Homelessness is a lonely street

Any Given Night: An experience into homelessness

Published on January 30, 2015

©Star photo by Geraldine Brophy

Note: This past week, reporters from several of our TC Media newspapers in Atlantic Canada took a journey into the cold. Their assignment was to spend a night homeless and document the experience. In some cases, what they found was comfort and kindness while others wandered alone in search of a shelter they would never find. While homelessness might be seen as an issue for our major cities, it is not exclusive to them and how we handle it is an issue for all communities.

CORNER BROOK  – ‘I walked a lonely road, and I felt I walked it alone.’

Those hit Green Day song lyrics of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” resonated through my mind many times as I was homeless Wednesday night in Corner Brook. 

Playing the part of a drifter, my goal was to find a homeless shelter for the night. I knew the answer before I assumed the role, but I asked the question over and over until I was certain of the response.

Self-esteem was dwindling on a superficial level as people avoided eye contact with the heavily-layered individual looking to converse. The scant replies of some were as empty to my mind as my pockets were to money, but those who were cordial and polite offered some sense of hope.

Between the misinformation and the ambiguity that would shatter the spirit of the most sound of mind, the realization there was no shelter in this western Newfoundland city was confirmed. 

The indecisiveness of most revealed homelessness is at best a masked issue. A perception of being lost crept inside that was blanketed with a toque and further insulated under a hood.

Enough people had directed me to the Humber Community YMCA to set that as my waypoint. Church doors were locked at this hour, a suggestion seemed hopeless at best. I set afoot — a tiring ordeal I would repeat most of the night, leaving my body as fatigued as my mind by morning — the scuffing of my winter boots a reminder of the weight my character would bear.

I am still uncertain if the woman who greeted me at the Y was taken aback with fear or uncertainty at my query. However, her persistence in pursuit of an answer was more reassuring than the lack of knowledge or readily available information.

The conversation eventually turned into a muster, every new person offering advice. One after another, options were eliminated. 

Homelessness cannot be adequately addressed after regular office hours, while the prejudice of being an adult man and not on social assistance was a stigma that had never struck me before.

Everybody was polite, seemed to try their best, but in the end, wished me luck during my night on the street.

Corner Brook has many makeshift shelters throughout its winter wonderland, but none to warm a lonely man’s heart or his body. 

There are bus shelters — which make for the best sleeping quarters — benches, nooks and crannies of buildings, alleys, steps, entrances and underground parking lots.

All these areas were uninhabited. 

Corner Brook at night, especially early morning, is a desolate place.

Homelessness is no doubt a lonely road.

 

churley@thewesternstar.com

Twitter: @WS_CoryHurley

 

TIMELINE:

 

 

6 p.m. — It’s time to get into character. I am a homeless man just arriving in Corner Brook. I am new to the city, with no idea of what is here or available to me.

6-7 p.m. — When I enter Corner Brook, I head for Murphy Square, a commercial section of the city. There are lots of people and traffic. Walking in this area is really difficult, not much room on the sides of roads with all the snow.

People give me mixed reactions, from wanting to have nothing to do with me to nice but not helpful and some direction.

It’s apparent in the first hour there is no homeless shelter in Corner Brook. That’s clear from the number of people who either don’t know or are pretty sure there is not. Several people tell me to ask at the YMCA.

7:45 p.m. — I walk along Main Street. At this point, I have already realized I have dressed too warm for the mild night. Sweat is a concern if the temperature drops at some point.

7:45-8:30 p.m. — Speaking to a couple of pedestrians, I continue to hear from people who don’t know or that there is no shelter. At this point, I’d be convinced there is neither one, so I head for the Y.

8:45 p.m. — I keep my hood up, with toque underneath, scuffing my big winter boots as I go down the Millbrook Mall. I don’t remove any of my layers as I enter the Y, and head to the reception desk.

