“This is not a shelter”


Rene Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe (1948)” is a well known surrealist painting about the interplay between language and representation. In front of the contrast between the representation of the pipe and the denial of it , the observer is triggered to question himself: “If that is not a pipe, then what it is?”. Clearly what he is seeing is not a pipe , it is just the symbol of a pipe.

In my city – an italian middle-sized town of North Italy – the municipality is playing the same surrealistic game. Everynight hundreds of homeless people find shelter in the public places. Either it is the train station, in the park, in the abandoned buildings in the countryside they share the experience of sleeping rough and exposed to cold, theft, and abuse.

I live next to the balconades where the audience uses to sit during the bike races, next to the city stadium. It is open air but a wide roof offers cover from the rain. The place is covered in dirt: stink of urines, broken bottles, used needles are everywhere. And I see everynight at least five persons sleeping there. As a city dweller thus, I ask to myself, “If that is not a dormitory, then what it is?”


I believe the city should be designed for its user’s need rather than the countraryI have found an answer to this question: if people sleep on the balconades to find a shelter, then this place must be recognized as dormitory. Then, I have placed a bed, an alarm clock, a pair of slippers, a pillow, blanket and sheets on the balconades. Then I added a signal to make it more explicit: “dormitorio”.

In the following day the bed was left there to be accessible to anybody who wanted to use it. The first and second night it was not used by anybody. The third day, in the morning the municipal cleaning service removed it, as they would do with the sleeping bags or mattress of every homeless person. The city does not give space for homeless persons, who are overchecked by the police, and are criminalized for the simple fact of living in the public space.


On last week, a homeless man on the balconade told me that the police waked him up asking: “What are you doing here?” “What a nice question! I don’t have any other place to sleep, don’t you see?”. Everybody knows, still nobody cares.  How are we going to challenge this statement?


Voices from Downtown Toronto

share the privilege

Click on the following link: Faces Toronto to explore the map of Downtown Toronto seen from the Other Side of the Street.

If you can click on the faces displayed on the map, you will access directly to the narrative or photo of one homeless person. The appearance is liberally inspired to the persons I have encountered but their name have in most cases been changed. Additionally, the narratives are fragments to a longer conversation that has been recorded and transcribed. 

“Mapping the process of  ethnography, as a journey to explore unexplored issues, we try to let emerge an aesthetical dimension implied in the practice of anthropology, from the fieldwork to the representation, although often hidden in the public results. The map makes visible the fenomelogy of the ethnographic process, allowing the reader to grasp the  “with a gaze” the complexity, and the iterative process of the fieldwork.  Serendipity, “the art of making an unsought finding”,  takes part in shaping the ethnographic process of discovery. The discoverer needs to be knowledgeable  enough to link together apparently innocuous elements in order to come to a valuable conclusion or understanding. In fact, in my case, it is a web of encounters and a cluster of thought provoking conversations with homeless person sharing with me the same spaces of the city that motiveted me to gain a better understanding of the issue of homelessness.” (Tassi 2013: 4)

Extract from “The Other Side of the Street: stigmatization, displacement, counter-narratives of Downtown Toronto’s  homeless persons“. Thesis of Francesco Tassi for MA in Anthropology and Visual Languages, at Università degli Studi di Siena (a.a. 2012/2013)

