From the streets, August 16

The welfare system seems to be designed not to help you in your time of need, but rather to punish you for the mistakes you may have made.

My analogy is that I was quite a few rungs up that proverbial ladder, with a promising job and a place to live and food in my belly. Through various circumstances I slipped off and fell down a few rungs on the ladder, eventually falling off the ladder onto the ground, laying in my filthy bed at the Mission in oppressive heat and I knew I had hit rock bottom. But I was wrong. OW called them last thing Friday night and told them I could not stay there either. It’s as though I’m on the ground, trying to get to my feet, and OW is there, cowering over me, punching me back down every time I try to get up.

If there is one lesson you learn from being homeless it is to never take what you have for granted. After being denied a bed at both the Centre of Hope and the Mission; sleeping on a friend’s office floor because I was too terrified to sleep in a park, I landed at the Unity Project. The wonderful, caring people there made a phone call and managed to speak to someone with compassion at OW, a rarity, and they agreed to let me stay, at least until the end of the month. Throughout all this horrible ordeal I was also going through a series of job interviews with a local retailer. It was incredibly hard to buck up and put on my game face with them through the interviews, but I managed to get the job, albeit temporary part-time for now. If OW wasn’t just going to deduct whatever I make it would help me to get back on my feet, but at least it’s something.  I had no choice but to go out and buy safety shoes with my last dollar for my first shift on Sunday, but OW has me on suspension and hasn’t reimbursed me for them.

I have registered for emergency housing, but have heard nothing. Apparently, even if you are homeless, it can take up to a month at the minimum. Without a permanent address OW will not help you. How do you find a place in this very expensive town when you have no money for a deposit or to pay rent? The fact that you are working and doing your very best to get off the system doesn’t seem to register with anyone. It should be a requirement to work for OW that you surrender everything you have and spend a week on the streets, fending for yourself. If you make it through the ordeal, then and only then do you get the government job. At least you would understand what we are dealing with every day and maybe show some compassion.

And thank God, literally, for the fact that the churches in London feed the homeless and the hungry. Without them you would be stepping over the dead bodies of people who have starved to death. These soup kitchens are staffed by very caring people who understand our plight and do more than their fair share to keep us alive.

Then there’s the guy who sets up his barbeque every night downtown and cooks up hotdogs for anyone who lines up. No inquisition. No judgment. Just food for the soul. Thank you, kind sir!

Would you believe it gets worse?

If you wonder why there are so many homeless people, consider my situation. After the fiasco with the Salvation Army Centre of Hope, where they kicked me out because they screwed up, costing me a 42 day stay, they sent me to the Mission men’s shelter. It was now after August 1st, so they said I could stay there for the 42 days. Although not the best place in the world, at least I had a bed, meals and a place to shower. There was a tiny glimmer of hope. Continue reading

Here’s “one for the books”.

I called the Centre of Hope because I had nowhere to stay and no idea how they worked. I told the person who answered the phone that I had nowhere to stay, couldn’t find a place and that I was on Ontario Works and would be sleeping my car. He told me to come right down.

When I gave them all the information they asked for, they promptly showed me to my dorm and gave me the cook’s tour. I had no idea if or how I paid for this, but I thought it best not to ask the staff, deciding to ask someone staying there instead.

The very next morning there was a note on my bed telling me to speak to the office “immediately”. I was informed that, because I was on Ontario Works I could not stay there and was to leave. After much hand-ringing and discussions among staff, they agreed to let me pay for two nights and stay until Tuesday morning – today.

Last night I spoke with one of the only truly kind staff, who told me the problem was they should have told me not to come until August 1st. Had I done that I could have stayed for free for 42 days before I had to start paying. She told me to speak to the manager “first thing in the morning” because I had been misinformed and they might be able to back-date things and let me stay. I had a tiny glimmer of hope.

I went down to the front desk before eight to tell them I needed to speak to Stacey, the manager. I waited patiently in the lobby for almost three hours, but they finally told me to go and speak to the guy I could have seen at eight o’clock. He agreed that I had been “misinformed” by the staff and said that he would do what he could for me to see if they could correct their mistake. An hour or so later he called to tell me to get my stuff out. There was nothing he or anyone else could do. I asked him again if he agreed that they had made the error, and that this had cost me staying there for 42 days, something that would have allowed me to get back on my feet, eat, and find a job and a new place to live. He agreed, but said his hands were tied.

If you have never been in a position like mine in your life, well, good for you. You never want to be. But, if you have, you will know all too well what a huge difference the way this has turned out means to me. I have gone from that tiny glimmer of hope to total despair, all because I was “misinformed”.

The Salvation Army would tell you they are a charitable organization. I didn’t see it. .

How much can one man take?

When you fall down that ladder, one rung at a time, and finally slip off the bottom rung and fall on the ground, you believe, bad as it is, that you have finally hit rock bottom. There’s nowhere left to go, right?

My journey to the bottom has been full of challenges, some admittedly of my own doing, and others just plain bad luck. When I offered safe haven to the Panamanian family who were going to be out on the street for two weeks, how did I know it would end up taking me two weeks to get them out after calling the police, or that they would rip me off for everything I owned, leaving me virtually penniless in a foreign country? They never even paid me a cent of the eight hundred or so dollars I spent to feed their huge family. They left me with no choice but to return to Canada and, had it not been for the kind offer of a roof over my head from my cousin in Toronto, I have no idea what I could have done.

