“A guy who is part of the John Howard Society got me into this housing program that offers subsidized rent and services around the clock. He knew that I was having a rough time. I was lucky. I was on the list and got accepted before the place was even built. The program is in an effort to get people off the streets and, as far as I know, nothing like it exists in Canada.”
“I love it here. I like the structure of it because it keeps me in line a little bit too, right? They give you your meds. You get three square meals a day. Each unit has its own kitchenette so you can buy your own food, but they prefer that you eat their food. A chef works here. And nobody can get in without going through the front door, so when you have guests they have to sign in, which I like. There are no group sessions or anything; it’s not a rehab. But you’re quite welcome to talk to any of the staff here. The counsellors are phenomenal. Any time you have an issue, you just talk to them. You can knock on the door anytime, 24/7. And it’s clean as a whistle.”
I almost feel like somebody is going to reach out and grab it all away from me.
“I think that a lot of guys who are here feel the same thing. It’s not going anywhere, but it feels like it might because we are so used to the streets, and to disappointment on the streets. I really can’t believe my luck.”
“What were the cops like in terms of understanding what you were going through on the streets?”
“From my experiences, they don’t give a shit. They’re just doing their job. The last time I had any kind of run in with them was before I went to jail last year and they really showed their pettiness. They were trying to get a big time drug dealer and they charged me with trafficking too, even though they knew I had just done him a favour and wasn’t involved. I am not against police. We need them, and there’s some pretty scary people out there. But it doesn’t mean they have to harass people like they do. They can make people on the streets feel worthless, as if they are personally to blame for their situation. But a lot of us are not there by choice.”
“I am almost finished taking the new drug for Hepatitis C. It’s very expensive, and I feel very privileged to be able to get it.”
“My doctor put my name in because apparently my liver is not in the best of shape at this point. I couldn’t believe how fast it worked; I have no detectable viral load of Hep C right now.”
A lot of people say, ‘Oh geez Steve, you look so much better!’ Because I was really that close to death’s door.
“I have seen a change in most people who move here. They start looking healthier.”
“They have a policy of zero tolerance as far as drugs being sold in the building. It’s needed to bring people back from the whole jail and street mentality. And it works, if people want it to work.”
“Some of the guys here, they’re not used to having a place to live. They’re so used to chronic homelessness and they leave things in a mess. They have to be taught a little bit, I think. I’ve got no use for that because the reality is that I was given a major opportunity here. And I am very grateful.”
“How is it different from living in a homeless shelter?”
“Well, first of all, it’s living quarters. Shelters are not living quarters, they are very temporary. This is permanent, and each person has their own unit. In a shelter, you might get a room on one side, but anybody can walk in whenever they want. There’s no lock on the door. Here, you have got lots of privacy.”
“It is hard to abstain from drugs at a shelter. You’ve got a lot of people out front hustling the street and they want you to buy their dope. It’s very hard to abstain when it’s blatantly right in front of you. It’s all a big hustle, you know what I mean?”
It seems like everyone around you is involved – there are those who want it and those who have it and those who will get it for you.
“Abstaining in that situation is hard. But here, it’s not hard at all.”
“I can tell you honestly that I love it at this place. I think it’s been a total godsend. I like the structure, which I didn’t think I would like. But I do.”