Toronto(s): the city from the inhabitant’s perspective


The representation of the city as a whole is differentiated in the existence of different images of the city based on the different practices of inhabitance of their dwellers. Individual’s images of the city reflected the coexistence of multiple social and cultural identities within the global city.  In the present chapter, we will focus firtsly on the concept of lived space and social production of city space; secondly, we will introduce the concept of homeless city, finally we will point the ecological dimension of homelessness as condition of living “out of space”.The urban sociologist Henri Lefebvre, distinguishes different types of space: perceived space refers to the relatively objective and concrete space that a person reacts to in her daily environment. Conceived space refers to ideas about space, creative mental constructions and representations of space. Lived space is the complex amalgamation of perceived and lived space (Lefebvre, 1991b: 39 in Purcell). In the city, it is `the space of inhabitants and users’; it is fully imbricated in a person’s everyday life routine, which embodies the urban as a cognitive map of meaningful places where social rituals are performed. So that, the city – a complex of infrastructure, transportations, open/closed spaces that are signified by the social actions perfomed: movements, breaks, work, free time, shopping, entarteinment and so on – it is not just a stage on which social life plays out but represents a constituent element of social life. Usually, the image of our hometown is a familiar image; one that we may even say reflects our identity.  When we live in space that “talk our language”, we can “feel at home” there. Because our identity is reflected in the space we inhabit and in return this is reflected in the way we navigate the city. We know how to orientate there because we have acquired the knowledge that is the outcome of our history of routinary movements in the city. We know how to orientate our body in space, where to get food, where to have fun, where to find the grocery store, where to buy clothes and gifts, where to read a good book, where to watch a movie, where to get money, where to find a hospital, where to invite a partner for a date.  When we have a good image of the city the space appears uniform, controlled and full of meaning.  “A good mental image gives an important sense of emotional security to the person who has it that allows to establish a harmonic relationship between the self and the surrounding world. This form a feeling: opposite to the sense of displacement of who has lost his orientation, the sweet feeling of having a home is stronger when the home is not only familiare, but also distinctive” (Lynch, 1960)Accordingly, each dweller does not have a clear image of the city (Lynch, 1960), full of symbols it its prime core and blurred in its margins, but a representation that mirrors its own map of movement in the city (Cambini 2004:105). Above all, it is through a spacialized experience in a web of places that it is possible to perceive the city. In fact, only  the practice of movement between the places of the city do the dwellers give meaning to it, hence they signify it. The lived city space is made by all the routinary action of all the individuals identitities that, with their interwined paths and itineraries, produce the city space.But when we move to another city, another neighbourhood, an uncharted space, we fell disorientation because the local categotization of space according to its social uses, is still invisible to the eyes of a foreigner. In global cities, it is sufficient to move from one neighbourhood to another to experience a similar process of displacement, that is, to loose one’s own image of the city. Because of globalization, diverse people frequently live within the same political boundaries, and thus in the same area of the city different identities and discourse can enter in conflict to define the nature of the space that remains in the end a terrain of battle. From a cultural point of view, a place is to be considered the crossroads of structures, people, spaces, identities, and narratives in conflict. Class, racial, and ethnic hierarchies mark urban space with differential meanings. Also, these spatialized identities are communicated through visual signs that codify inhabitants’s identity through the local culture of the neighbourhood, so they are an important component of social agency. In the context of urban neighborhoods, people create expressive signs in the course of their everyday practices when they enact rituals of identity. Among the most visible of these practices is the use of flags, national colors, or place names to proclaim origins (Shortell, Krase 2010:10). Accordingly, every particular space of the city is the outcome of a sum of actions, each of them bringing the signs of human intention; the inhabitant of the global city does not live Toronto, but one Toronto.
As D’Aloisio notices, “the use and the values given to the space enter in the everyday construction of the subjects and of their horizon of meaning; this concurs to perform, when not properly to transform, spaces” (D’Aloisio 2007: 187).  This whole idea reads the whole city throughout the particular spatialized experience of inhabitance of its dwellers.  Hence we need a holistic perspective that takes into consideration this interplay of fact. As a result the urban, as Lefebvre argued, is an “oeuvre” (Purcell 2003:584) – a work in progress, thus, the city, rather than a settlement, it should be thought of as a work of art. The artist is the collective daily life routines of urban dwellers.  Therefore, urban space should not be valued as a commodity for exchange; it should be valued as an oeuvre that is created and recreated day-by-day, by the everyday practices of its urban inhabitants.In conclusion, our argument is that if we ignore the image of the city of the homeless Torontonians, which is competing with the one of the rest of the housed population, our knowledge of the city is necessarily incomplete. Consequently, to talk about homelessness in Downtown Toronto we have to engage with a discourse about the city spaces as well as their narratives, which express the meaning associated with it. An exhaustive analysis of Downtown Toronto as a lived city space by its housed dwellers cannot be completed without the map of the homeless city, which is the city  daily experienced by its homeless inhabitants.

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Fragments of the Home-less city

David – Bloor West Street

David, about 40 years old, migrated to Canada from Mali. David has been on the street for years, categorizing as chronic homeless. He lives between the neighborhoods Christie and the Annex. Although his brother lives in the city, they have lost all contact with each other. He is followed by a doctor for a mental disorder.

F: Why people ignore you?

D:“…Because they are ignorant or stupid, maybe is something in consequence. People have to show you confidence, encouragement and understanding, not ignore me, they collect money for nothing. It is meaningless like that, it is nothing! Like today you are here, tomorrow you die. So what is money? They are more focused on money. You have to do something to change it. You have to believe in God that’s all. Nobody changes to nobody, that’s will, interest. You need people with good heart and open minded.

