Niklaren mentioned at the outset of our meeting that he was 2 days from turning 31, just making it under the wire.  He has been homeless for several years but now is a resident in the transitional housing unit of Toronto Streets to Homes, looking forward to getting help with managing his memory problems and entering post-secondary training in carpentry.  He was labeled as a child with ADHD and probably special needs, but I found him calm, thoughtful and carefully articulate.  He describes in detail how, in several different situations, his vulnerabilities are exploited to methodically exclude him – in his foster home, in school, in employment, in relationships, in the legal system.  He also displays an admirable willingness to forgive and to move forward with optimism.   

FM:  Okay, so let’s start with you telling me a bit about where you were raised, the composition of your family, how they paid the rent, etc.  

I was actually in the foster care system.  I was in a foster home that started off in [a village east of Littletown].  It was four foster kids, two of their own kids and my foster parents.  

FM: And how old were you?

I got into there eight years old.  We stayed there for a couple of years, 2 ½ years, and then we moved to just outside [a village north of Littletown].  My foster mom worked as a special needs care-giver, she helped kids with special needs, and my foster dad worked at [a casino].  He worked nights so I didn’t get to see much of him for the first five-six years.  They had, with the foster kids and the two jobs they had, they brought in quite a bit of money but were quite unwilling to spend it on foster kids.  They spent most of it on their own kids.  

FM: Were you related to any of the other foster kids?

No.  My other sister who went into foster care as well was sent to [a city south of Littletown].  She actually was with a decent foster parent.  I didn’t really get to see her very often.  

FM: Okay, well, I’d ask about your motivation when it came time to leave, but it could be that it wasn’t really your decision –

Well, actually it was.  When I turned 18 I was having a lot of difficulties with my foster parents, and they said You can stay if you want but you have to follow the same rules as everybody else.  And the thing is, the rules I was told to follow were not the same rules as for everybody else.  They treated their real kids different than they treated their foster kids, and the other three foster kids were treated different that me.  Their two real kids were allowed to get away with everything.  They were never punished, they were never scolded.  Their son was a high school drop out.  He got a brand new car for his 18th birthday, pretty much everything he ever wanted.  And their daughter was pregnant at 16, was allowed to go spend nights anywhere she wanted, was not told she had a curfew or anything like that.  The other three foster kids were allowed to smoke or drink, they weren’t allowed to skip school but they were punished, just not as severely as me.   I wasn’t allowed to smoke, I wasn’t allowed to drink.  I was allowed to go to friend’s houses but I had to be home early at night, like six-seven o’clock.  For punishment the few times that I did skip school, I had to sit in a chair for the entire day that I was expelled for skipping, from 8:00 in the morning until 11:00 at night.  I wasn’t allowed to go to bed early, I had to sit in that chair.  

FM: Any idea why you were the particular scape-goat in this family?

I honestly don’t know.  My foster mom did not like me very much.  On several occasions she was very rude to me.  I used to go to visit with my mom once a month up in North Bay.  And one of the times when I came back I was talking about maybe going to live with my mom, and my foster mom said that my mom would not be able to handle me, she didn’t want me.  That was the big thing that stuck in my mind.  

Soon as I turned 18, I got out of the foster home and I went to live in [the nearby village] with a friend.  Her mom pretty much adopted me.  She was a very nice old lady, not really that old…  I stayed there for a year, I guess, and then I moved to Littletown and to Toronto after.  

FM: This friend, was she a romantic friend?

No.   She was too young for me, but we kinda started hanging out, a group of friends in [the village], just after I left the foster home.  And I was homeless there for about a week and her mom offered that I could come and stay there.  

FM: Where was the CAS in this decision?

[laughs]

Children’s Aid were not very helpful in any way, shape or form.  I tried to talk to my worker several times about how I was treated and she said it was normal.  

FM: Do you think by that she meant that you weren’t being beaten or locked in the basement or any awful stuff –

Pretty much.  It wasn’t that I was getting beaten.  At the same time, I don’t think that the way I was treated was any way normal.  

