Fran’s Restaraunt. My Sanctuary. 

  

99 cents, all you can eat spaghetti. What a deal that was. Many of us spent time panhandling a couple of bucks and boom…… Pig out time at Fran’s Spaghetti Cellar. 

First they brought fresh bread and butter. Italian loaf. This was living the high life. In a while a huge bowl of spaghetti and sauce. Parmesan cheese and chili peppers. God gracious it tasted like heaven. 

  

First bowl was heaping, second kind of heaping, third bowl not so much. Fourth was a few forkfuls  and you get the picture. Record was 14 bowls apparently. Unconfirmed. I never made it past 9. 

The Spaghetti Cellar is no longer but the memory of this occasional break from the streets remains cherished. The smells, sounds and friends sharing the table made this a special place for many a homeless soul during the 70’s and 80’s. Bon Appetite!

Finding Truth

Truth, an illusive thing if ever their was such a thing. During my many years of wandering moments of spiritual reflection would sneak up and tap me on the shoulder.

What was life about? Why am I stuck in this rut? Is there a God and where is he? Do I really matter in the larger scheme of things? If I’m really free why do I feel trapped?

When I was alone, especially at night, trying to get a ride or sleep under the stars, my mind would begin to search out answers.

Mom always talked about God and tried to raise us up as good Protestant kids. Now as a child I bought into church and religions teachings. The thing is when I was on the road God was not really part of who I was. I had little to no faith whatsoever. I knew I was alone and abandoned. No feelings of love entered my soul. God may be good for others but he was not interested in me.

Over the years I encountered many diverse religions , some bordering on the insane, some just plain satanic, others cultist, and some the social norms. Each one professing a better way yet unable to deliver.

The pain of uncertainty is a powerful yet scary experience. I was so distraught that I almost threw in the towel. I was angry and in tears during many lonely nights. All I wanted was to know that someone loved me.

Just recently I hit another spiritual battle. Torn between my Protestant upbringing and my Roman Catholic conversion. So many questions and no truthful answers. I reached a point were I tossed my bible violently on my coffee table and told my wife I had had enough. Screw the churches and reading the bible was pointless.

That night I got to work, angry and feeling abandoned. I had been praying earnestly to God for answers yet getting none. Then I realised that maybe instead of waiting for some miraculous epiphany maybe I needed to put some effort into the equation. I prayed for guidance. After two nights of 9 hours per night of prayerful study I was able to hear Gods messages to my questions. The bible was speaking to me.

I had read and preached the bible for years but this journey was different. This time I opened my heart, not just my head. I had a deep craving and desire for Gods true words. I desperately needed the Holy Spirit to guide me. I had always seen my self as the teacher, full of head smarts and bible verses. It wasn’t until I became the student, the child, the humble and hungry child that my heart became open. Now God could work with me. I wanted this more than life itself. I had finally bowed to God and became obedient. Finally!

I was able to see both my strengths and weaknesses. I understood what I had been reading. Answers came quickly. I knew that I had not been walking with Christ but been walking my own path.

I went to see my Priest and explained the torment I had gone through. I offered my first Real and Honest confession. I had done confession before but never in total honesty. Just enough to play the game.

This open confession was truly powerful. It humbled me before God. By allowing myself to be humble and having a truly contrite heart I was uplifted in spirit. This reminded me of the struggles I went through in getting off the streets. I had to be humble and accept help and guidance.

I think this is the essence of living a truly rewarding life. Be humble, be honest and persevere. Ask for help. Crave and seek that that is right and just. Trust in God. Listen and learn. Put into practice what you learn and be grateful.

My spirituality is back in place and it is awesome.
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Homeless vagabonds are worthless

This tells it like it is. Many treated me as worthless when I was on the streets. I survived yet many memories still bring pain. Keep sharing and ten logging this. It is of value, as all people are!

SimpleStuffandSuch

If you are looking for the definition of a vagabond or the difference between what a dictionary definition deems the difference between a vagabond and one who is homeless, you may, as I did, get a shock when you turn to the popular dictionary.com site which is used by thousands online as both a place of reference as well as thesaurus and definitions of words.

It is for this reason I am personally appalled to see the use of the word “worthless” to define a vagabond.

Vagabond:  “acarefree,worthless,orirresponsibleperson;rogue.”