F: If you could communicate with all these people what would you do?

D:“But almost all the society is not living this way (…)They try, most of them they try. But either no… One day? I don’t know. One day maybe (it)will be good. One day there (…)You have to have something to… I mean, if you want to do something you will do it, there is nothing impossible. God gives you help to create or to change. But still I am leaving here. I have a roof over my head, that’s all. In hotel or room…

 F: “David, I think your experience is important”… (how do you become homeless?)

D:“There are two choices, you know: some of them, this is very hard to understand these people, so that’s stay in the street. Because of social and political situation, but some of them like adventure. Some of them are poorer than everybody. ”

F: “What about you?”

D:“I have become homeless because I have not alternatives,  I have tried, I have tried but it never happened. I have tried so many things, for example the same like you or different people.”

“They say they have something to give me? Answer yes or no! if not, how can I know? They say “wait wait wait” but for how long? This is very disgusting ! For how long I have to wait for one job or rental housing. For metro housing you have to wait for 20, 10 years. What is the difference? you pay here you as you pay for metro housing. “

“The government  pays for everybody,  if you don’t have money, they will pay. Whether you are a citizen or not they pay you, because you are not an animal but a human beings.  Here is like everywhere else France, Switzerland is all the same. “

“Now they changed the system, it used to be socialist. Now is more conservative, now is more complex. That’s way the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. That’s why the difference  in the income, is big between the sky and the ground… Because the middle class become more rich, this is part of the problem and the poor people, nobody can see them, because they are poor and they don’t have money to spend.”

“There are many homeless people, not only on Bloor-West street but in general. There are depending on families sometimes, but they said no. The family has no money for food or anything. And you need money for everything: food, rent and everything… how can they give you extra money rather to your son or rather… “

“The main thing is the economy: when the economy is big they expand to the people to the welfare, to the church, but if the economy is zero everybody needs money. Everybody needs money. I don’t have money the problem is “expandation” (sic.).

“Sometimes if you changed the idea sometimes is even worse. When you change system the economy will become something else because you don’t know . This system is good for the people, if it want  good why the people are not accepting.”

“People with money are also not happy, they have to use the money. In different way: like discothèque, if you collect money, nothing. Tomorrow is tomorrow, today is today. Maybe we are not here you are somewhere else.”

“Today is your turn to be happy, you have hope to be the same, the same day. There is hope: The same day the same discothèque, the same beer, the same job every day.”

“Today is a lucky day for me, tomorrow is the same lucky day. Why Collect, collect money? Tomorrow is nothing. Maybe you will go to Niagara and lose all your money. It not nice there, it is addiction. You sell your house, it’s crazy, you become kuku! You have to manage, you have to care about your family. If you finish all your money where do you go? Even your family will not help you. You have to find balance, you have to think from now to 5 years, what I am going to do. At least you have to have a house, if you don’t have a place and money, where are you going  to nothing?”

“Money is sometimes power. With money I can buy food, bread. Nothing is free in this society, not like before. Before it was much money. But now time is changed. Canada and everywhere is not the same. People sleep outside, people who came here with a dream. It’s hard, eh?”



Andrew – John Street


Andrew, 20 years old, is a young busker from British Columbia. He plays harmonium or guitar as he panhandles on the street with his dog and benefits from the subsidized housing program of the municipality of Toronto. He thoroughly enjoys his style of life, and  has many friends with a similar life to his own.

“Homelessness is all out there, You see it everywhere, is like paying attention and looking for it. They give money for karmacy, “not to become like that”. Give some money so that they don’t end up in the same spot or they don’t feel guilty. The crazy thing about all this stuff is that even though everyone is walking around with the life they have bought from the store, they still are people. The people are still fucking people, no matter what. Is like when you meet somebody on the street who is a f# bastard…

One person on 30 people, will give me money because I am a buskers, but all the other because they think something else about me. And mostly is: “ I see people begging for money all the time and I don’t care anymore” Maybe they think I am on drugs, maybe they don’t know and they don’t care, or they are afraid just to step out of their shell and to talk to someone. How many times I have seen people give me money and don’t look at me, in my face, because they are afraid to acknowledge who I am but they give me money because they are just so afraid to feel like person with me, to reclaim their humanity. You can usually tell who is taking the money for do drugs, to buy cracks, math,  but most people don’t, they use money to buy food, food for dogs and so on…

Like yesterday: my banjo was stolen and I was asking money to get change… and I asked people, “yo man do you have some change to fix my violin” “people just completely ignore you, blantly” “people just  would look at you and smile or not, just to give you a recognition of your existence.”