FM: Emotional neglect or social exclusion wasn’t really on the radar then for sure, not a lot more now, but really an important element.  

Yes.  

FM: Okay, so talk about the move from [the village] to Littletown, what was that about?

Well, I actually met a woman.  We started dating and we were planning on getting a place together and moving in.  Things didn’t really work out that well.  About a month after we started dating, she revealed to me that she was pregnant from her last boyfriend.  That didn’t bother me at all, so we continued dating and her mental condition kinda deteriorated after that.  She was very emotional, obviously because she was pregnant.  She tried to commit suicide a couple of times.  I finally confronted her about what was going on, why she was acting this way, and it turns out she was actually cheating on me.  We had a big fight at a party we were at in Lockville, and we broke up.  That’s when I decided there was nothing left for me in Littletown and I decided to go to Toronto.

FM: Why Toronto?

Jobs.  There is absolutely no real work in Littletown.  There’s pretty much nothing out there.  I ended up coming to Toronto and started doing telemarketing; that was my job of choice when I was younger.  

FM: Had you been in the labour market at all?  

What kind of labour market? 

FM: Any kind of work.

Up until that point, I’d had odd jobs working, doing like hot dog stand in the village], I worked in [the grocery store].  No real work.  There really wasn’t much of anything out there.  

FM: Talk about a bit about your education, what kind of student you were, etc.

I was a good student.  I have ADHD and I find doing school work pretty hard, it’s hard for me to concentrate.  I didn’t do many of the assignments I was given, but I aced most of the tests.  That’s how I ended up getting through most of public and high school.  When I got to grade 11, I tried to get into computer programming, that class, and my guidance counselor told me I couldn’t do the class.  I asked Why.  She said, Well, you don’t do your assignments.  I said But I know how to do programming and I’m really good with computers.  And the guidance counselor ended up just giving me a spare, which really upset me, because this is what I wanted to do, this class.  So I just ended up skipping a lot of classes and dropped out.  

FM: So you were what, 17? 

18.  

FM: And did CAS have an opinion?

No  

FM: Let me just clarify.  When you reached 18 and your wardship ended, were you offered Extended Care [financial and casework supported optionally available to Crown Wards, on negotiation, until age 21]?  

I was.  I was actually offered Extended Care at my friend’s place as well, they offered to pay me money.  But I wanted to end any kind of contact that I had with Children’s Aid.  I’d had it with them.  They really did not do anything to help me, to help my situation, and I’d rather live my own life than have to deal with their nonsense.  

FM: [after a silence] Let’s carry on – there’s something but we’ll maybe come to it later, another way…  so Toronto because that’s where there were jobs.  Did you know anybody?  

Yeah, my dad’s side of the family lives in Toronto, but they’re not very helpful.  They didn’t want much to do with me.  As for friends, I had no friends in Toronto.  

FM: Okay, swoop back a bit to deal with birth family.  You were obviously a Crown Ward but your mom had access, monthly sounds like.  Your dad?  

No.  My dad’s side of the family didn’t want to have anything to do with me or my mom.  

FM: And did you want to engage them at all?

Not really.  I visited my grandma on occasion.  She’s a wonderful woman and I love her dearly.  And my uncle, he was living with my grandmother.  But most of my family on my dad’s side are very disturbed.  They’re just of no real interest to me.  

FM: And your mom; how do your understand her situation, how she ‘allowed’ you kids to come into care?

My mother was a wonderful woman, I love her dearly, but she has the mentality of a child.  She really was not a fit mother.  Once I got old enough to take care of myself, going back to live with her would have been fine.  But she’s not mentally retarded or anything like that, she’s just very immature.  She’s currently married to my step-dad and she just found out a little while ago that he’s been cheating on her on a regular basis.  She wants to stay with him, she’s refusing to let him go, basically, and I just don’t understand it.  He was charged with something and she’s his assurity.  She threatened to pull his bail if he left her.  So…  

FM: So that would be complicated, and you knew that from quite a young age?  

Yeah. [chuckles] 

FM: And your sister; how’s she doing?

