Life on the Streets

Jon Mercier

Reprinted from "Housing and Homelessness" issue of Visions Journal, 2007, 4 (1), p. 15

stock photoI've been on the streets a lot in my life. In my early teens I ran away from home. Now, at the age of 23, I find myself back on the streets for something I never thought would happen to me. I was fired from a job because I lost my temper with a customer. I didn't find a new job in time to pay my rent and was evicted.

On March 11, I went to a men's shelter in Vernon called Howard House. They helped me get on welfare and I started paying rent of $450 a month. The Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance (MEIA) only gave me hardship coverage, which means I only got three months of assistance. Come April, Howard House raised the rent to $500. I was only able to give them the $375 income assistance shelter allowance. I gave them that, but was kicked out on April 4 anyway. The money went back to welfare and I was without a place.

I heard there was another shelter that was free to stay at. But when I got there, I found it had closed due to lack of funding. I was left with no place to stay. I kept my hopes up, though, because I still had a place to eat called the Upper Room Mission. The staff there really care about the people who go there.

With the free shelter closed and a bylaw against homeless people sleeping in parks or on city streets, there was no place to sleep at night. The staff at the Upper Room Mission, however, said we could sleep in their parking lot. This is what I, along with about 20 other people, have been doing. We face many hardships, like people driving by and yelling at us. Once someone even drove into the lot while we were asleep and screeched around, doing a smoke show. Yet, ever since the newspaper wrote an article about what is happening to the homeless, many people have come to bring us food, blankets and clothing.

Since being back on the streets, my hope of getting back on my feet is falling into the dark. Before becoming homeless again, I'd been drug-free for six years. But because of depression and the stress of being homeless, I've gotten back into using ecstasy and smoking weed.

When you live on the streets with no money, crime becomes a big temptation. So far, I've been able to ignore the temptation, but for how long I don't know. Between the ages of 13 and 19, I was in and out of jail for breaking and entering, auto theft, drug charges and assault. I've been out of jail for three years now. I still have a warrant for my arrest, though, from Thunder Bay, Ontario. I can't be arrested on that warrant here unless I commit another crime and was told the warrant will be dropped if I can evade it for seven years. With three years behind me, I'm hoping I can get through the next four.

I fear that if I don't get a job and a home soon, I may find myself back in jail. Some people look at being in jail as "at least I am off the streets." As true as that is, besides having a bed and food every day, jail is much like the streets: you still have to deal with drug use, other people's tempers, and even cop-like people. This is why I would much rather find a job, get back into the working world and have a house of my own.

I want to work. I've done odd jobs for people to make money so I could eat and buy smokes. I did six days of labour on a farm for $480, and then I did one day's work putting siding on a house for $60. It's more like no one wants to hire me because I'm homeless. But I'm homeless because I don't have money to pay rent, and I don't have money because no one wants to hire me until I have a place. So it's a Catch-22.1

I've also been prescribed medication for attention deficit, split personality and bipolar disorders. The medication I was first given when I was working was not covered by any Canadian medical plan. Since being homeless, getting the medication I desperately need has been very difficult. My doctor just recently found a medicine that my BC medical plan will cover. So now I am back on medication, but it took from March 11 until May 24 for that to happen.

I've met many different people while living on the streets and not all of them are homeless. I've met a very kind and warm-hearted married couple, who are a great support in keeping my hopes of getting a job high. I'm thankful for meeting them. I also met my now girlfriend on the streets. She is not homeless, but has slept with me on the street a few nights. It makes me very happy that she understands me, and I know she's there for me no matter what I'm facing. A few other people I've met are not the best people to know, and I wish I'd never met them.

My biggest wish is that the public would realize we homeless people are just like everyone else; we're just having a rough time in our lives. Many of us have good hearts and are trying to find a home and a better life. We just have some mighty big obstacles to face.

 
About the author

Jon is 23 and lives in Vernon. He has two beautiful sons and, although he is homeless, he is working toward a better future

 

Footnote:
  1. "Catch-22" refers to a no-win situation. Each of two or more conditions requires the other conditions to be fulfilled, but these other conditions also require the original condition to be fulfilled. The term is coined from the novel Catch-22, by American writer Joseph Heller.

 

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