The reason because people are doing this all the time is because they don’t have energy, they don’t because this world breaks you down. Breaks you down so much for all this alienation that is going on, people would put somebody under the shoes just to (…) All this fucking rich motherfucker but they are fucking tired.. and is not even the time and the type of the work, is more like lying to yourselves. Is like sitting outside in the cold, it takes yours energy, and is the same thing with all this people walking to some office building – instantly everybody is fake – no one is talking honestly to each other… some they would say: “How is going George?” “Oh don’t bad”. While the things are really fucked up.  They don’t really care, this is a way of pretending to be human that they should, is almost a currency. It is completely meaningless. Is completely weird, nobody really cares but they are have to say that otherwise they are going to think they are assholes.

In the supermarket. Check this out: I had to go to a meeting and the guy asking me: “How are you doing, bro?” “I am fucking bad. things are horrible”. “Holy crap, I hope it gets better!”. This lifestyle is structured in this way, this is how society is structured, I don’t know even know this person and we don’t have communities outside to have a relationship. World is crazy too big.  When you are dealing with milions and milions of people is no more about community… is crowd control.  There is no time for anyone. In supermarket people have just time to say blabla.  In a village that is different… in the supermarket people actually know each other. Here there is just too many people for a community. Why should it be millions of people crowded in such a small area?

I live in Weston.. there are lots of Black there. Everybody don’t really know each other. Is just out of ease, there are always gonna be racial prejudice. People don’t go over with what they feel comfortable with what they found comfortable, they found comfortable what they know. so if somebody is from Haiti, I will want to go there. They are like Subculture. subculture are not communities, they share interest andlook (style ndr) but they still don’t care there is nothing to make them care. They don’t care about each other.

And that’s what’s sad about it,  If you break it down: if you take somebody on the street and you don’t really ask him about anything but you simple start talking like they are really human being  they become human again. So it is about how you look at people. When you treat someone like a human, they are going to respond like a human back. They will still try. Is rare to find people than don’t do that.

Sometimes is hard to find people that can do that. Like cops, they are just so ingrained, like business people. I remember once just asking people about what time is it… nobody answered me for 20 minutes. Everybody is rushing everywhere but they are not going anywhere. People is always in rush but they are tired. People cannot just say, “relax, I don’t want to pretend anymore. I can just be myself” but they don’t know how…  That’s why there is a tv in any single house!”. Everybody plays videogames and go over computer. The only time in which people really want to be with each other. The only time you find people going together is usually a party. Alcohol is an amazing things, brings out your feelings.

I prefer somebody trying to fight (like all the animals do) me than treating me as an idea of something, people thinks to people as a concept, as an idea. Everyone has to buy a life and pretend to be the person in that life. (…)that’s what I talk about people being emasculated. People thinks to other as concept or ideas, if everybody do not have a life, everybody pretends to have a life and that means they have to pretend they are the. Fighting poses a threat to a society. (…)

F: What would you change of the society?

A: “I would change the city. I would just have villages.” (…)“I don’t have a job, I usually don’t even have a house. I have not to do anything. I live on the street, I am sleeping outside and I am happy with it like, like everyone in this country. I don’t care, I got rid of the distress and all this stuff… I do find thought that when I am on the street and I am playing music with my friend, everybody is passing they know, they fell what we are doing and they like it. I think that’s how I make my money: I don’t make money because I am a cool musician, I am funny or I am cleaver… I make money because I make people feel good, and so they feel to join me. I give them back their humanity. You cannot ignore five people playing music loudly and yelling on the street for two feet in front of you. You have to notice that: is going to snap it down from their little robot head. And make the people say: “there are people around doing what they love! Cool!”.

Brandon – Native Canadian Center

BRANDONBrandon, about 25 years old, is an Aboriginal young adult who went to Toronto from Alaska to become a rock star. He has no family in Toronto. He comes daily to the NCCT drop inn (Native Canadian Center of Toronto) in order to write and play music. He invests all his money in music equipment, and is presently sleeping at a shelter.

F: What do you think when you see homeless people on the street?