It gets even worse; when you highlight the word “worthless” which takes you to that site’s definition of that word: “withoutworth; ofnouse,importance,orvalue;good-for-nothing: “aworthlessperson;aworthlesscontract” is provided. Are you kidding me???? 

A worthless ‘person’? Really? Since when did the word worthless refer…

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Beautiful People (The Memorial)

thCKJRXWDXIf you read my blog called “Beautiful People Matter”,  you will know of the passing of a gentle soul I had come to know at work. Today we had his memorial. True beauty and emotional tributes were in abundance. What was missing were the fancy trimmings.

It was not at a fancy funeral home or a majestic church. The people attending did not arrive in fancy dress cloths, carrying flowers, hugging each other in fake condolences. No, real people arrived in tattered cloths that lacked of fashion but were functional.
Some dressed in regular work attire turned out to be caseworkers from days past and present. These were the caring people that walked with my friend as he struggled through life, his support team. They did not have to be here today but chose to spend this last important day with those they care about, their clients and coworkers. A mutual need to love.

The others were his friends from the streets and the home he lived in. These often frowned upon people, by the end of the service would show genuine, honest human sorrow, love and compassion. No disingenuous eulogies, tears or BS. Just raw truth.

The setting was in the common room. A large room that at one time would have been the gathering place for brandy and cigars. Today it was filled with a mismatch of scratched wooden chairs, worn out leather chairs, that have seen better days, and a few functional tables. The highlight being a flat screen TV on the off white walls. Simplistic in nature but about to transform into a warm place of acceptance and beauty.

The staff had purchased a pretty purple and white plant and placed it on a tiny table beside a picture of the dearly departed. There was a plaque speaking of friends and family. Not fancy, but containing more love than the fanciest flower arrangements available.

Off to the side were aluminum trays of various chips and snacks. Water and pop for the taking. The scene was set

A comfort as simple as a chair is often taken for granted, but not today. As the door buzzer played out its music, over and over, and over, the common room filled up, as did the available chairs. The overflow of mourners sat Indian style on the floor and some stood in the hallway.

The Minister, dress in casual street attire, no fancy robes or signs of divinity, welcomed everyone. An unassuming man yet a man that seemed comfortable in a world a lot would find hard to visit. That is of course, their loss, as you will see shortly.

He began with an opening prayer and all heads were bowed, all!  When he was finished this unassuming minister asked if anyone had words to share. This is when my heart grew just a bit bigger. At first I was afraid no one would speak. How wrong I was.

A man sitting on the floor spoke up, with excitement, not sorrow, excitement. He began to tell all of us how special our friend was. How he always had a smoke if you needed one, or money if you were broke. How he was always smiling and “he was a real nice guy.” The line that choked me was one you may find in a well prepared script, yet this man had no script. Just the honest, from the heart, no holds barred honest feelings, most of the privileged are often afraid to express for fear of sounding disingenuous. “I wish I could turn back time, I wish…I could. This from someone who has little yet showed just how much he actually has. This line used so often now had meaning, true meaning and it moved me!

Another spoke up and stated that “he would give you the shirt off his back, a good friend.” a couple of others reflected how our friend loved Christ and Mary, always trying to be Godly, slipping occasionally, as we all do, but quickly recovering. Then someone else told of how he would dress all in white on Sunday, grab his bible and head to church, blessing every passerby he met. What a picture that created in my mind, and others listening.

We had music provided by the Minister and here is an except from the blues tune called;

“Make a Better World” by Maria Muldaur and the Women’s Voice For Peace Choir.

“Society is the priority cause we’re all just part of the whole.

Now when the people shout you got to hear them out, everybody is a beautiful soul.

We got to work together hand in hand; we really got to do our best.

Oh now wouldn’t it be a perfect sight to see the whole world filled with happiness.”

As this song floated out a catchy rock n blues tempo I saw folks moving to the music, and one fella singing as best he could.Everyone lost in the moment.

I witnessed a staff member, a big burly cook with an even bigger heart, discreetly use his thumb to wipe what appeared to be a tear. he wasn’t the only one. No fake wailing or boisterous shows of grief, just the occasional tear.

I later thought of the story of the poor lady who put 2 coppers in the plate when Christ taught at the temple. Christ cherished her offering the most because she gave all she had. Our friend, from testimony given, reminds me of this biblical lady. He had very little in this world. Poor as poor can get, yet shared all he had. Smiled as he blessed people.

