my habits. It was a downward spiral.
When I first came to Fred Victor Centre, I was homeless. I was sleeping in parks and on rooftops. At first I just came to the Drop In. I used the restaurant and I remember when I was really down and out, the manager would give me food.
The Photography Group gave me something positive to focus on. Developing pictures requires patience, but if you stick with it, you can see the product of your labours.
I was just starting to get myself together, when I was attacked. I was beaten almost to death. The beating caused permanent brain injury. I have trouble with my short-term memory and sometimes I struggle to express myself. Today, my outlook has changed, I am not sure if it was the attack or maybe just knowing myself and what’s important. I still have a lot of anger and depression, but I seem to be able to make better choices.
Fred Victor Centre has come to feel like my family. We have all experienced homelessness and we can relate to one another. Everyone is welcome.
I still struggle with my brain injury and addiction, but I am managing. I have been able to maintain an apartment for more than two years. I am a much better person than I was.