B: “I am Brandon, I am homeless.  What I think when I see a homeless? I think drugatic, alcoholic, I think a person following hard times. But I also think if somebody is on the street bombing money, Regardless who the fuck they are, I have not spent one dollar in food, clothes or sleep in the last four months. All I have spent my money on is my guitar and music equipment… and I am alive now, and I am happy. I am pretty content. And I don’t see why there should be homeless people on the side of the road, I think is not their problem, is their choice. I think they choose it. I would like to sit down because I would like to be drunk and high because I have not anything better to do so that’s what I am gonna do”. I have been doing this for years and that’s what I am gonna do. I think they could find a job easily. They are how I was, they have just not read the books that I have read, They have not the ideas that I have got, they  were not told that everything is possible. That’s who they are. If there was no choice I would get a job by the end of the day. If there was nothing. The reason I am homeless is because of musics. Music is my addiction. Is Because of the shelter is there that there are heroin addicted people, otherwise they will all stand up and get a job.”

Chuck – University of Toronto Campus



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.

Hossein – University Settlement


Hossein, (50 years old) he arrived in Toronto almost 20 years ago. He is married and he as a carrier. He is staying in a homeless centre for the first. He is here because has been accused of domestic violence.Night time, at University Settlement:

F: “Is this your first night here at University Settlement? How have you heard about the shelter.”

Hossein: “Yes, it’s my first night, after 30 years living. I have heard even if i have seen in the past a lot of people sleeping on the street. I was so surprised… if there was an animal sleeping on the street they would have immediately called the police and they would have taken it immediately to the animal society. But if there are people sleeping in the cold, if you call them, I have a friend, who came late here and there may be place anywhere inside  a little place to sleep there, but because you came here late, he had to stay outside., and he is a citizen of Canada. because homelessness is just pacing there, look the space  upstairs and downstairs…what is full? It’s only they go what their computer say… the humanity of it? This is called a humanitarian countries. humanity is one of the whole building could hold 500 people? I know they have to control, but I am talking about one single person that came here late. My point is that the quality of humanity is low.”

F: “In Italy though we don’t have this organised shelter system as here in Canada”

H: “But you have family, your aunt, your uncle, your family will always be there.  There They accept you by love, but here you have to be on system… You are only a number, you are not human. If are in time they accept you, but otherwise no. They only accept everything by book, not by their heart.

F. “What do you think of this system that is based on shelter and food-bank to help the homeless?”

I think this is not helping the society, is getting worse and worse. The have to execute this people, they have to create job for them. They are putting all this budget towards this which is getting worse and worse. If the same budget would get them to places and to work, I am sure they all would work but they have to create places to provide some work for them so that all the society would be healthy. Also, the money that they give as welfare, this people would earn this money. So they would save so much money, but not paying anymore for all this shelter and food that get through for the most of the year,do you know what I mean? it’s just a way to keep everybody in one corner so that they would not be outside. It seems that is only for certain people, here. They are hiding them. It’s only protecting only your financial here, not the humanity.The police says “protect and serve” but is only protecting and serving the finance,

And they just come to challenge you and “Hey! I did that?”

If you go to jail almost 85% of the cases are domestic, because woman could call. If you call the police and say my wife of girlfriend she hit me, they may laugh at you, but the woman, calls. But if the woman call and is a false statement they come immediately. Isn’t so simply for you to go all this process of court costs all this things and at the end they only says, sorry the your charge is dropped, you are off. The humanity to me is so unfair. As an example: for animals, people spend so much money to keep a cat or dog, if you ask them to spend the same for kids. If you send the same amount of money to Africa or somewhere to support, you can guarantee the future for the rest of his life to those kids. I know animals are good, but isn’t Human heart more expensive? Where all this good quality exists  as higher creation.

F: “So, people should understand that this is a whole city, and the caring one another should be because we live in the same space. ”

H: Unfortunately this is how we kept our system. The system is when everything goes computerized. They all say the machinery life is everything. You are like a number here, not a real person. Everything comes to money”.

F. “So you are saying that here even if they give you food, they don’t treat you like a human?”

H: “There is an old saying that they say for your teachers and friends.  Don’t give them fish, teach them how to catch fish”. That’s what they are doing now, They are keeping giving to this people fishes, that’s why they become lazy and then is only about the system how to catch fish.  So, I think, If they come and create some simple job for them, they would save so much money (…).  I think the system needs to balance this. the government needs money and immediately they pay the landlords and immediately the landlords pay to them so that it goes again to government pockets again. They give from this hand and immediately they take from the other hand. This is the wheel of economy today. So, society is not helping you to grow and become a better person, is giving you to become an alien man, around the wheel of the economy: to have the money, rent a place, pay the landlord, do the shopping, and that money circles in economy and ends up in the  government pockets again.

