After living in shelters for eight years, Harland was recently placed in a subsidized apartment. He is known as “Cowboy” by his friends, including the inner city health workers who help him get to his appointments.
“I’ve been living in this one room for 14 months almost. Before that, I lived two doors down, eh? That place, it was a crack house, put it that way. Drugs of all kinds. I finally got out of there. Here, I am on the bottom floor because of my legs.”
I have no idea what’s the matter with my legs. They just went.
“I can hardly walk next door to check the mail, that’s how bad it is. That’s why I bought this scooter. Mike, my next door neighbour, he’s got one too. We’re going to be able to go all over the place this summer.”
“Can you drive those things in the winter too?”
“You can if you want to. I’ve seen the women at the homeless shelter are driving these in the wintertime. But I haven’t tried it out yet.”
“You’ll have to put some chains on those tires!”
“Oh no! You turn that thing full blast, you come across the floor about 100 miles an hour! I almost ended up underneath the frigging table there. I am going to be driving like a turtle for a while till I get used to the damn thing.”
“I cook for myself here. I can cook women under the table, to tell you the truth.”
“I started cooking at 14. I make cakes in the microwave. You won’t believe it.”
“You mix it like cookie mix and make it sloppy. Because they dry out, eh? I know how to do pork chops, roast pork in the microwave. You slice them, and there you go!”
“Tell me about the people in the inner city health program.”
“Well, they are a great help.”
“If I’ve got to go some place for an appointment, Kim is there for me. I am waiting for an X-ray of my neck now. But twice the guy never came. So I phoned Kim there the other day, and I said, ‘Kim, it looks like we’ve got to use your private jet to get me to this hospital and land on the roof.’”
“You can’t find better than my doctor or Kimmy or…see, I forget names. I like them all. I met them a long time ago, and I know pretty well all of them there now.”
“But I am independent. I always was. Sometimes people offer to buy me a coffee, but I don’t need their money. I don’t need nothing from them at all. I supply the coffee to some people who live in this building in the morning. The other thing is, I collect movies. My friend Sean brings me movies so I give him seven smokes a movie. I’ve got some classics. I’ve got three Hells Angels movies here, and nobody else has them. They’re from the States and they’re worth money. But I don’t plan to sell them.”
I lived at the homeless shelter for eight years. I had a lot of fun there. I never got bored.
“But I am okay here now too. I am getting old.”
“What led you to become homeless?”
“Divorce. I tried living in my hometown and I started drinking like crazy. I moved to this city and stayed with a friend for a while. There were cops there steady. Crackheads, needle pushers. All the time. And we all got kicked out. So the cops put me and my buddy in the back of the paddy wagon and drove us over to the homeless shelter.”
“I had a whole bunch of girlfriends there. I had respect there. The whole thing. Everybody was taking Cowboy’s picture. I can draw too, I am not good at it but the more I do it, the better I get at it. They even made Christmas cards out of my drawings once.”
“Another time at the shelter, we were collecting pennies for the Children’s Hospital. The staff and people from all over town were bringing the pennies in. They were bringing in box fulls like that, eh? We collected $390 worth. Cowboy had to roll them and roll them and roll them until it was finished. I had a good time though.”
“Have you ever thought of going back to your hometown?”
“No. My brother just died two years ago. My mom died in 95 of cancer, my dad died in 69 with a heart attack. Then my daughter died in 2006. There’s only me – I am the oldest – and my brother Charlie is 56 now. I turn 60 in January. It’s hard to believe my life is over. But I am happy.”
The main thing is, as long as you have a roof over your head and your cupboards are full of food, what else do you need?
“I don’t need a woman. I am so used to being by myself, I don’t need nobody at all.”