She’s doing actually good for herself.  As I say, she got into a really good foster home.  She actually graduated high school, graduated college – she’s a chef.  Worked at [a brew pub] and I don’t know where she’s working right now but she’s really doing well. 

FM: So she’s in Toronto as well?  

Yeah. 

FM: But you don’t see her regularly?

I haven’t seen her in years.  

FM: And is that because you don’t want to, or she doesn’t want to?

She doesn’t want to.  Because of the fact that she got into a really great foster home, she developed a bit of a snobby attitude and as far as she’s concerned, I’m nothing but dirt.  I’m homeless. 

FM: You reflect badly on her?  

Pretty much, yeah.  

FM: Okay, so how old are you when you arrived in Toronto, and how did that go?

I was 19.  It thought maybe I’d have a pretty decent future here in Toronto.  I was sorely mistaken.  As I’ve said, I got into telemarketing.  I was a customer service rep.  Made me some money.  At the time you could work at telemarketing and make $12 an hour as well as commission.  So it was good money.  Unfortunately it’s not a very stable market.  Several of the companies that I worked for closed down.  I ended up working for a couple of companies that were scams as well.  As soon as I found they were scams, I quit as soon as possible.  

The housing – apartments – that I lived at were disgusting, roach-filled places of horror.  

FM: Did you live by yourself?

Yes. I was a loner.  I grew accustomed to it. Didn’t have any real friends, pretty much stuck to myself.  

FM: Any involvement with alcohol and drugs here?  

Yeah, I was still smoking a lot of pot.  Never really been much of a drinker but there were a few times when I bought myself a bottle or rum or something and just kill it off by myself.  

FM: How old were you when you started smoking pot?  

I started smoking pot when I started going to Rapidsville Secondary School.  I was about 15.  I knew a friend who grew his own so I always had an ample supply.  

FM: Was it pretty pervasively used at the high school?  

Oh yeah.  Almost everybody smoked pot.  There were a lot of people who didn’t smoke, didn’t drink and didn’t smoke pot, but most of the population smoked pot.  

FM: And partied hardy?

Oh yeah.  

FM: Do you think that’s peculiar to rural high schools, or do you have the sense that urban kids have a similar attitude – if you know the urban perspective?

I do.  Actually I believe that pot is more pervasive out in the rural areas just because there is absolutely nothing else to do.  I’m pretty sure that down here, other drugs are more used, Ecstasy and MDMA.  Out in the rural communities, you don’t have access to those kinds of drugs.  

FM: So you would consider Rapidsville ‘rural’?

Oh yeah.  If you wake up in the morning and you’re smelling cow manure, it’s rural.

FM: Did you live on the farm at the foster home?

No, when we were living in [the first village] there was a lot of farms and going into high school in Littletown I smelled cow manure every morning.  Fun experiences.  

FM: Gotta tell I was raised on a farm and I kinda like the cows and stuff.   But I left, obviously…  

FM: Okay…  so you didn’t finish your high school before you bailed from the foster home, had  – what  – grade 11?  

Grade 11.  

FM: Any thoughts about getting into education, then or now?

Now, I’m actually going to be going to college to get an apprenticeship as a carpenter.  That’s what I’ve been trying to do for a couple of years now.  I had no idea how to go about it, but thanks to Streets to Homes, they gave me the help I need.  

FM: Why carpentry?  Why not computers?  

Because, honestly, I don’t really have an answer.  I still love computers.  I play regularly on computers but I guess my interests have changed.  I like working with my hands, building stuff.  I had a good aptitude in high school for wood shop, so…  

FM: Okay, so fast forward – well, anyway, take me from living in crappy apartments to being on the street.  How’d that happen?

There’s a wonderful story.  After I had a bit of failure down here, lost about every job I could find, I moved up to North Bay.  They had several really big telemarketing companies up there, including [a particular company].  That’s where I got my first job in North Bay.  I ended up moving in with my step-brother, my mom’s husband’s son. I lived there for about a year and I met my future wife.  We ended up getting married a year after we started dating and we quickly had two kids.  Unfortunately, the telemarketing business is very rough and [the firm] closed down and so did the other telemarketing agency.