F: “It’s like a role play.”

H: “yes, If they really wanna help people, then there should be a different way. You should come and educate people from the beginning, as kids. They should know that it takes 10 people to divorce. If you have a girlfriend and are doing fine for 10 years, once you get married and live under the same roof, within one year you get divorced. Why? Same love, same person. But as soon as you go under the same roof, the ownership comes, and they have been taught from the Childhood. It’s me, it’s mine life, all that. That’s me, and I, then they start separating. Now, take Me and if you reverse the M, is We. It’s so simple, you should do that. To be we, is so stronger even in system wise.  Even in media, Everything rules you only in individualism. This is the best benefit to their capitalism. As  I said,  If there is 4 people family, they may live with one car, one rent, one mortgage, one insurance. But when they separate there are more expenses: 4 insurances, 4 expenses and all of that.  So, it takes 10 years to get marriage and it takes one minute to divorce, that’s because the system is so set up that divorce happen so quickly.  You see so many advertisement who says “immediate divorce”, we will (…) and it takes 10 years to get marriage! All this element will lead people. In certain countries you go to the court as a couples, that’s the culture of things, and they call the wise person as a judge, and he looks at then So he looks at the couple and says come back within 6 months  and maybe in this time things will worked out. They try to give them more time to work it out better. But here is immediate.

When this happened with my wife, somebody called the police saying that I beat my wife. This happen 5 years ago. And they said: come there,  That’s was in my own properties…I went with my wife there to sign. Empty your pocket, you are under arrest to have assaulted your wife…She said, for 7 years I have been living with this name. Tell us where did he punch you he never did that to me. Because somebody called me… they don’t tell you who has called. This is private for safety, this is what they say…Your husband has to go to the court and to the jail after… No complaints nothing … It took 4 months… Every week we went  to the court… It end up that the Crown said, no evidence the charge is off. … Next day after that, they left a message from human victim society. See how immediately they leave you to that words, so this happens to family wife.

Another evidence  shows that  1001.. Police charge the parents to be unqualified to be parents for their kids. They have to go to courts back and forth. The children would take the kids away because parents cannot control the kids. You cannot own your own kids. In a way they learn by your wisdom and your love. If somebody see you spanking your kids, police would come immediately to arrest you.

F: “So you are here tonight for that reason?”

H: ”Yes, I am here after 30 years, only in the house in Toronto because my wife made a false statement again. Because woman find this tools. It was my property, we own the house. I have come here from Iran with her. She calls because she gets upset and they use this as a defender, as a tool, as a power.”

F: “So, what do you thing to do in? are you going to stay here or prepare some action?”

H: ”Yes I have to go through the legal process again, to the court, pay the lawyers, and at the end they are going to investigate, and most likely is gonna be “no fault” and the charge is gonna drop and I cannot do anything… I just become the victim of the system. Because this is the law! when the police tells me that the laws of Ontario ties our hands and we cannot even investigate your right. Just imagine what is next: next is jail, court, lawyers, back and forth. Being separate from your wife, being in the shelters or outside and after all this thing, what they say is that this is the law in Ontario.”

F:”Untill they find out all this process, what can you do?”

H: “I cannot go to my wife, to my house I have to rent another place. Last night I stayed with a friend, but tonight I didn’t want to disturb him so I came to the shelter. Also, I have no access to the shared account, and tomorrow, I am going to find money, find a place. And I have no conviction and no criminal record, for 29 years, I have been living in Toronto. I have always had good jobs, for number of years I have owned my business. I did so much work for movies, shows, theatres, and I have worked as marketing director and public relation and event planner. There are over few hundred thousand Iranian Persian community in Toronto, with their media, their tv, festivals and so on (…).

F: “Does this have an impact on your career? ”

H: “Of course it does, if this happened 5 years ago  and it was a false and now that is happened now, you cannot explain at people and they have no knowledge of domestic laws. Especially the new immigrants community. They would say: how come have they arrested you if you don’t have even beat your wife? By the time they experience it they will find out that they took years to experience. What happened to me, I have told to people and some of them they believe some others not. Life is so taught here, you have to show people “Hey, I am not guilty now!” But suffering, going through all of that but people… Now I am sitting with you in the cold and people is not there and I am so embarrassed and have this kind of reputation in the community.”