Many nights he would sit and ask me questions about the bible, God, and if there was a heaven.

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Well my friend now you know. I told you there was. Enjoy it. Your love, compassion and faith assures me you are with the angels. Someday I will see you again and we can sit and chat, like we used to down here.

Funny, I was upset that I got called into work. I was supposed to be at a family lunch, then visit my mom at the nursing home. I guess God decided to bless me today. I had no idea of the memorial. I thank God he made it possible to witness such a simple yet beautiful tribute to a beautiful soul

An ounce of love cures a ton of heartache!

Peace until next time.

The Beggar’s Courage

Life and Theory

It has become a recent trend in Canadian urban centres to combat panhandling by installing so-called “charity metres.” These metres are on-street receptacles for small change donations styled after parking metres. Sometimes they are attached to parking metres themselves. Edmonton and Ottawa have them, cities like Windsor and Halifax have considered them. My own Peterborough had a few installed back in 2011. The idea is to deter panhandling while still encouraging donations to programs that help the poor.

I guess it works something like this: you see a panhandler, you feel compassion, but then you slip a loonie into a cold machine instead of the individual’s hand, communicating that you’re a really nice person and would like to help, though it would be nice if this bum got out of your way.

spare changeI find this to be a pretty disturbing trend.

First, even suggesting that we should remove our panhandlers from…

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Kenora and The Great Sub Shop Robbery. (Call the cops, please)

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Welcome to Kenora Husky Muskie

Sometimes, while on the road, crazy just crops up, and before you know it you are in a whirlwind of stupidity.

The other day at work a reporter I know mentioned that she was heading to subway. It had been a long and boring morning centered around a municipal budget meeting. Sandy, with her usual smile, asked me if I wanted anything. I had brown bagged it so I declined at first, but then figured a diet pop would do nicely.

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Beautiful downtown Stouffville

I smiled inside as I wondered what she would get at Subway. Sandy is “vegan” and likes to run, bike, and engage in athletic activities. What meatless food could possibly fuel this lady.
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Vegan Lunch

Me, I need meat, meat and more meat. I’m protein driven, preferably the hamburgers and sausage kind.

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Protein Driven

Now Stouffville Ontario, a beautiful town just northeast of Toronto, is a long way from Kenora Ontario. I had been reflecting on what I would write about in my next post and I had an epiphany. Here I was working security at a town budget meeting and being offered lunch. How things have changed over the years. How my personal struggles had paid off. Twenty five years ago I would never have believed I would have been in any position to graciously decline any offer of food, especially a sub. Sub’s played a major part in an adventure consisting of stupidity and a possible jail term.

Sandy’s kind offer and the sight of her vegan appropriate sub, reminded me of a rainy night, long ago in Kenora Ontario.

Yes it involves an attempted robbery by yours truly. I wasn’t alone but I dreamed up the plan. Me and a good friend had the fortune of experiencing a jail, Ace Submarines, the Kenrisha Hotel,and the Husky Muskie. The story is crazy to tell but trust me, it is the Gods honest truth. That’s the craziest part of this story, it actually happened.

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Kenrishia Hotel, Kenora Ontario

This misadventure started out just south of Kenora, on a soaking wet, mud filled soft shoulder, of the TransCanada. Jaz, short for Jasper, and I had legged about four miles in the rain. Prior to our rain infused walkabout we had visited the local constabularies looking for a dry bunk to temporarily call home. Well I guess the man didn’t feel to hospitable because the words, ” you guys ain’t staying here so move on” were not the words of welcome we had hoped for.

Well to say the least, we were pissed. As we headed out of town, Jaz and I competed in how many derogatory names we could attach to the not so fine men in blue of Kenora. Eventually the insane down pouring of cold rain diminished our zeal for name calling and we simply trudged southward, out of town. We ended up sitting on a soft shoulder, in the middle of rain soaked nowhere. Destitute and drowning.

When its dark in northern Ontario, its really dark. Throw in a torrential hammering of ball bearing size raindrops and the night becomes beyond black. Now wrap this situation in a northern wind and the night becomes a vagrants nightmare. Once you are soaked and shivering there is no reprieve, well not until the sun rises! We were a long ways away from any solar blessings.

