Chuck is a man in his thirties. He spent six years living in Kazakhstan as an English teacher. Since his return to Canada he is unemployed and homeless. He is currently staying at Gatewick Shelter. He lived with his brother before becoming homeless. When I met him, he was a college student. He is homeless because is unemployed since he came back to Canada and he is presently investing all his income in higher education.
F: What is the worst part about being homeless?
Chuck: “It’s like there are two negative things about (being homeless). First of all, the negative thing you would think first, is not the one is actually worst about it. The fact that I don’t have a kitchen with my stuff and I cannot watch my clothes… these stuff is annoying but you still can get around it. There are ways that you can have free laundry, free food, ten meals a day, if you want to. So the first thing that really comes to mind is the fact that you know you can tell anyone (about being homeless). If you tell them: “ Listen now, I am homeless, I need a place to stay… could you help me please?”. As soon the word “homeless” comes to your mouth they shut it down (and think)“I knew there was something (weird) about that guy!” So is the immediate right off, you know:? “Goodbye: next?”. (…)
There is a social part. If I am sitting with my classmates at a bar, but I have to be “home” by eleven. If I am not coming before eleven I have to go the hallway and I have to wait (at the shelter) and to sit there. And they are all sitting there, some of them work, I guess. Some of them work very crappy job, some others I don’t know if they have a social life. I mean, my class mate (at the Film School), they have one day of work a week. They make 300 $ in that single day and whenever they need to go out they have a social certain and they live with their parents, they can do it, they are ok. Then there is other people who never go out, or they do it in rare occasion… But when I am out, I have to leave. So that is what is more trivial, just the fact that there is always inconveniences and I cannot tell them why (faking the voice of a colleague): “Why you are leaving? Is only eleven”. That’s what is more negative about it. I the shelter where I was staying we have to come back at 10 pm. This keeps all the crack heads out. Also the fact that you have to be there with all this people who are there for no good reason, because they are crack heads, math heads. Like my roommate he is schizophrenic and smokes math. One day he throw a lamp on me… [he tell the story of his schizophrenic roommate].
The place where I am staying now is better, all the beds are on the floor. It’s better for climate control: in the other places there is somebody opening the windows or closing it, and is either boiling or freezing. Here is more ventilated and under control. And is cleaner. There, if somebody complaints that there is a guy next to me who smells , they (the stuff) can come and say: “Hey, go and take a shower!?”. While in the place I was staying before, it wasn’t like that they would have answered: ”Fuck you, fuck you up”.
F: How long have you been at Gatewick Shelter? Have you been moving around different shelters? Have you been to Scott Mission?
“I have been to Gatewick three nights. To Scott Mission: Yes, but just for a meal… that place is full of ex-coms (people who used to be in jail)”
F: How your experience has changed your view of homelessness and of homeless people?
My view on a lot of things has changed. I have realized that ignorance is bliss. There is no way to talk the sense to them. Unless something happens that make them no ignorant. Like, before they are all “restaurant and fancy life” and then suddenly they have to mop the floor, and is not their choice.
So, unemployment is not just not they are not being capable, is that people who are unemployed not willing to take jobs that are around. A lot of guys at Gateway that I am with, they used to be business man, computer programmers and different kind of thing. And the way is set up here in Canada is that they won’t believe you, if you are in your age and you are looking for a job, “You say I have quit my old job and I would like to try something new” they say: “No, we would rather like you to be homeless than starting something new, because you are too old”. You only have to follow the steps. If you take Political Science at one Canadian University, this is what they teach you: this is how people have to be guided through their life doing one specialisation in just one thing.
Unless you are 19 years old, then is almost impossible (to start a new job). Then they say “why your résumé say this and this … they are not like: this guy comes from a different place and he needs something to do”. You know, that’s not the way of how it works. Is rather like “Next!”. These people are completely detached from the humanity of the worker. You know, a lot of people would rather not work than being subjected to these kind of casting audition where you come and say: “I do this”. These people are there just to serve a lesson. As homeless person the reason that you exist is as a lesson to other people.
F: Is this what you have learnt (about homelessness)?
“This are the negatives. They are dirty, stinky, they don’t take care of themselves. You know is not always that. Sometimes is not, is just that you have to be on a certain place at a certain time. It takes half an hour to get here, half an hour to get back. You have to sign up. Wait. By the time you have made your laundry, the whole day is gone. Sometimes you need to do other things and you don’t feel like.The reason why they stink is because they don’t have a shower available every time they feel like. If there was a shower now I would do shower, but is not there. Sometime I had to skip class, because I couldn’t go to class like that. So I had to wait to take a shower and miss the class.”
F: Where are you studying? University of Toronto?