F: “How do you feel about the fact you have a work and you are now in a shelter for homeless people? ”

H: “Of course is not comfortable. But still as humanity I come from a culture of understanding and caring; we may live on different level of society but we have the same colour of blood, we have the same destination according to my spiritual belief. If you believe in a Lord of the Universe, there is no lord for Christian, Buddhist, Muslims. Lord is the quality of your true being. There is no god, if you believe in the lord of the universe. The quality of your true being is part of the energy we called God. That energy is source within you. As good see all the creation the same, you want to see the same way that God sees, because god has been giving you all that quality to learn and to practice. So this may be a good opportunity for me… From being with a politician, like premiers, police, Richmond hill elite, and all this politicians and  media, and now I am here with all this homeless people!”

F: “From rags to riches”

H: “Ahahaha, yeah. It’s a path of life, from two perspective, you know? one is from a citizen. I have  built (when some responsible citizen is invited to the jail.) in the past people seven times, people who had problems with the law. I went there and I have built them for one year.  and they all made it too without no problem. I had to monitor them for an year, they had to live with me and I have that kind of background. And I have been so helpful to people. It’s like having a cow, it’s all white but has a dot of black on it… they say this cow is not black anymore! So, all this good things you have, is one side of the skin, but they see it. even though you are not convicted yet, first you have to get through as convicted person to find out if you are guilty or not guilty.”

H: “Before 60’s the system was the relations, like you go, you talk to a judge of peace, they listen to you. They used to know from a different perspective but right now is only what the rules and regulations says, they follow it but if you have a good lawyer and you pay it you can win but if you don’t have a good lawyer, then you can lose the case.  But, my point is that, for a judge, if he knows that there is a chance that I cannot get guilty, he should defend me. But the system it says that you go to find a good lawyer and  you pay it, if you can  pay with your money a good lawyer for your defense good, otherwise you are convicted. So the just is not there anymore. If there is a law and If the legal lawyer cannot defend you, what’s the meaning of the judge, he is sitting there to judge between this and that. Instead the judge has to listen what the cons says and have lawyer protecting you. So where the justice is then? this is where I am coming from. Unfortunately humanity become classified, there is a line in there, there is no heart, no feelings, there may be there but till a certain extent. It is a great country, but you know? They keep giving you a fish, they never teach you to take a fish (…) In Toronto, 25- 30 years ago, if there was one crime, people would talk about it for a month… Now everyday it happens, new generations. The reason is because right from the beginning the path are so separated, because there is no love, no wisdom for kids, and they grows with so much problem and they go in the society and this is what happen. I think they should from the beginning, they support family life and if that is not there, the kids would go to school. And because the kids grows, and he is 20 years old, is much more difficult, that’s why they don’t face it, because their problem is so difficult.”

F: “Why do you think here in Canada the system is so structured?”

H: “This is how capitalism is. In your system the country has been developed in 400 years and has developed different laws for the system. In Europe there have been civilization for 3000 – 2000 years there are so many things have been of and for the reason there have been many different systems, it may even has experienced capitalism very long ago. Life quality is not all about money! But here on capitalist system, it may give you some feeding but  but the quality of life is not there anymore because is based on individuals and everybody learnt it immediately from the media. I, me. Ego is evil, it comes from your anger and arrogance. And this grows with you, and then you are not going to care as much about woman and friends and you become more and more alone. Media is creating that so strongly. The kids learn it right from the beginning. All this movies and cartoons are all about crimes and killing. Everybody is learning how to make crimes, so is very open. Even between 15-20 years all youth, so many crimes happening. Now, love is happening in the younger ages and the drugs and substances that they use it. They wanna hate everybody, they have never learnt how to practice love and caring. Because when they need it nobody was there. They never learnt who to love and how to care. So is getting very crucial, very difficult. Still the route is there but the new generation is always changing and changing and more… that’s why everybody feels lonely, even the wife and the husband feels lonely so that even in the marriage she has to find an affair with someone else. It would be so hard.”

“If you cannot do it with the guy and the girl that you love, how can you do it with somebody else. Do you know what I mean?”

“Sorry I kept you in the cold, thank you so much! Your patience and your compassion allowed me to talk, I am not a speech man, your company allowed my voice to come out.”