FM: What age are you at this time?

Twenty-four when we got married.  I’d been working in North Bay for a couple of years.  We were married for four years and there was no more work there.  I ended up separating, we lost our children to Children’s Aid, and I ended up moving back down here when I was 28. 

FM: Can I poke around that part of your life a bit more?  What do you think is the major or basic reason why you lost your kids?  

Well, I couldn’t provide a stable environment and my ex-wife was a bit of a mental case.  She suffers from bi-polar, anxiety disorders and a few other mental issues, schizophrenia.  She had no real ability taking care of the kids, and while I could have taken care of the kids, I had no job and no place.  The plan when I moved back down here to Toronto was to get a job, get a place and apply for custody. Unfortunately, I’ve had no real luck.  

FM: So are they Crown Wards now?

No, they’ve actually been adopted by a friend of my ex-wife’s family.  

FM: And are you pleased with that? 

I’m happy they’re in a safe place where they’re getting taken care of, but they’re living on a farm, so…

FM: You sound like that’s the kiss of death  –

No, I’m actually glad that they’re on a farm.  I want my kids to grow up with a sense of responsibility.  I didn’t have that.  I wasn’t given any responsibility when I was a kid.  I wasn’t really taught to work and I think that’s my real big issue.  

FM: Are you glad that your kids are not in ‘the system’?  

You have no idea.  Absolutely!

FM: And do you keep in touch at all?

Actually, we do.  I talk to them on Skype as often as I can, and I send them Christmas cards through e-mail and vice versa.  My kids are now six and seven.  

FM: So they know you and know who you are.  What do they think, or what do they understand about your situation?

Honestly, I’m not really sure what they think or what they understand.  I’m hoping they understand that I love them and I would be there if I could but at this time and in this situation, it’s not really possible.

FM: If it makes any difference, one of the themes that’s developing in my mind as I hear all these stories, is that the big problem with parents who aren’t actively parenting, for the kids, is if they’re a mystery.  That the young people can be understanding, find some peace, when they know something about absent parents; that the hard part, the part that seems to really mess them up, is where there’s just a blank where the parent should be.  That’s not a rule but it’s certainly my impression.  So, what you’re doing is quite likely the best thing.  

FM: Okay.  I’m reviewing in my mind all those sectors… involvement with the justice system: was that a part of your life?  

Not sure what you mean?

FM: Were you ever involved with the courts, other than child welfare?

Yes.  Not any serious way.  In North Bay, just before I moved back to Toronto, I was arrested and charged with Theft Under $5000.  I was working at a … convenience store.  $900 went missing.  I didn’t actually steal it but I decided that I didn’t want to deal with legal issues and that’s also one of the reasons I came to Toronto.  I’m actually wanted in North Bay right now.  But growing up I never had any issues with the cops or anything.

FM: Help me understand your decision to not protect yourself from a false charge of theft.