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Rain on Northern Ontario Highway by Wawa

As it would turn out fate was about to bitch slap us. We had managed to collect enough cigarette butts to create a supply of tobacco to be able to roll smokes for the day. What we did was go to buildings with communal ashtrays, collect the butts and break them open. Then we would pour the tobacco into a used tobacco pouch. This, with a supply of vogue papers, made for the makings of rolled smokes. Well the pickings had been minimal and we were running out quickly.

Let me explain one thing. No smokes when sitting in the second coming of Noah’s flood is more than one should ever have to face. Our spirits where on a quick decline.

Suddenly, Jasper, always bordering on crazy, jumped up and began pacing. To my amazement he got this stupid grin on his face and stated, “that’s a fucking jail over there!” Before I could reply he was across the highway and disappearing down a ditch, and out of sight. The next thing I notice is that this insane, drenched, crazy partner of mine was creeping up to the front door of this building. He looked like a cartoon doing the tippy toed, covert sneaky movement thing best left to Sylvester trying to get at Tweety bird.

I couldn’t yell out because I didn’t want to blow his cover. I was laughing and squinting through the rain, trying to make sense out of the absurdity of what I was witnessing.

The rain against my glasses made sight as frustrating as not having a smoke during this monsoon. I tried peeling off my glasses to see what I could see. Did I mention that I’m as blind as a bat. I couldn’t see diddly squat. Time passed , but each minute seemed like a fortnight. Thoughts of Jasper getting pinch for trespass did nothing to cheer up this situation. We had been travelling for a few years together and had become friends, no partners is a better word. I was a bit perplexed yet held hostage by the moments insanity. Some crazy shit was going down, this I knew. But what?

It seemed like about an hour before I saw Jasper coming back across the highway. There was nobody chasing him. Now I was really stumped. “What the fuck?” Was my intellectual response. Jaz simply grinned from ear to ear and casually reached into his coat pocket and held up a fresh, unopened, bail of Daily Mail tobacco. If any of you have spent a vacation in an Ontario jail, prior to the new pissant, no smoking in jail era, you know Daily Mail. I began laughing as I asked, ” what did you do?” Jasper calmly suggested we get away from the area. Well we decided to head back into town. Why I have no clue but to town we headed, smoking and laughing up a storm.

As we rolled fresh curlies, an old time nickname for hand rolled smokes, I learned that my travelling partner was, by far, the ballsiest nutbar, I would ever know. He actually B and E’d the jail and somehow stole tobacco. I don’t know how. Probably never will but some things are best left alone. Yes, you read that correctly but let me repeat it for you! While walking into town I learned that Jasper somehow got into the jail, scored tobacco, and escaped unscathed.

My laughter was only overshadowed by my competitive nature. I turned to Jasper and told him to follow my lead. I had a plan on insuring us a warm bed, food, and a welfare cheque. I think this is when crazy visited my grey matter and set up shop. Part of our nature was trying to out do each other. It made things interesting and fun. His dyslexic jail break would be hard to top, but I was game!

When we reached town we headed back to the cop shop and explained to the cop that we had not been able to get a ride, needed a place to sleep, and get out of the elements. Again we were denied. My last words to the pillar of society sitting behind the desk was something along the lines of…” You will be putting us up, you just don’t realize this yet!”

I reminded Jasper to follow my lead. It was his turn to inquire as to ” what the fuck?”. I took us downtown and found a sub shop. Ace Sub’s was the town sub shop and it was about to become the instrument of my ultimate plan. We entered and the smell was awesome. Bread, meats, cheese, coffee etc. Heaven on earth. As I reached the counter I couldn’t help notice that Jasper had regained his grin. I figured he knew I was up to some whacked out shit and that things were about to get interesting.

Well I ordered two assorted sub’s, two double double coffees. Jasper claimed one of the fire truck red tables while I hung out at the counter. The guy behind the counter, a young looking Italian, began to prep our order. Nice looking kid. Long wavy hair, slim build, and a contagious smile. If he wasn’t making sandwiches he would be out dancing in a disco, impressing young northern Ontario girls.

As he was finishing the sandwiches I piped up with the stupidest line I have ever used in a restaurant. ” Hey pal, can you do me and my pal here a huge favour?” The kid replied “sure what is it?” He placed the huge, meat filled torpedo shaped sandwiches on the counter. As I grabbed on to more food than I had seen in a long while I answered with a brief but firm, “call the cops.” All I got in return was, “why?” John, as I would learn his name later, looked shocked and confused.