The woman greets me with a smile, but appears a little either taken aback, concerned, or confused by my request. However, she goes through a drawer of folders and some binders. She makes a call to somebody, speaks to her for a short while and tells me, she will be right back. She knows somebody who might be able to help. I wait for about five minutes, and she returns with a man.

He’s with the Community Youth Network. He also asks my age, tells me I am too old to be helped by the CYN.

He provides me with a number for housing and homelessness. I get a voice mail for an office. No help after hours.

He asks me to wait while he shuts down the centre for the night.

 

9:15 p.m. – I wait inside the Y and next to the main entrance for the guy to come back for me. I get another number, a contact for emergency shelter. I try the number, again an office voice mail. No help after hours.

He retrieves another number, this time for the Status of Women’s Council. He says they won’t take me in, but they may know where I can turn to. Again, an office voice mail. No help after hours.

The woman from the CYN suggests I go to the hospital and ask to speak to a counsellor. The hospital is open 24 hours and they may know where I could go.

9:30 p.m. – There are two male employees from the Y at the front desk. They overhear the conversation, and ask if I am looking for somewhere to stay. One man says his wife works at the hospital and is on shift tonight. He grabs the phone and calls. He talks to her for a while. He asks me if I am on social assistance, I say no. He says I’d be able to get something if I was. After hanging up the phone he says Salvation Army would be the best bet, but they are not open this late.

The guy from the CYN makes a call to a woman, apparently waking her up. He apologizes. He tells her what is happening and they talk for quite some time. At one point he says it is ridiculous that if I was younger or female I could get a place to stay, but there is nothing for a man.

After he finishes talking to me, he says this is why homelessness is an issue the CYN is trying to resolve here.

I am told the numbers they gave me can help me tomorrow. They were all nice, but in the end, wished me well and I headed on my way. At this point, the realization of a night on the street is setting in.

 

10 p.m. – I take a seat on the steps of city hall to make some notes. There was a roof over my head to keep me from the light rain. Across the street I notice a bus shelter that I thought would surely be handy later.

 

10:30 p.m. — After contemplating my next move, I begin thinking more about whether I would pursue the hospital option. I figure I had lots of time, so I head in that direction, contemplating it as I went. Up until this point, I had not really thought a lot about the suggestion. After giving it more thought, I begin to wonder if she had drawn the conclusion that all homeless people must have a mental health issue. By the time I walk to the hospital, I am sure I was insulted by the thought. I decide it was best not to get Western Health involved in this assignment so I carried on.

 

11 p.m. — I had decided to head across the city. I began to realize just how tiring being homeless. I arrive at the lower parking lot, and spot another well lit area. Between motor registration and the place you pick up lotto licences and other permits, there is a concrete stairwell with a flat corner. It creates a nice enclave and shelter from the environment. I sit down and pulled out my book again.

 

11:30 p.m. — I continue my walk downtown. I take another break near the lit locked underground entrance to the mall — yes, right next to the no loitering sign — and took some more notes.

 

12 p.m. —I reach the Broadway bar scene area by midnight. I figure I may run into a few people out having a smoke or scurrying about.

The four people being entertained at one pub and the five people visible inside another, don’t give me a lot of hope. The only person I cross paths with was a woman with the front pockets cut out of her jeans running for the ATM in Scotiabank. She isn’t about to slow down in her quest for cash..

 

1 a.m. — I take another break in a bus shelter along lower Mount Bernard. I stay here for about an hour I figure. As I sit across from the old, vacant city hall, I can’t help but think it would make a great homeless shelter. I think I may have even dozed off a couple of times here.

 ANY GIVEN NIGHT:

• Homeless in Sydney - Cape Breton Post

• Guardian reporter seeks shelter - The Guardian

• No home, not sure where to go - The News

• Warm reception on a cold night - Truro Daily News

• Home free - Journal Pioneer

• Lessons in generosity - The Telegram

• You can’t fake homelessness - The Telegram

• A night in a cold tent is not homelessness - The Digby Courier