All You Need Is Home: A Story of Finding Place & Purpose
Over 9,200 individuals are homeless in Toronto. Each and every one of them has a unique story of how they became homeless. And though the details might be different, they all hope for the same ending: finding a place to call home.
This is a story about someone who walked through the door of our Transitional Housing Program.
I don’t share my past with anyone
If you met Mack, you’d see a senior man in a wheelchair. His legs don’t work too well for him anymore and he’s always struggling with pain. He’s got plates and pins and severe arthritis. He slept outdoors for almost 20 years… on heating grates, in parks and doorways, on concrete slab and in ravines. He has asthma from breathing the discharge air from heating grates.
But, you might not guess what he’s survived through when you first meet him. He’s energetic and talkative. He used to work in the trades as a painter and then experienced a back injury that put him in hospital for six months. After that, he ended up on the street.
However, Mack would never want you to feel sorry for him. He’s proud, defiant even. He bears the burden of his past in silence and looks only to the present and future. He says, “I don’t share my past, not even with my closest friend. I tell him, ‘You’re my best friend, but don’t ask me about the past, because I won’t tell you.’” He grew up down East in Nova Scotia. From a very early age, he was tossed around from foster home to foster home. The only memory of his past he ever shared with Fred Victor staff was one of terrible abuse.
Mack has no contact at all with his biological family. He says, “I was born on the wrong side of the law but I’ve been out of trouble for a long time. The family I have are street family and I keep in touch with them. I know people all over the city. I was told how to survive by people on the street. They taught me everything, where to go and where not go to be safe.”
I can have a shower whenever I want
When he first arrived at Fred Victor door, he was really a mess. His hand was broken, and he needed a whole lot of medical attention and monitoring. He was hospitalized right away.
It’s hard work making the transition from the street to a home. Says Mack as he sits in his newly-acquired, clean, freshly painted bachelor apartment: “I’d been used to the street for so long, I couldn’t keep an apartment. Living outside, my main objective per day was to survive. Every day I woke up, I thanked the Lord, because I was alive. And I’d take it from there.”
One of the things that completely appealed to Mack about getting a home of his own was that he could have a shower whenever he wanted one, could clean his clothes, and sleep under a roof.
Although he uses a wheelchair and walker, Mack takes as his self-assigned responsibility a patch of land outdoors adjacent to his apartment. He adopted that patch of earth, cleared it of garbage and proudly shows it off out his apartment window to anyone who visits. The fact is, it’s a 12 by 20 foot stretch of bare, trodden-down soil. But, it is a source of purpose in Mack’s life. His life now, as it is, is enough.
I’m not going back to the street
He muses: “I hear about people going through flash floods, hurricanes, you name it, and I hope it gets better for them. I look at it that, I got a home, and cats; I’m doing OK. I’m not going back to the street no more, I’ve had it with that. I’m still here, and I can do it.”
Now, Mack sees his role as a person who can help others survive the streets. If someone shows up at his new place and needs a shower, an overnight and a meal, Mack makes sure they have them. He takes it as normal that anyone who has a stove uses it and cooks for themself and their guest, (preferably pork chops). His attitude to another’s need is straightforward and generous.
Mack is one person. There are thousands of people in Toronto not that much different than he is. They are aging, living with advanced chronic illnesses with nowhere to call home.