I proceeded to explain that Jasper and I were broke so we were robbing him of his food. This poor guy blanched and hesitantly asked us if we were serious. I told him that we were hungry, wet and at our wits end, so yes, we were indeed serious. Well this nice kid simply told us that he would not call the cops and we should just sit and eat, no charge.

I thanked him for his kindness and explained to him that we needed to have the cops called. I told him that my partner and I would get about thirty days in lock up. This was a pivotal part of my plan. Back then if you served more than 27 days you were automatically entitled to an emergency welfare cheque.

Behind me I heard Jasper chuckle.

My plan was to get three hots and a cot, a recuperating sabbatical, followed by enough green to buy tickets to Toronto, with cash to spare.

I explained all of this to the guy behind the counter. Again he stated that he didn’t want to call the cops on us. I pleaded a bit more aggressively and he reached for the phone.

A booming voice erupted from the rear of the seating area. ” Hold on John, just hang up!”. Well John hung up and poured us more coffee. I looked at Mr Booming Voice and asked him what he was doing. This dude began laughing so hard that all of us, including John, the sub maker, started to laugh. The customer , after getting a grip, stated that he had a room at the Kenrishia Hotel and we could crash there for the night. He suggested that we could, and should, use the shower as well as dry out a bit. This new found benefactor offered to pay for our grub, yet John refused to take any money.

After finishing the sub’s and coffee we headed to the hotel. After a couple of shots to warm up we got cleaned up and eventually passed out on the floor of this kind gentleman’s room. We slept soundly.

The next morning brought out the sun and that heavenly morning smell of evaporating rain, flowers and fresh country air. We thanked our friend and headed out the door. Before we got out of the room our host handed us twenty bucks and directed us to a small cafe.

By the time we finished an awesome scarfing of eggs, bacon, home fries, toast and coffee we decided we could survive with out the need for a short period of incarceration.

We made Hogtown in two days, after a stop at the Sudbury Salvation Army for a night.

The only thing missing in this post is a heart felt thank you to John and Bruce for their kindness on one of the craziest nights I have ever lived through.

Once again simple acts of kindness can, and often do make a difference.

Now here I am sitting in Council Chambers smiling inside. I’ve come a long way since that rainy night in Kenora. Sandra is enjoying her veggie sub, the Mayor is about to call the meeting to order and for some reason…..I’m craving an Assorted Sub!

Bye for now.

Beautiful People Matter.

Part of my work involves providing overnight security in various assisted living facilities. I have, in the past, lived in a few assisted living homes, such as Transition House, in Toronto.

While working I meet and get to know the residents. These are the marginalized suffering from medical and cognitive difficulty. If you saw them on the street you may believe that they were bums or derelict. Not all of you, but some would jump to this conclusion.
What I see is a reflection of the road I travelled. When I smell the odour of bodies in need of showers, stale cigarette smoke, dirty socks and all the other smells associated with communal living it brings me back to the many shelters I slept in. Most find it oppressive and that’s OK. For me its more of a common denominator that I have experienced and can relate to.
I often get to talk with and spend time with the residents. Not in the capacity of a social worker but simply as the friendly guard on midnights.
I’m thankful for my past as it has given me the empathy and knowledge to allow me to be genuine in my compassion for their well being.
Today I was informed of the passing of a sweet man who would come down from his room and talk with me. Society, at times fails to see the true value of its marginalized citizens. No one is inconsequential. This man had so little to offer except his smile and to offer a blessing.
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He was not what society would label as one of the beautiful people. How wrong they are.
Rest in peace my friend. You gave more than you realized. You will be missed.

The Park Bench.

Life can be a series of events that to the complacent mind appear mundane and trivial. We all tend to fall into routines and slide down our paths blindly, missing the small things that if examined, may be life altering. I myself, with all of my past experiences of homelessness, fall into this trap. Now that I’m off the streets and have a successful career and loving family, I tend to walk with blinders on. Life’s hustle and bustle tends to occupy our days with trying to pay the bills, meet deadlines, get further ahead, and fit in. The harder we try, the further we fall.
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Let me explain by sharing a couple of events I was blessed with.

A few years ago I was driving home from work. It was a beautiful sunny December afternoon in the North York area of Toronto. It was getting close to Christmas. As I pulled up to a red light, in the left hand turn lane of Weston Road and Finch, I noticed a panhandler stemming for money, coffee cup in hand. “Dam it, this guys going to put the pinch on me.” This was an annoyance I didn’t want, nor need. I had no coin and just wanted to cash my freaking pay cheque, go shopping and treat myself. Hell I had a bitch of a week and simply wanted to be left alone. Cold hearted, but that was my right.

