Decklan is 30 and has been on the street pretty much since he left his Middletown foster home at age 20. He doesn’t technically fit the criteria for inclusion in the research as he was raised primarily in Middletown, not rurally, but he offers a clear description of limitations of services to homeless or high-needs people in rural areas. He came into child welfare care at five and has been plagued with mental illness his whole life. He presents as exuberant and positive, and a knowledgeable and pro-active member of his street community. (E.g., he was on site the next day pressing with the manager for a clean-up of drug paraphernalia in the shower area.) He offers an interesting description of street life, and of the interventions that are moving him toward having housing.
FM: Okay, would you start with a bit of detail about where you were raised, who was in your family, what they did for a living, etc.
I grew up in a group home in Middletown from age five until I was 20.
FM: Okay, and when did you live in rural Middletown?
I was 22 when I lived in Westville.
FM: So how we’ll proceed, I think, is you leaving the group home, CAS care and the moves you made from then, and why and that stuff. And we’ll get background information along the way as it’s relevant to your story. And I’m going to number each of the moves, unless that gets too crazy.
Now you’re going to make me go back, oh my God.
FM: The focus is on how you made decisions to move. So start with when you left the group home.
After I left the group home, how many times did I move? Has to be over 40 times.
FM: So let’s get some background. You were in the group from age 5, the same group home?
Same foster mom, same foster dad, same foster brothers and sisters.
FM: But you left – maybe ran away?
I ran away. And came to Toronto and been in Toronto ever since. Which is why there aren’t too many things in [the rural area around Middletown] or Middletown for juvies. For adults, yes.
FM: Okay, so you didn’t come straight to Toronto, you -
I travelled around for a bit, then came here.
FM: Okay, so go back in history and trace the pathway from the group home in Middletown to all those other places in the country, before you came here.
I stayed in Middletown most of my time, Eastville, Westville, the little town just outside of Westville, out near the Indian reserve.
FM: Okay, go back to the day that you left the group home for the last time.
Last time was on my birthday, my 20th birthday, before I ran away, so Feb 2, and I haven’t been back since.
FM: So where did you go immediately upon leaving the group home?
The youth shelter [in Middletown].
FM: And how long there?
A week, 2 weeks, till my foster parents showed up and then I ran away again. And ever since I’ve been staying outside.
FM: It’s unusual for young people to stay in their foster placement until they’re 20. Usually 18 is the age.
I had an extended care that went until I was 20.
FM: Was that for you to finish school?
FM: And did you?
FM: Where did you go to, specifically, and why, when you left [the youth shelter]?
Where did I go specifically? I just travelled around, east coast, west coast, I’ve been all over.
FM: So, based on this information, you don’t really meet the criteria for this research group, because the participants are youth who spent most of their childhood in rural parts of the three counties, and it sounds like you spent a bit of your young adulthood in the southern part of Farm County. However, there could be some value in exploring how you made the decisions to move from place to place, particularly in that geography, and what assistance you used. Can we go there?
FM: Okay, so – well actually, the question that comes to my mind is how you financed this coast to coast travel?
I’m on ODSP so I get my street allowance.
FM: But usually, you have to have an address.
No, the whole cheque on ODSP is $1047 but if you live on the street you get $590.
FM: And where do you pick it up?
Yonge and Gerrard at ODSP office.
FM: So have been on the street since you left CAS?
FM: And have you ever wanted another option?
I’m on Ontario Housing waiting list here in Toronto.
FM: And what would that get you, and when?
I just did my zoning last week, so I’m just waiting for a phone call saying we’ve got you your house, we’ve got you your apartment, we’ve got you your room.
FM: Which is it likely to be?
Probably a room because I’m not a couple, or maybe a bachelor because I’ve got my dog. I’d rather a room or a bachelor.
FM: Why do you want to have a roof over your head now, when you’ve been on the street for 10 years?
The reason why is in the City of Toronto now, if you get caught by the cops sleeping anywhere, on a bench, you get a ticket. And the maximum ticket you can get is $170. And you can only get 2 of those, and if you don’t pay them, there’s a warrant for your arrest and you go to jail.
FM: How long has that been the situation?
I’m not too sure, I think within the last couple years.
FM: How do you think you’ll find living in your own place?
It’s gonna be different.
FM: How so? What do you think you will find difficult?
Just walking into my own place would be different because I’m not used to it any more, I’m used to being outside, not used to giving the landlord money.
(Interruption while he goes to ensure that his dog, who he left outside the agency, is okay.)
He’s a Chinese Aquita.
FM: How long have you had him?
I’ve had him for 5 years.
FM: So he’s your family?
Yes. He’s my little boy.
FM: Does that limit where you can stay?
Oh yeah, there’s one shelter in Toronto that allows a person with an animal, but I woulda gone there but there was a family with 12 puppies and the mother and father, so that moved me down the list.
FM: So do you mostly live in shelters, or sleep rough?
I sleep rough.
FM: And have you had any involvement with the education system or with work?