This is a long hard story.  The night that it happened was Valentine’s.  It was a busy night.  Whenever we hit the $100 mark in our till, we’re supposed to do a safe drop.  Unfortunately, we’re not supposed to do a safe drop while the store is completely packed.  So over the course of the night I was unable to do the safe drops and $900 was in my till.  So I had to do the safe drops anyhow, $100 at a time.  The next morning, the assistant manager had the shift right after mine, and her and I never really got along, she absolutely hated me.  I went home and came back a week later, I hadn’t heard anything about any new shifts, wanted to know if I actually had any shifts.  And I was told I had to leave.  Was not told why but the next day I was arrested.  This is the first time I’d ever been arrested.  I had no idea what to do.  I was scared crapless.  They asked me if I wanted a lawyer – the entire car ride to the police station the cop was telling me We know you did it, you don’t have to stay silent.  I was saying No I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it.  I get to the cop station, the cops asked me if I want to talk to a lawyer.  I said No right off the bat and then Should I?  They said It’s up to you so I said, Okay I’ll talk to the lawyer.  They put me in a room with a phone, called the lawyer for me.  I talked to the lawyer.  The lawyer told me basically to keep my mouth shut and not say anything.  After I talked to the lawyer they stuck me in a room for I guess three hours, didn’t come and talk to me, nothing.  Finally an officer comes in, tells me they have me on tape doing my safe drops and right after, sticking my hands in my pockets.  And I know that is what I normally do, so I really didn’t know what to do.  I asked if I could make my phone call, and they said I’d already made my phone call when they called the lawyer for me.  They left me alone for another hour, hour and a half, I guess.  I realized if they really did have tape of me doing that, there’s a good chance that I’d end up going to jail.  I figured I’d never been in trouble with the law before, I’d just admit it, get a slap on the wrist.  Didn’t realize the ramifications.  So after I pled guilty, they let me go.  I was talking to my father-in-law and he called me a moron.  I went to court and I got my – dunno what it’s called – where they show you your charges and everything.  When they said I was not going to be able to defend, they said they were actually looking at jail time.  I was petrified and scared and decided that I just could not—I was pretty much trapped.  So I came to Toronto.

FM: When was this, then?

Three years ago.  

FM: And do you have anxiety attacks every time a police person approaches you? 

When I first came to Toronto, absolutely.  But I found out about six months ago that as long as I don’t do anything illegal and get arrested, the cops won’t send me back to North Bay, won’t do anything.  

FM: Help me understand the physics of doing a safe drop.  Is it in the store?

Basically you take the $100 out of the till, you type it into the till and it prints out a little receipt, you fold the receipt around the money, stick a paper clip on it and you put it in the safe.  

FM: And the safe is in the store?

Right underneath the till.  The thing is there was a thief at the store before me.  I know this for a fact because my friend was working there and there was money going missing all the time.  Now I have no proof, I have no way of honestly saying this, but the only way that $900 could be missing is the shift right after mine, and that would be the assistant manager.  

FM: Yeah, because if you could put money in, you could take money out?

No one can access the safe except the Manager and the Assistant.

FM: So it’s a one-way drop?

Yeah.  

FM: So that’s what you think happened?

Unfortunately, if I did say that in court it would be my word against the manager’s word and I don’t think I would have won.  Either way I would have gone down for it.  

FM: It puts me in mind of the guy who was killed recently trying to stop someone from doing the Fill and Run or whatever it’s called, at the gas station.  You have rights, but it’s very difficult to exercise them.  

About six months ago I was sleeping right beside a YMCA and there was about 10 of us there and the OPP showed up.  Apparently that property is taken care of by OPP rather than Metro police because it’s government property or something.  I actually spoke to one of the OPP officers after they ran my name and found out I was wanted.  He said that the only way that I could be shipped back to North Bay would be if I got arrested.  I also told him exactly what happened and he advised I stay in Toronto and not bother going back. 

FM: Okay.  That was an interesting story, maybe not an uncommon story.  I’ve got a few like that in the pack.  Solo workers handling money.  

FM: Okay, would you also talk just a bit about how you managed as a homeless person.  How that started, how it proceeded, a bit about current situation and plans. 

When I moved here from North Bay I moved here with a young woman, my girlfriend.  For about seven months we were homeless here in Toronto.  She stayed in a youth shelter.  I ended up sleeping on the streets myself.  I refused to go to any of the adult shelters.  We finally found ourselves an apartment on Sherbourne St.  We lived there for about two and a half years and she invited her little sister to move in with us.  Her sister was supposed to take care of part of our rent.  She was supposed to go to school.  And she did neither.  After about three months of owing rent, she took off to go back to [a village 20 km north of the village he was raised in] and we got evicted.  My girlfriend moved out to [a town east of Toronto] and then back to North Bay.  And again I was homeless on the streets here.  

I’ve slept everywhere from small parks to right on the middle of the streets.  I used to sleep up at Yonge and Wellesley.  There are a few nice places to sleep up there.  There’s a park right beside the YMCA that I was telling you about.  After the whole area became over-run by crack-heads I had to get out of there.  So I moved with a couple of friends of mine to Nathan Phillips Square.  Eventually I met with the Streets to Homes worker and he was able to get me a bed up here. 