No, film production. So these are the negatives, but there are positive things. Before being a homeless, I have been on the verge of being homeless for a long time. I was staying at my brother place but when he was gone but when he came back he told me I could not stay there anymore. So I said, I am going to one of those places – I was not sure to be able to sleep outside – I was afraid to get robbed. That didn’t happen. But this is how I felt like when I was firstly arrived in Toronto. When I have firstly realized I was homeless, I said this is amazing! I don’t have to do anything! I can just seat over here. There is nothing holding me down. Nothing like: “Can I spend today more money than I have earned? How close I am to my retirement?” Nothing. Just do whatever you want. So, in a way, this has an appeal to some people.
(…) It’s actually an adventurous life. So people say, I can have that, or rather keep going, keep going, keep going. And they keep people stigmatized and stereotyped them, but this make even more difficult to get out from that situation. Honestly, people judge you … So you have to lie. I tell them that I have an address. When they ask me where I live, I say to my brother’s place. It’s a lie, but if you don’t lie they are going to hire you.
They say: “You should have saved some money. But how can you save you earn if 20 dollars a month? They just don’t know the situation (…) It’s so easy to say. The reality is that if you are staying in a shelter and you are surrounded by other homeless people and having breakfast with them, then you think: I can go and hand out other resumes and get the same answer every time (…)
It’s so much tougher than just having this specific resume that you hand in. Is that you have to get through all this steps. For instance, you want to work in construction, because you don’t have any other choice and you don’t have money. So that’s what you have to do: you go panhandling for one day, so that you have enough money to buy some boots and then you can go for your first day of job. The first day you go, they always send you out. Then if you are not good at it, they will never send you out again. If you are good at it and work there for a few days, you get your first pay cheque (…) then, what are you going to do?
You have been bored and you get your first hand of dollars. Some people would say: “Obviously, you keep going ”. Oh no, wait a minute. This is going against human nature, if you had nothing before you want some social life. You have been working hard, and now you just wanna be free. And you keep doing this every time. And after three months you want to try something new, so you quit realize that “Oh, shit I don’t have any money”. Is not just like “Go get a job!”. So is just that people who magically got their job that is far above the minimum wage, that allow them to pay the rent with a single pay-cheque (…) so they say: “I got a job, why don’t you get a job?”
There are two kind of homeless people: there are homeless people who are too bad for the society and then there are those who are too good, that are too nice, too smart. That drives you nut if you know what is going on at the high level of society, among the elites of the elite. If you are like “So you should just get a job mopping the floor?!”. Then I am: “Wait a second: don’t you realize that the mayor of Toronto (Rob Ford) that I saw five years ago smoking cocaine in an illegal underground club right before he became the mayor?” If you want to be able to make the decision you need this huge amount of money. (…)I could not find a job cleaning right now, I am working on a comedy.
F: Have you ever found yourself in the situation of doing panhandling?
“No, but I have been close. I just cannot do it. So, some of this guys are the most nice and down to earth people because they have been liberated from a job” [from a frame of mind… ] “yes, so they can just say and think whatever they want” [but they are put aside] Yes, because, they are free. Freedom is something that is preached and lived by a selected few. If you think at colonialism like Home rule and India, where they use to have the colonial power to control there. And then after Gandhi they left and gave India home rule. They said, you own the country, is yours but in fact the kept doing the same thing.They just say you are free. ”It is written of the main Chart of Human rights, so is true”. It is not true. I don’t know which human you are talking about… speak for yourself! Maybe this true is for those who have written the Chart of Freedom. Stephen Harper (N.d.r. Canadian Prime Minister) enjoys this rights, but I don’t know about the others.
F: So it’s a lie?
“Yes, one that you have to keep saying. People in power, they have found a way. They all have learned it from before, it was already done during the French revolution, in Scotland when they were fighting against England. All those things about freedom and liberty have been around for long time and time again. So this started annoying those who were in power. So they say: “Ok, we will just pretend…” And they started just to agree to what the People were saying: “We deserve liberty, everyone is free!”. But in fact they continue doing what they had always been doing which is controlling everyone. And giving it (the power) to their children and their wife, because they started marry together. They are like a different breed of people. And this is the same for homeless people. Homeless people are like different breed of people. People look at them like they have some defective genes of there is something that is messed out but that’s not what it is at all.
F: Do you think there is a community or just homeless individuals?
“You become part of a community. There is a culture. A sub-culture. It’s the most marginalized groups of people. Is something perpetrating, something that people don’t talk about. The System use people like an example: “ this is what happen unless you comply” and this is what they exist .(…)Some people in homelessness they find a community they would not find otherwise. That’s why they stay homeless.(…)Toronto is a city of stranger. In the past people were mad because there was a king that would have visited the villagers and told them: “Who is the smartest kid?” He wanted to take the most talented kids with him to the capital. And at the same time, the untalented people were saying: “This is so unfair, who can we take over?” So they have found a way: money. Because everybody can handle money: all you have to know is math. All you have to do it is “That’s more than that: so I want this and I don’t want that”. This came to a point where people were not anymore nice to each other. (…)Is city of stranger where unless you have a certain amount of financial standing. Then people are nice and friendly to each other. Otherwise there is no sense of common shared humanity (…)Some people in homelessness they find a community they would not find otherwise. That’s why they stay homeless.