No. I got my education but because of my mental illnesses a lot of jobs won’t take me.
FM: Do you some idea about what kind of work you would like to do?
I would rather do a PSW (personal support worker); I like working with people, so…
FM: Do you think when you get a permanent place, that might be possible?
FM: Who do you talk to about things of this sort, plans for the future?
I talk to [a worker] which works here, [two other workers].
FM: All workers with [this homelessness agency]?
FM: And how are they helpful?
They’ve gotten a lot of stuff done for me, my ODSP, my housing. Some of them are good here, some of them are rotten. Some of them don’t know what we go through.
FM: Is that the dividing line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ workers, that they know what you’ve gone through?
FM: Do you mean on the streets, or whatever it was in life that drove you to the streets?
I think it’s all around.
FM: So being sensitive to you as a person, being interested, caring?? That stuff?
FM: How old were you when you received diagnosis for mental illness? You say on your app that you are diagnosed bi-polar, ADHD, and mood disorder. When did you get those diagnoses?
I was 5 when I was diagnosed with it. I’ve lived with it for a lot of years.
FM: So did you have special schooling?
FM: See counselors?
FM: On meds?
FM: Did any of that make a difference?
I don’t know how to answer that one. In a way yes, in a way no.
FM: What about your foster family?
I love them to pieces. I love my mom, I love my dad, God rest his soul.
FM: Do you ever see them?
Yes. I don’t see my dad because my dad is up in heaven, but…
FM: And what do they think about your current situation?
They love me for who I am and what I am, they take me for me. My mom chews down on me all the time, but she says it’s my life.
FM: So you would consider Middletown your home town, and them your family? Why are you here rather than there?
There’s more of an organization for people with my illnesses here than there is in Farm County. I didn’t like the doctors in Middletown, so I came here and got a doctor who is willing to listen, willing to change my meds if they’re not working. Better organizations for homeless people.
FM: What services do you use here?
I use [this agency], (names another and expands when I look puzzled and don’t know how to spell it) – it’s for people with a mental disorder, bipolar, schizophrenia, Tourette’s, body spasms, anything with a mental disorder.
FM: And what does it do, [that agency]?
They help us find housing, doctors. Like there’s a doctor that comes to you. I don’t have to go to my doctor, I can sit on the side of the street, call my worker and the doctor comes to see me, gives me the prescription. If I don’t want to get the prescription, say fax it over to the drug store and he does. There’s a dental bus that’s here at Toronto. A nurse bus that comes around with a doctor on it. Like there’s so much more of an outburst here than in Farm County. Like there’s so many things here that aren’t in Middletown.
FM: Is there any downside to being in the big city?
There is. If you’re a city boy, you’re used to the city. If you’re a country boy, you’re used to the fresh air, the water, seeing the countryside, cows, birds.
FM: Other than the landscape, any down side?
FM: Do you feel less safe or more safe?
I would say it’s a 50-50 there.
FM: Would you say you stuck out a bit in Middletown?
Yeah, because I got 100-pound knapsack. Especially in a country town, everybody knows everyone.
FM: But some of your time you spent in the county, like Westville and Eastville – what was your thinking going there?
I just liked a smaller town.
FM: Did you know anybody there?
My ex-girlfriend, her mom, my kids.
FM: Right, I forgot that you said you have a son and a daughter. Talk a bit about that.
My son is two, my daughter is five.
FM: They live with their mom?
FM: In Eastville?
FM: Do you see them?
Every now and then. My ex says I won’t see my kids till I get a place.
FM: Did you live with her?
Yes, I lived with her for three years.
FM: Do you consider that you might get back together?
Never. Never never – and I don’t want to go into that.
FM: So wanting to get a roof over your head here, is that partly about having a relationship with your kids?
FM: When you see them, is it here or in their mom’s home?
FM: Do your foster parents know these kids?
FM: So if you were stably housed, would you hope or expect that your kids would visit you here?
FM: Would they need to be supervised visits?
FM: Would anybody think they should be?
Probably my ex.
FM: And she’d have some say?
FM: I’m still trying to piece together the motivation in your story. And here’s what I’m hearing so far. Raised in foster care, left at age 20, brief stint in a local shelter for youth, hit the road, came back to the country, hooked up with a woman and had 2 children, you’d be about 25 when the first arrived, lived in southern Farm County, on ODSP, needing quite a bit of medical support that may not have been available when you were there – how’m I doing?
FM: Okay, the missing link here is how and why you decided to stop travelling and settle down with this woman. How did that come about?
We were at a house party and one thing led to another and she got pregnant and it led to my first and she thought she could settle me down, and she couldn’t. And we had a open relationship and my son came along.
FM: Often ‘open relationship’ means people are free to be with other people- is that what you meant?
FM: So are you fairly confident that the boy is your son?
Yes, we’ve had DNA tests done on both kids.
FM: Why did you do that?
Because my ex looked at me and said neither of these kids is yours and my foster mom said if you can get a DNA test done, I will pay for it. And that’s what my mom did, she paid for it.