Life is what happens while you are making other plans, they say. By pure chance I met a woman on the internet who lived in London. We fell hopelessly in love, at least I thought so, and I ended up moving to London to be with her. Circumstances prevented us from living together, which I guess turned out to be the right thing. A few months into what I felt was the best relationship I had ever had in my life, and she spent the weekend with another man, who has now moved in with her, and I’m toast.

Thankfully a colleague had got me a job working for a call centre and this kept me alive for a few months at least. There were plans for another show in Calgary and, for a time, I was on my way to Calgary, which suited me just fine, as it got me out of here, but it all fell through and I was out of work. I spent all day, every day, doing my best to find a job, any job. Tim Horton’s, factory work, any kind of sales job, you name it. I was lucky enough to be selected from over three hundred candidates to get the job as Regional Manager for a wireless security company. They told me they had all kinds of “hot leads” for London and all I had to do was follow them up and close them. It was straight commission, but I was confident in the product and my abilities to close and I seized the opportunity like a pit-bull. Despite my efforts, The truth was they had no leads, no clients who had systems and no prospects of any kind.

I soon discovered that the market in London is like no other. Business here has no morals of any kind and no respect for your time and effort. Among many, many prospects was a recycling company who had four locations around London. I spent two full days visiting each location, taking pictures, drafting drawings, meeting with each location manager and preparing the detailed quote. I presented the quote and answered all of their questions. The final statement from the VP was they didn’t know if they would start with two locations, or go for all four. Needless to say, as someone who had spent his whole life in sales, I know a closing statement when I hear one. Keep in mind that this represented about a seven thousand dollar commission, which would change my whole life.

I gave it a few days for them to discuss it and then started following up with emails and phone calls. Nothing. No response. Days went by, then weeks and I could not figure out what I had done wrong, for the life of me. Finally I had our Head Office call and they told them the decision would be delayed for a month or two. Why they couldn’t tell me I will never know.

It was the same story with other prospects. I cold called. I emailed. I phoned. Our Marketing Department sent out a five hundred piece mailer to targeted accounts, a piece that had gotten a good response in other areas and closed some deals. London? Not one response. Our telemarketing department, in two months of calling, got one appointment, which turned out to be a total waste of time. After driving way out of town and spending an hour with the guy, he said he was “just curious” and had no need for a system right now. It was all becoming more and more hopeless.

At the same time I knew I was just about out of money. I hadn’t paid the rent, so I volunteered to do a bunch of work my landlady needed done. I was hoping to work off the rent I owed and, although I freely admit I should have got a firm agreement in place before starting all the work, I assumed she would offer, given that I did about fifty hours of work, completely reorganizing her disaster of a garage, repairing the railings around her above ground pool, building a bookcase unit and some small stuff. When the rent was done she didn’t offer me a dollar, in fact, I had spent some money on supplies and she calculated the rent right to the dollar.

Over the next couple of weeks she made my life a living hell. I was afraid to even run into her because she took every opportunity to yell at me and treat me like you know what. She shut the air-conditioning off on me, at a time when we have been suffering through a horrible heat wave.  My place was the loft of the house, poorly insulated and not vented properly, so it was about forty degrees up there. I couldn’t work or sleep, which took its toll on me, this on top of not having my diabetic medications for six weeks. She impounded my bike and carrier, so I lost my only form of recreation and she became more threatening about what she would do if I didn’t come up with the rent for August as well. I was a mess.

When she told me she was going out of town for a couple of days I realized it was an opportunity to escape. I had nowhere to go, but I just prayed I would find somewhere. I knew I would crack if I didn’t get out of there fast. I took most of my stuff to my friend’s business and started running all over town looking for something. With all the students for Fanshawe college and the University, this is a crazy place to find anything decent. If I were a young female student, no problem, but there is nothing for an older man.. The places I looked at were disgusting and too expensive anyway.

With nowhere to go I ended up at the Salvation Army Centre of Hope. Having never been in a place like this before, I had no idea what to expect. After a lengthy check-in process, they showed me to my dorm room, shared with four other guys. Everything is pretty sparse, like one shower for about fifty guys on the floor and the blanket they give you is paper thin and the bed is like sleeping on cardboard, but it’s a roof over your head. Also, thankfully, cool, in fact, sometimes downright cold. There’s a TV room, but you can only watch what the first person in the room watches. No fun for a channel flicker like me.

Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Well, when they checked me in they asked me if I was on Ontario Works, which I am. They asked for my Health card, which they told me covered two nights. I had no idea what happened after that, but my brain couldn’t handle anything more right then, so I figured someone would tell me later. They kick you out of the place during the day, which is challenging enough now. No idea what you do in the winter. When I came back to my dorm there was a note on my bed to speak to the office “immediately”. They informed me that I had to pay $15 a night and I could pay in the morning. The first thing you have to do each morning is sign the bed sheet indicating you will be there for another night. If you don’t they give up your bed, cut your lock off if you have one and donate your “stuff” to charity. Nice. In the morning my name was not on the list and panic set in.

I went down and paid, then brought the receipt back to the floor office. When I handed the receipt to him he immediately told me I could not stay. I carefully explained what I had been told and, after writing a novel on their computer, he told me he would “do me a favor” and let me stay until Tuesday, but then I had to be out. We left it that I would speak to my Ontario Works case worker on Tuesday and take it from there. I have no idea what else to do. I looked at another place, but now I don’t have enough money to pay the rent he wants anyway. It’s all more than one man can take. I have never been so low in all my life or felt so helpless.

They kicked me out of the shelter today. Can’t win.