Well sure enough I didn’t get my window rolled up quick enough! All of a sudden this disheveled looking bum was waving his paper coffee cup in my face. Son of a bitch, caught! “Sorry pal, all I got is this pay cheque”. “I’m busted till I get to the bank. Can’t even get coffee for myself. Sorry”. Well that was done. No, I was about to be taught a lesson that I needed.
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Before I could roll out, this bum reached into his filthy jacket pocket and pulled out a “Toonie”. Now for you non Canadian readers a “Toonie” is the Canadian two dollar coin. He extended the coin through my window and smiled as he said,” here let me buy you a coffee”. I was shocked! ” Thanks, but hang on to your cash. You need it more than I do. Once I get to the bank I’m fine ” This fella just smiled and placed the “Toonie in my hand and stated, ” anyone who works deserves a coffee on the trip home”.

The light had changed and the car behind me was pushing forward. I, in a choked voice ,thanked my benefactor and headed down Weston Road. I was so touched by this mans simple act of kindness I was in tears. I kept thinking that I did not deserve such compassion as I had none when I was annoyed at seeing this stemmer. Stemmer by the way is street for panhandler.

What I realised was that I had turned into the same cold hearted type of person that many years ago treated me like social garbage. I had lost touch with my roots and took for granted all that God had given me.

I had forgotten that the marginalized in our so called civilised world are human. They have feelings, consciences, hearts, dreams and needs. Just like me!

I had lost touch with reality and succumbed to the materialistic and success oriented world we live in. I was reminded that we must never allow the pressures of life to turn us cold. An ounce of love can cure a ton of heartache.

It took a Bum to remind me of this. No, that’s wrong. It took an Angel. I believe this rough looking guy was an Angel, as I have often returned to that corner and have never seen him again. May sound silly to some of you but trust me when I say it warms me to the core.

I often reflect on that day. When I can I try to drop some coin into the many coffee cups in this city. I can’t always afford to but then I can’t really afford not to. You never know when an angel is about to show you the way.

My next event is about park benches. I know, what in the world is so special about a park bench? Sure you can sit on one, feed the birds, or whatever. Its just a bench, or is it.

It was Christmas Eve and I wanted to go home and be with family. I had just got back to Toronto from a long cold hitch hike from Calgary. For the homeless Christmas is a heart wrenching, spirit killing time of year that is the cruelest of all holidays.

I had phoned my folks and told them I was in Toronto and wanted to visit. Well that went over as well as a pick pockets chance of getting rich in a nudest colony. In no uncertain terms I was told that I was not “going to stay here”. I was offered a brief visit on Christmas day. Christmas is not for the homeless. Never has been and most likely never will be.

Well my only option was to head downtown and try and get a bed at the Fred Victor Mission or Sally Anne. Feeling rejected and hurt I made my way.

I had to walk until I could bum enough to get on the TTC, our transit system here in Toronto. It was late and the system was on restricted holiday service. Eventually I made it. The thing I remember most is the lack of Christmas spirit. None of the lights or Christmas decorations meant anything to me. I remember wishing I could somehow recapture that warm feeling but knew it was out of reach. That my dear reader, in my opinion, is why suicides are at their peak during Christmas.

Upon reaching the Fred Victor I was informed that all the beds were occupied. The Sally Anne was filled to capacity as well as all the shelters. I was in a fix, and might I say, pretty darn cold. I began walking north on Yonge Street trying to find a place to warm up. I needed to stem up enough cash so I could go to Frans restaurant and get a coffee. Back then refills were free and we all spent many nights sitting at the counter. It was better than a park bench in December.
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Sadly it took about an hour to raise enough for coffee. It was late yet there were still lots of folks out. Some with bags and boxes of presents. The majority just walked by saying nothing. A few suggested I get a job. Finally I headed to Frans. My feet were so frozen I could barely walk and the shivers had complete control.

Now daylight was many hours away and I was completely exhausted. When you are homeless you learn the tricks of the trade. I had enough coin for two coffees so I could pay my bill, leave and return. My plan was simple. I paid my bill and headed downstairs to the washroom. I took one of the two stalls and sat down on the crapper. The trick here is that you must lower your pants so that it appears you are doing a nature call. I leaned my head against the wall and fell into the sleep of the streets.