FM: So I’m hearing that you didn’t so much choose to return to your rural area as the wind sorta blew you there.
FM: Okay. So that sort of limits talking about motivation, because I’m hearing you say you mostly go where the winds lead you?
FM: Okay, let me try this: If you could give advice to your younger self, whether or not that younger self would take the advice, what advice would you give?
I would say stay at home and stay with your parents.
FM: Did you ever explore that possibility?
No I didn’t.
FM: Why not?
Never passed my mind. I’ve never had anyone ask me that. So that – I wouldn’t know how to respond.
FM: Let me ask another question that I ask everybody. What do you think is the single most Important Event in your life, that influenced how your story unfolds. Could be something that happened, or something that didn’t happen.
There’s something that I went through in my early years before I went into CAS and that’s something that I try to keep in the back of my head, not in my present. And that caused me to lose trust in everyone so I just said fuck it and ran away.
FM: You came into care when you were five, so you have five probably pretty awful years before you came into care, and then 15 years in care.
FM: So how come 15 good years don’t neutralize five bad years?
It always comes back and haunts me, my five years of bad. It always comes and bites me right in the ass. I think about it months and months and get depressed.
FM: When you were in care, did you get counseling for this?
Yes, I went to [names a place].
FM: But it didn’t work for you?
FM: Sometimes adults have different resources to bring to bear on making sense of what has happened to them. Do you ever consider, or does anyone ever suggest that maybe talking to somebody about–
A lot of people have. I talked to one counselor here, and he’s actually, I’d say he’s one of my best friends. So…
FM: So that helps a bit–
FM: To keep the demons in check?
I try to keep the demons in check all the time but they always come to haunt me. You got the devil on one side and God on the other, each telling you to do something but it’s you who has to choose.
FM: It sounds like a very lonely and challenging life, with some strengths – foster parents who remain connected to you, a dog that is your everyday companion – you said you’ve had him five years, same age as your daughter.
I actually had him a couple of months before my daughter was born. My daughter was born in December and he’s June.
FM: Are you basically fairly – let me ask it this way. Looking forward, how do you think things are going to turn out?
I don’t know. I take it one day at a time. And that’s what I do. If I get housing, I go over and unpack my pack. And if I don’t, I take my pack, find some place to sit, have a cigarette, have a coffee. And go sleep.
FM: Okay. I’m not sure how much I can use your story because you don’t technically fit the criteria for inclusion, but it’s an interesting story and I’d like to keep it in the pack for whatever use it might be, if that’s okay with you.
FM: Anything else you want to add?
Not that I see.
FM: So what’s on the rest of your day?
I have to go get my flipper done.
FM: Your flipper?
Yeah, it’s a tooth thing, it’s a partial plate, they call it a flipper in dental terms.
FM: Okay, so dental work. And?
Take my dog for a walk.
FM: There’s a guy that walks with his dog on my road and the highway that runs through [my home town], and I see him morning and night. And sometimes the dog looks tired, but the guy doesn’t ever.
My dog’s tired after I’m done walking him.
FM: How does he eat?
I buy dog food for him.
FM: So that’s part of what’s in the 100-pound pack?
Yeah. Three sleeping bags, five sheets, clothing, dog treats, dog toys, health card, birth certificate, a fire blanket (I look puzzled) – it’s a grey blanket, thin, feels like tin foil – a tent, hot paws, I don’t remember what else I got in there. Water, juice, coffee, creamer, cereal. I got everything in my bag.
FM: Everything but the proverbial kitchen sink?
Yeah. I do and everyone looks at me and says omg (oh my god).
FM: Is that unusual to carry that much stuff?
No. No. There’s quite a few other people I know whose bag can hit the 100-200-pound mark easily. So mine’s a little one.
FM: Where do you leave it?
I carry it on my back. Mine’s downstairs right now. I don’t leave it nowhere.
FM: Well, that’s an interesting glimpse into the day-to-day life of an experienced street liver.
That’s a nice way to put it. Which it is. Everyone else calls us bums or homeless people.
FM: Does that sting? Or are you past that?
Doesn’t bother me. Doesn’t bother me. I just say God still loves you and I walk away.
FM: While I’m snooping, do you tend to stay in the same place?
Yeah. Because I made a couple friends who are on the police force and they tell me they don’t mind me sleeping there because you’re all blocked in, but you can’t be here from 6:30 in the morning until 8:00 at night. So I say thank you.
FM: And are there other people there too?
FM: You’re the cat that walked alone?
I’d rather be alone.
FM: And do have any difficulties with drug abuse or drinking?
I just smoke pot. I smoke a gram a day, that’s $10/day. So you can do the mathematic from there.
FM: Is that unusual, to just smoke pot?
There’s a lot of potheads out there now. Lots of crackheads. There’s a lot of addicts out there, everything. Everyone has their choice; mine is pot joint.
FM: Okay. That’s it for me. Anything else?