On May 10, 2020, Joseph Lauren, our program director, and Michael Van Dusen, a board member, met with the four residents living at RJHO’s first home in south Etobicoke, Ontario. Over chocolate banana cake and a box of Tim Bits, they spoke about their experiences before and since living in the home.
We’ve changed their names for privacy, but the stories are their own.
Can you tell us what your situation was before you came here?
The year 2000 was pretty bad. I fell into drugs… heroin, cocaine crack… and I did five years. 2005 came along and I went to a halfway house, and I screwed things up there and got sent back. I just finished in 2018, in December.
I got out of the halfway house and had nowhere to go and ended up at my brothers and stayed there for six months; then to my sisters and just couldn’t make a go of it. Harry introduced me to people at the John Howard society and started things going. I got my ODSP back and my CPP and I talked to Harry and he introduced me to Joseph and Wendy. We had a few interviews and I explained to them that I can help out. I can take care of the repairs in the house.
I did over 10 and a half years inside so when I’ve been out, I’d just been dealing with things on my own, in my own ways. I recognize that I do need to get help. Since I’ve been out I’ve always been employed, except for now, with the coronavirus, I was laid off.
I was living with my ex-girlfriend. The relationship was toxic and unhealthy. We broke up. We were like two bulls in a bullpen. We were always arguing and we disagreed. Drugs and alcohol were a factor… and dealing with depression. My sister was helpful and let me in until I heard about this place.
I became homeless in 2016, then from there everything spiralled down… I got arrested endlessly and was going from house to house. I still didn’t have a place of my own.
[In late 2019] I was at Good Shepherd for seven months but they threw me out and I thought “Wow! Where’m I gonna go? What am I gonna do? I’m doomed.” Like I had nothing. None of the regular places that I go to sleep are open, nothing. I didn’t want to be on the streetcar because that was too dangerous. Too many individuals. I stayed with a friend but he got scared that we were going to get fined by the police for being together, and then I stayed in my storage (locker) for two days, but then I said to myself “why not go to YSM?” because they’re the only agency that has does anything positive downtown… they’re number one, as far as I’m concerned. So I contacted them. I told them I wanted to live by myself. I didn’t want to go through a situation again, living with people, getting in confrontations in the house. I didn’t want the same situation like at the shelter… so [when they learned about this place] they didn’t think I would take it. But when the lady asked me, I said, “Sure, I’ll take it.”
What’s it like since you’ve been living here?
That’s easy. You can’t get better than this. This is fantastic. Four guys here and everyone gets along… pretty good so far. Its quiet. I sleep early. No problem. Noise bothers me but I have no problem.
If something bothers you, you just talk… usually that’s it. That’s the end of it. We don’t have formal meetings. We just have discussions like this. We live here. This is our house. It can be handled in the house.
Normally, I have a problem with too many people but this is the best neighbourhood I’ve ever seen.
I’m in a positive safe environment. I don’t need to be tempted by stuff and see it. Since I’ve been here, I’ve gotten along with everyone. I like the house. I like the routine. I like the setting. It’s a good environment. It’s a quiet street… very quiet. The neighbours are polite and nice.
So far so good. The neighbourhood’s quiet. You don’t want to be downtown now. Covid exposes everything… It’s just bad, human feces and vomit on the streetcar, people sneezing on the streetcar… the smell of homelessness is just ingrained. You’re at risk. Someone’s always trying to pick a fight, or trying to intimidate you. So the streets of downtown are not safe.
Everyone here is fine… A few little discrepancies but we dealt with them ourselves.
This place is a blessing… I mean, seriously, I’ve seen guys try and have to settle for whatever, like places infested with mice and cockroaches… just to get out of the shelter, but this is a blessing. I thought I’d never get a place.
Things have been going good far.
What are your plans? What do you hope for?
I’m not going to be here for the rest of my life… I’m just waiting to get my old age pension and I’ll be making more money and hopefully I can save a few bucks and I’ll get going, right? I met a dear friend of mine and she’s come back to the city… and things are going all right.
I recognize that I do need to get help. My goal is to be here as long as possible and to have access to the resources that I can become a better person for myself and for my future as well and just to be more honest with myself.
A lot more of these houses are needed. I didn’t know that this was the first one… this is huge. There’s so many guys out there, when they come out, because they have a record, they’re done.
The conversation continued from there – multiple voices engaged in friendly ribbing and snacks. We also took the time to check out the home improvements Bruce has made since becoming the resident handyman. He’s already retiled the downstairs washroom, installed a new kitchen sink and faucets and installed a new second floor toilet. We look forward to bringing you more stories, insights, and hope from our residents.
Take a look at the first RJHO house
(Left to right) The front of the house, Ben prepares veggies for the BBQ, Joseph swings by to BBQ with the residents.
 Harry Nigh, an RJHO board member
 Ontario Disabilities Support Payment
 Canada Pension Plan
 Wendy Leaver, an RJHO board member
 Yonge Street Mission