FM: When was that?  

Month and a half ago.  

FM: And the plan?  

Like I said, I want to be a carpenter.  I’m going to try and get on ODSP, then hopefully by January I should be able to get into college, get my apprenticeship and move forward from there.  

FM: On what basis would you make the application for ODSP?

Well, my major problem with working is my ADHD.  I have trouble concentrating.  I have major issues with memory.  Someone tells me to do something, I’ve forgotten 10 minutes later.  I have trouble standing still or sitting still, I always have to be moving.  Just a lot of issues.

FM: I gotta say that I’m not experiencing you as ADHD.  In fact, I’m experiencing you as quite quiet, laid back, thoughtful, articulate.   Not that I’m doubting you, but if I were a worker hearing your application, I’d be shaking my head.  You don’t seem disabled to me.

I don’t think I am disabled.  I never would say I’m disabled.  The thing is like, every job I’ve ever had has not lasted for more than eight months.  Except [a particular company], and that was because I was able to do more than just the one job, it was constantly changing for me.  I didn’t get bored, I didn’t get, you know.

FM: So maybe not the right job.  And work that has a reputation for being fairly transient.  Do you think that you lost these jobs or they disappeared through no fault of yours?

I know it was my fault.  I accept responsibility for every job I’ve every lost.  Every job that I’ve lost is more than likely because I have the memory issues that I have.  Like the [convenience stores] that I worked at, before the one that I got fired from, I’d be told to do something.  They’d actually even give me a list, and I’d forget where the list was.  So I’d do some of the things that I was supposed to do but I would always miss most of them.  I’d always remember to sweep the floors but I’d forget to change the coffee in the coffee machines or I’d forget to stock something.

FM: Is this a new issue, do you think, or has it been with you always?

Always.  I’d get sent to the store to go get something and by the time I’d get to the store I’d forget what it was.  I’d always get something but it wouldn’t be right.  Like I’d be sent to get 2% milk and I’d get homogenized.  

FM: Sounds familiar.  My husband does that all the time.  Recently…  Joking.  So were you ever diagnosed –

I was diagnosed with ADHD at school

FM: Specialized education?  

For part of it, yes.  When I went to Rapidsville school they didn’t have the opportunity.  I had the choice of going to the Special Ed class or --  I was offered Independent Learning at my other schools.  I was given a laptop to help with my ADHD.  

FM: Did you see this as handicapping?  Stigmatizing? 

Handicapping?  No I don’t believe that anyone is ever really handicapped.  Anyone can pretty much do anything if they put their mind to it.  Stigmatizing, yes.  I was made fun of and bullied a lot because of it.  

FM: Was that ever posed as a problem to be solved, by anyone?

No.  

FM: Do you think it was also part of the issue at your foster home, even though the foster mom specialized in working with kids with special needs?

I honestly don’t know.  I don’t know.  I mean, honestly, my foster mom should have been nicer to me because of it, but I think…  I dunno.   I really don’t understand it.  

FM: Well, in some ways, how people feel about other people is to some extent beyond their control.  We accept that people ‘fall out of love’ but in the child welfare system, we don’t measure or even conceptualize the idea of ‘fit’ between the child and the family they’re placed with.  

That’s very true.  

FM: Like your sister had a good fit, and you didn’t.  

Damn her!

FM: Probably more like damn the luck!

If I didn’t have bad luck I’d have no luck.  

FM: Do you have a thought or a plan about how to address this memory challenge when you get into the apprenticeship?  

I was talking to my Streets to Home worker about this.  He advised me of a special bursary program that would actually address the issue of ADHD and continued education.  Anywhere from $2000 to $10000 to getting a personal assistance or a PDA or a laptop to keep track of dates or things that you actually have to keep track of.  

FM: Because my thought is that carpentry is to some large extent a lone-ranger job where someone -

Not really.  My friend is a carpenter, he does everything.  I’ve actually done this kind of work before, I helped with my aunt’s trailer, turning it into a house.  I’ve done everything from pouring foundation to framing to actually building an extension to make an actual house.  

