“I think homeless people’s individual stories should be heard because they’re talked about constantly yet have no platform to speak for themselves. That’s not fair. I want you to hear their voices, their thoughts, their stories and their opinions- from them. These are stories directly from local homeless people in Brantford, heard and documented by me, without any intent to bring discourse to the many services and resources available.” Citizen Journalist, Luvern Mornin
Too long have the homeless been constrained to that image of a shadow…no voice…no face…no future…
I want to see how “they,” live.
Who are “they?”
Those homeless people we try to avoid, and judge them, but we truly don’t understand. We fear too much, and ask questions from a safe distance. We discuss, “them” with social services, and/or friends and family in the comforts of our homes or offices. Where is their voice? What do they have to say?
I have questions, lots of them, and went to the source to get answers, as any good journalist would. I think listening helps them a lot. A simple task, yet so complicated. I’ve listened to them, and here’s what I’ve heard.
Names and specific details are changed to protect their privacy. Their privacy is twofold; one part is in regards to general society, the other part is the homeless community they live within. There’s no way to determine what I’m being told is truthful. I am simply sharing what they’ve told me. I am honoured to be given the opportunity to be their voice.
OMG is a middle aged Caucasian male.
Meeting: “Hi. How are you?” OMG said as he walked past.
We met downtown last week during another interview with his colleagues.
“Those are nice boots,” he said; a most unexpected compliment.
Just then, a man with questions about his well being approached. There are people in Brantford who are helping the homeless, even heroin addicts. OMG was offered some helpful information regarding housing, and was offered a cigarette.
Then the doors of this 24 hour facility were being locked; it was midnight. I asked OMG, why he though they were locking the doors.
“To keep the homeless people out. They come here all the time,” he said.
Family: His first topic was family, his consists of his mother, sister, and aunt. He says he has, “somewhat wealthy family members,” across Canada. He shared where they lived, their professions, their financial status, and the last time he saw one of them in Burlington, but says he has limited contact with them.
OMG left Brantford years ago headed towards the east coast to meet his teenage son for the first time. He remained on the east coast for over a decade, returning to Brantford five years ago when he learned his mother was ill. He returned to care for her.
Financial: A social services office gives him $340 a month. It’s called a Street Allowance. He supplements it by selling opioids on the street, so yes, OMG is an opioid drug dealer. I asked if he would stop selling drugs if he had his own apartment, and/or a good paying job.
“Probably not. There’s too much money to be had,” he said.
(I feel strongly about sharing this information because it gives us insight and an opportunity to understand.)
Food: “If you’re homeless and hungry in Brantford, you’re stupid,” he said.
He quickly listed places that offer either breakfast, lunch or dinner every night of the week. I asked how he learned where food is and he told me every homeless person knows.
“It’s just common knowledge, everyone knows,” he said.
He rarely uses Facebook, but has access.
He was interested to learn about a new location offering free lunch the next day, and unsuccessfully searched for a pen and paper to make notes, so I gave him post-it notes and a pen from my car. A simple pen and paper had surprising value to him. He planned to attend the lunch and thanked me for the new information.
Work: He’s a skilled worker with a trade, however, due to an arm injury, he’s unable to work. He mentioned an opportunity to work in his given field a little while ago, but his social worker wasn’t able to confirm the job.
“I was furious with her! I called her every name except a, white woman.” He said clearly disappointed. “I reamed my social worker out pretty hard that day, and I feel bad for doing it. It wasn’t her fault.”
Theft: He is trying to replace his stolen cell phone. Theft is very common within the homeless community and I asked if he stole, he told me no, he doesn’t have time for that, unless he believed the person deserved it.
He shared a story with me that when he was a child, he stole something from a store once. After he was caught he said his dad was not happy.
“My dad beat the living hell out of me, then my mom did too,” OMG said “I haven’t stolen anything since. I learned my lesson.”
While living in a tent in Brantford, he’s taken some serious precautions to protect his belongings. He taped cash and drugs on his testicles while he slept.
“I figured if someone could open my pants and steal my things without waking me up, they could have them,” he said.
He was chuckling a little bit with his response, so I questioned his honesty and asked if he was serious. He said yes, with conviction.
Addiction/Drugs: His addiction started ten years ago when his doctor prescribed opioids for pain management after the accident that caused the arm injury. He wasn’t an addict prior to that.
“Nope, but I smoked weed, and did a few lines of coke,” he said.
He spoke about how addictive opioids are, and said it’s a huge problem, and rhymed off five or six brand names including Oxycontin, and Fentanyl. Fenny OD, referring to Fentanyl, has become a common phrase within his community when someone overdoses.
“It’s a huge problem in Brantford,” he said again.
The strange part was that he says he’s selling those drugs, yet is concerned about the increase of overdoses.
Health: Currently, and for the past decade, he’s needed major arm surgery, but he’s been struggling with pain instead. He’s chosen to skip surgery for two reasons: one, he’s scared it won’t go well because he’s heard negative stories and two, he doesn’t have appropriate aftercare living on the street. He could schedule a surgery, but aftercare prevents him from doing it.
“Who’s going to wipe my ass?” he asked.
He’s had a cold/flu these past three weeks, and fears it could be pneumonia. He told me his weight has dropped about 10 pounds as well. I asked if he could go to Brantford General Hospital for care, and he said he could, but when I asked if he would he said no.
“No way, those guys are f***** idiots!” he said.
As he searched the shelves of a local store, he couldn’t find the brand of cough medicine he wanted: NeoCitran. I asked if he mixed cough medicine with drugs for a better high and he said no.
“Hell no, I have way more interesting solutions for that. I just have a cold,” he said.
He was coughing when he turned and walked fifteen feet away to spit out the yellow phlegm.
Homeless situation: He’s been in and out of shelters, living in tents, and living on the streets of Brantford for almost five years. OMG is on a waiting list for an apartment; his wait is five months.
I asked what he thought about completing paperwork, if it was difficult for him. He said yes and that it was a lot to fill out.
“Yes, we’d love to help you. Fill out all these forms first, then we’ll see if we can help you; see if you qualify. Oh, sorry, the wait is five months.” he mocked.
I asked if staff helped to find him housing while he stayed at a shelter.
“Not really. I figure I got myself into this mess, so I will get myself out of it,” OMG said. “But yeah, they have people to help me.”
I told him about Brantford Guardian Angels and he wondered what time, I told him, 3:30 p.m. He wrote down the details with his new pen and paper. He wasn’t aware they gave away items to the homeless on Saturday’s at the Brant Skate Park Pavilion.
He has received a scarf, hat and gloves from a woman in that area before, so it may have been that group of volunteers. He planned to come Saturday and told me he would see there.
OMG asked if an email address expired if it is unused, I told him I didn’t think so, it lasts forever. He thought for a moment, remembered his email address, and recited it. He didn’t mention who he was going to look for or connect with.
At the end of our time together, he said he would see me the next day, with a smile.
He was referring to the free lunch, and the 3:30 p.m. meeting at the pavilion. He was a no-show at both.
This is only one voice/situation of a homeless man in Brantford, Ontario, Canada. There are more to come. Thank you for your time today. Thank you for taking an interest in his story.
Photography provided by: New Talent Modelling, Randi Scott