May 23, 2023
“I was spiraling down and I didn’t know how to stop”
There are roughly 10,000 people in Toronto who are homeless or insecurely housed on any given night. The pandemic, rising cost of living, lack of affordable housing, and the poisoned drug crisis are just some of the reasons more and more people are falling beneath the cracks each day.
Our hope is that by sharing our client’s stories it will help to challenge stereotypes and humanize the issue of homelessness in ways data and reports cannot. Nobody is immune from experiencing homelessness, it can happen to anyone, and its effects are devastating, this is Bobby’s story…
Bobby was always on the move as a child, born In Calgary, he moved to Vancouver when he was 13 because his mother wanted a change of scenery. “My father was not in the picture; it was only me and my mother growing up” Bobby had a roof over his head and never went hungry, but life at home was far from perfect. “My mom was not always very loving, she showed her affection in other ways, either way, there was never much emotional support at home.”
An active child, Bobby was always up to something, whether it be sports, participating in the school play or choir, he was constantly on the go. Shortly after the move to Vancouver Bobby started working in construction, from the age of 13-16 he would work on the weekends and after school to earn extra money.
Bobby didn’t know it yet, but he suffered from an acute case of ADHD which caused him a great deal of anxiety and made school increasingly difficult to handle. The year was 1986, there was little understanding of neurodevelopmental disorders at the time, as a result, he would go his entire childhood undiagnosed.
Bobby’s struggles with ADHD significantly affected his mental health, leading him to begin using hard substances such as cocaine. “A friend showed me, I was in a bad place mentally and I was just looking for something to ease my anxiety” He believes the ADHD is a result of a Head injury he suffered as a child. “The stimulants put me in a good place, calmed me down, and the psychotic stuff in my head, this I found out later was a sign of ADHD when stimulants actually calm you down and put you at ease.”
Bobby began using substances on and off for years “The substance use didn’t become problematic the first year, I had a job, my grades were good”
It all came to a head when he was caught and charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance. The charges he was faced with led to incarceration; it was during this time that Bobby was officially diagnosed with ADHD. “I was incarcerated at the time when I found out, I was surprised I was able to manage it for so long”
Bobby began seeing a psychiatrist shortly after prison and he was finally given medication to help manage the effects of his ADHD. A lot was changing in his life, he had a son he was raising on his own that required a significant reorientation of his life.
“When I got older as a single parent I couldn’t manage it, things began to get very difficult, the things I used to be able to do when I was younger, I was no longer able to do”
Bobby got a job at a hospital as a dietary assistant caring for elderly patients. “I found healing and reconnection with myself, and it gave me a sense of gratitude, people just wanted to feel love, they were sick and dying and all they wanted was the comfort of knowing someone cared for them and that is what I tried to do.”
Bobby always enjoyed learning and the challenge of starting something new, after a few years working at the hospital, he decided it was time he went back to school. Bobby attended George Brown for a degree in child and youth work. He had volunteered as a youth educator at several organizations in the past and found the experience to be very rewarding, “I wanted to give back any way I could”
Just when things began to look up, life would take another dark turn. Bobby returned to work in construction while attending George Brown in order to put himself through school all while raising his child by himself. The economic downtown of the late 90s in Ontario increased an already overwhelming situation, this took a significant toll on his mental health. “I had a breakdown trying to manage it all, raising my child, going back to school, and working with no support.”
“I was spiraling down, and I didn’t know how to stop it, to stop the downward spiral I took antidepressants which resurfaced to some demons, and then I relapsed.”
Bobby would spend the next several years in a cycle of sobriety and relapse, living in and out of shelters. When there was no space available at a shelter, he would be forced to sleep rough on the streets. He would eventually lose custody of his son, “I was not able to be there for my son 100 percent, I could be there 60 percent and that was not enough”
It was at this time Bobby began to connect with Street Health and some of the other community-based agencies in the downtown east core.
“I was homeless, sleeping on the steps next to sound times, with no income, no ideas about how to rectify the situation, and people kept stealing my stuff. I became aware of Street Health when I needed a place to apply for I.D and store it safely, staff were able to help me with that”
One of the biggest barriers to people experiencing homeless accessing social services and housing is that they like photo I.D. Photo identification is something that is frequently lost, stolen, or taken during encampment sweeps putting people in an already marginalized state into further uncertainty.
Bobby was in survival mode, constantly on the move, uncertain of where he would sleep, eat and make it through another day, it stayed like this for many years and then the pandemic hit.
“The pandemic had a devastating impact on the homeless population, I was homeless with no clear idea of how I was going to rectify the situation, I guess I must have prayed extra hard the night before because the very next day the city moved anyone sleeping in encampments into a temporary hotel shelter where I still am today. “The shelter-hotel is run well, and now I have freedom and looking to get into housing”
Bobby credits his faith in a higher power for getting him through the day. “Despite the imperfections, I am trying to persevere, I am seeing things differently, I always believed I would have to dedicate my life to a higher power, something bigger than myself”.
We would like to thank Bobby for his candor and openness when discussing his story with us. Stories like Bobby’s are tragically not uncommon, we must do more to build a world where people have access, identity, and visibility. We can only help solve the homelessness crisis when we see people experiencing homelessness as our neighbors and not statistics.
Have a story to tell? , reach out to us email@example.com