FM: Okay, so you know whereof you speak.  And you will probably seek employment that gives you the support and direction that you need – you could be quite up front about what you need to become a good worker.  

Yes.  And because it’s unionized, it actually becomes a lot easier.

FM: Yes, the thing about exercising your rights that we talked about a bit before.  In a union environment, there is someone who has your back.  

FM: Okay…  let me just do a quick summary here and see if I’ve got it about right, because it is a bit of a long story, since you’re almost an old man….

Only a couple more days till I have a walker….

FM: So, left foster home at 18, homeless in [nearby village]for a week, friend’s mother invites you to live with them, that lasts a year during which time you’re doing what?  

Expelled from school. I believe that was when I was working at the hot dog cart for a bit.  

FM: Right.  Okay, so meet a girl, move to Littletown, get an apartment, lose girl, move away to Toronto.  Ah, but with a new girlfriend.

Not yet.  

FM: Meet the new girlfriend in Toronto –

No, I moved to Toronto and then up to North Bay.

FM: Okay, so moved to Toronto, worked in the telemarketing industry, lived in a crappy apartment, jobs disappeared, moved up to North Bay, more telemarketing, got married, had kids, jobs fell apart, marriage fell apart, got into difficulties with the law, kids came into CAS care, headed for Toronto to avoid going to jail.  Never really got your feet under you this trip to Toronto, now three years ago, right?  Young girlfriend, she stayed in youth shelters, you slept rough, after seven months got an apartment, girlfriend’s sister moved in, welched on the rent, got evicted, girlfriend left, you’re back on the street.  And then sleeping rough for another year or so and Streets to Homes find you this shelter and help you plan to get a good start on a new life.  

FM: I realize I didn’t follow up with why you refused to stay in adult shelters this past go-around, until here.

This isn’t really a shelter.  But the main reason is because all the shelters are filled up with people who are criminals, crack-heads, meth-heads, and it’s just not the type of people that I want to be around.  I would rather sleep outside than sleep next to those people.  You never know if you wake up and have your shoes or jacket stolen.  

FM: So would you say that the more together people are the ones who sleep rough?  

Oh yeah.  It’s not always the case, but the people that I tend to hang around are. I would prefer to sleep around people who have a drinking problem than a drug problem. 

FM: So among the homeless population, there are worlds and worlds within.

Yeah.  

FM: And what is it like to know that you are among the better functioning but to know that most people don’t differentiate?  To be tarred with that same brush, so to speak?

Honestly, it doesn’t bother me.  People are going to think of me what they think of me.  I learned at a pretty young age that if you let what people think of you bother you, it’s not going to be helpful to you.  Now what happened in Nathan Phillip Square, with Rob Ford [Toronto mayor] kicking all the homeless people out, that was a problem.  Most of the people there were not in any way harmful to anyone.  They’re actually decent people who are just homeless.  If you want to see people who are homeless and rob and steal, go to Yonge and Wellsley, that’s where they are.  The people at Nathan Phillop Square were [just] homeless, did not deserve to have their homes taken away, basically. 

FM: Did you come to the attention of Streets to Homes because you were there when Rob Ford made his great decision, or –

It was actually before.  Streets to Homes, before they kicked people out of the Square, would come around regularly and talk to every single person and ask if anyone needed anything, any kind of help.  Streets to Homes is one of the better organizations out there to actually help homeless people.  

FM: Did you use any other resources or services when you were on the street?

I used to go to drop-ins, even though I’m too old, I’d go to Evergreen a few times.  Unfortunately they’re checking IDs now so no-one over 24 gets in.  There are actually not many resources for people over 24.  There are a few drop-ins and a few places where you can get food.  But a lot of the resources are geared toward youth who are homeless, which are good.  