This is a semi consciousness that allows for rest yet leaves you alert enough to the dangers associated with living homeless. There are many things to worry about such as cops, robbers, beatings etc. These are real and have killed many. Not every atrocity makes the news.

Now as lady luck would have it I got caught about two hours into my recuperations. Thank God it wasn’t a cop. Cherry Beach is a bitch in the winter time. I will cover this in another time. All I will say is if you were homeless in Toronto during the seventies and eighties you probably took that ride in the yellow cop car and feared Cherry Beach.

The management simply kicked my sorry ass out onto College Street. So there I was, sort of rested, yet stuck outside at around 3am Christmas morning. Now what the hell was I supposed to do? I decided to head back to my folks neighborhood and find a place to lay down until morning. I used my last coffee money to hop on the all nighter Bloor bus.

Once I got back to Kinsdale and Parklawn I sat on a park bench that was on the edge of a school yard, across from the four story apartment building that housed my family. I was tired, hungry and freaking frozen. Dad had put some lights around the window and I could see the family tree from where I sat and shivered. I knew that inside the tree was fully decorated and there would be presents galore. The Bennett’s always did Christmas to the max.

I decided to stretch out on the bench and sleep until daylight. I had a bedroll and used this to cover up. One of the design flaws in park benches is the sitting area is made from slats of wood, thus the cold winter winds get you from below. You really have to wrap yourself up or sleep is impossible. It is also prudent to cover your head as the majority of body heat is lost via the noggin.

The only way to totally protect oneself from freezing is to get into a fetal position so you are completely covered. Next you need to tuck your chin deep down into your collar so that you can breath down towards your chest. Your warm breath helps to keep you warm. Finally you must stick both your hands down your pants and cup the warmest parts. These few tricks will keep you from freezing to death, most of the time.

Luckily I didn’t turn into a statistic. Eventually Mom let me in. Finally warmth. Well warmth from the furnace anyhow. Even though I was inside with the family I felt as an outsider. My sisters where just finishing unwrapping presents and heading off to their rooms to do what ever. No real welcome there. I think they said hello but not much else.

Have you ever felt alone in a crowd? Well you can also feel alone with family. I did get fed before I was told it was time to leave. No presents under the tree, offers of staying over night. I was given enough for a bus ticket back downtown, a Merry Christmas, followed by the sound of a door being closed. Heartbreaking to say the least.
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I didn’t stick around for New Years. Seemed kind of pointless. I ended leaving Toronto via the thumb and highway 427. As I walked up the ramp to the highway, at Eglinton and Martingrove I had to stop. Martingrove Collegiate, my old school, stood on the corner. I remembered what a teacher had said to me a few years previous to this night. ” Mr. Bennett, you will never amount to much.” This night I believed him. I continued walking up the ramp.

Now you may be wondering what this has to do with not seeing the small things, so let me explain.

That coffee cup in the panhandlers hand is the only thing keeping him from the park bench. Forget the reasons or self righteous stereotypical assumptions. Help if you can, someday it may be you or one of your loved ones.

Do you remember seeing someone sleeping in a fetal position, in a doorway or on a grate? He or she is in that position trying to capture as much heat as possible. To you he or she is of little significance, to be avoided. In reality this is a person suffering and alone.

The park bench is much more than wood and screws. During its lifespan from tree to bench, it has accomplished more than you may know. As a tree it provided the comfort of shade. Helped supply the oxygen you breathed. Then the tree housed birds that you enjoyed listening to. Next it supplied food and lodging to the person who was paid to cut it down, the trucker who delivered it to the mill. It helped feed the employees of the mill, the factory workers who made the tree into a bench. It also helped feed and house the salesperson who sold it to the city and finally the workers who set it up in the park.

Now it gives you a place to sit and maybe feed the birds you enjoy listening to. Is it so insignificant, to be taken so lightly?
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My point is simple. Even the smallest, most inconsequential things we come across are not as inconsequential as they seem. The homeless and marginalized are the same. They have value, purpose and meaning. They are not to be ignored or lost to our busy lifestyle. They should be a part of our lives. By passing them by believing they are someone else’s problem we become inconsequential, simply the status quo, not changing anything. Stuck in our blind passage through a world desperately needing a new direction.

An ounce of love cures a ton of heartache. Peace.