FM: But in your opinion, does it get them off the street, or just make being -

Easier for them?  Honestly, it doesn’t really help them get off the streets, but at the same time if you don’t make it easier for them, they’re just going to end up freezing and dying.  So it’s a double-edged sword.  If you help them, they don’t go back home, but even if you don’t help them, they’re still going to stay on the streets.  

FM: And maybe many don’t have homes to go back to, like you?

Exactly.  

FM: Okay, I’ve a couple of finish-up questions.  Are we there?  

FM: Okay.  In order to give this story the kind of shape and focus you want for the people who will read this story, would you say what you think is the most important event in the narrative, the thing that most influenced the way this story is unfolding?

The most important aspect of this story…

[very long pause]  

I don’t feel that there is an important event.  The story of my life is constantly unfolding and constantly changing.  There’s no life-changing event, just the path that I’m travelling.  

FM: I just realize that I didn’t include a phrase that I usually do and I wonder if that would make a different to your answer – not that there’s anything wrong with your answer, just to be consistent…  I usually say The event could be something that happened, or something that didn’t happen, an absence.  Any difference?

I believe that an important thing that could have changed my life was a stronger family relationship.  

FM: The foster family?

No, my real family.  

FM: All of them, or just your mom and/or your sister?

A stronger family relationship, in general, with all my family.  I rarely have any contact at all with any of them. 

FM: So do you include your grandparents, your aunts and uncles that you’ve referred to a bit in this story?

Absolutely!

FM: So cast the net wide and make it all available, and see what happens?

Yeah.  

FM: I’m reminded of that movie About a Boy where the boy whose mom has pretty serious episodes of depression decides that he needs to recruit a much bigger circle, starting with the Hugh Grant character who just wants to get laid – do you know that movie?  I recommend it – I think it would resonate with you!

FM: Back to business…  The people who will read this story will form an opinion about how it’s going to end up. How do you think it will unfurl, for the good, not so good?  Are you optimistic?

I’ve always been an optimist.  I’ve always believed that no matter how many twists and turns my life takes, I’ll always end up in a place where I’m happy.  

FM: Okay, two advice questions.  First:  What advice would you give to your younger self, whether or not your younger self would take that advice, that you think would make this story unfold better or easier or smoother or whatever?

Don’t take the red pill.

FM: I don’t understand that. 

It’s from the Matrix.  

FM: And it means?

At the beginning of the movie, Neo is offered two pills.  If he takes the red pill, he goes deeper into the matrix.  If he takes the blue pill, he forgets everything and everything goes back to normal.  

But actual truth, here.  the advice I would give myself is to finish high school.  I think if I had of completed my high school, my entire life would be different.  

FM: And what would need to have changed for that to happen, d’ya think in retrospect?  

Um, I would have had to not skip.  I skipped way too much and that’s what led to me being expelled and dropping out. 

FM: You referred being refused the one course you wanted, but also being made fun of and bullied, so would that have had to change as well?   

I got fed up not being able to pursue what I wanted to do, but at the same time I could have just moved past it and done something with it.  

FM: Would you have needed someone at your back, on this?  

Yeah, that definitely would have been helpful. 

FM: Yeah, there was some thought a few years ago that every kid needed one advocate/friend/mentor/whatever to increase the probability of success, but I think the idea never quite made it into reality.  It’s a tough one, because it’s really all about chemistry, and who can order chemistry?

Yeah, exactly.  

FM: All right.  Last advice question.  What advice would you give to those of us who would wish to be helpful to young people like yourself?

Take the time to actually listen to what the young person has to say, and not assume that what they’re saying is what you want them to say.  

FM: That’s beginning to be a bit of a theme as well.  How would you know if someone is really listening?  Not just pretending, going through the motions?

Well, there’s no real way to tell if someone is really listening except through their actions, I guess.  

FM: Well, then, that’s a good way to know.  And actually, born out in your story.  The Streets to Homes people, it would seem.  

Absolutely.  

FM: All righty, that’s me done.  Anything more from you?

No, I just want to thank you for this opportunity to tell my story.  I’ve never actually had that opportunity before.  

FM: I find that a very sad state of affairs.  Indeed!

FM:  Done?

Yeah.