Stories

  Journeys of Hope: A Collection of Stories
                   "From Homeless to Hope"

Published in Conjunction with the Week of Action against Poverty
February 8ó14, 2009


Contributors include: M. McPherson Morrison and Nancy Morrison (poetry), Veronica Normand (illustrations), and authors who tell their stories of moving from homelessness to hope Ė in their own words. Please note that the real names of the authors have not been used.

INDEX:
Mary
Miriam
"I Drank"
Hope
Alvin
Leah
"Telling My Story is Hard"

For more information on Making Kenora HOME, please visit our website: www.makingkenorahome.ca.

This publication was produced by Making Kenora HOME, with the assistance of Kenora-Patricia Child and Family Services. Reproduction of the booklet is encouraged with the permission of Making Kenora HOME.


Mary

"Kokum!" The young boy bursts through the door, tossing his schoolbag and shouting for attention. "Iím hungryyy."

Laughing, the grandmother directs him to the kitchen and his after school snack. Between bites, he blurts out the dayís excitement. His uncles and sister tease him about his adventures before he rushes out the door again, grabbing his bike helmet. The echo of family love follows him as he exits.

"I tell him heís smart and I tell him heís handsome. These things matter for his self-esteem. I know what itís like to have lost that and itís hard to get it back." His grandmother speaks slowly, carefully choosing her words. English isnít the language of her heart.

"I grew up differently than my grandchildren. It was a good life. Our home was small but full of love and respect for one another. My parents followed the ways of my people. Father made a life for us off the goodness of the land. It was a simple life and we understood it. We fished and hunted and picked wild rice and blueberries. Everything was done as it was done by the elders before us and the world made sense to us. We knew our place and respected ourselves.
       
My grandfather was a special man. He was a traditional healer and knew all of the old ways. I was his shadow. I followed him as he went about the community, sharing the teachings that had been given to him. I followed him as he did his ceremonies. I followed him until residential school got in the way.

Much as been said about residential school. I wonít say much more except that is where I lost my way. Before school, I knew love and knew my place within that circle. Once in school, I was nothing. Life wasnít a circle with all of us moving together. I learned that I was on the bottom because nothing of my world was respected. On top of me were the whites 
because they had the power. On top of the whites was Jesus and I could tell from the pictures that he was white. We were ordered to love Jesus but loving him would only make me a second class white.

That was my first lesson about the world outside my home. The second was the lesson that all young girls learned on our reserve. The older girls cautioned me not to be caught alone with the police. We were warned to stick together to protect each other.

When I was 14 years old, I was walking on the road with some other girls. The cruiser pulled up and motioned me over. The officer asked me who my father was so I told him. Then he looked at me from head to toe and told me that I was pretty. I didnít know what to say. I just hung my head and tried to shuffle back to my friends. It didnít end there.

Shortly after, something happened between a couple whom I had babysat for. It happened after I had left their house. That same officer pulled me into the detachment for questioning. I kept telling him that I didnít know anything. He wouldnít let me call anyone. There was a strip search. I was humiliated. He kept at me for information that I didnít have and we both knew it was an excuse for keeping me under his control. I got dressed and another officer came in. I had enough and got up to leave. He grabbed me and I pushed his arm off of me. His partner backhanded me. Blood dripped down on my jacket. A female officer came in and took my jacket. I guess they needed to get rid of the assault evidence because they claimed I never had a jacket.

I never saw that jacket again. There was no sense complaining because we had learned our lesson at school, we were nothing but "squaws" and no one would believe us over a white, especially a white in uniform.

I tried to keep hidden after that. I saw that women with husbands were left alone more so I married young. I was seventeen. Our families knew each other so I thought it was safe. Because alcohol wasnít a problem in our home, I didnít really know how it was for other families. I married into a drinking family and pretty soon I joined in too. I became a drinker. For the most part, having a husband protected me but the alcohol created other problems.

After a drinking binge, my mother would always let me know how I let my children down. She was my conscience because Iíd drink until I didnít know what I was doing. I would apologize, but guilt and pain and anger would lead me back to the bottle. By the time I was 22 years old, I was off to the penitentiary. My fourth child was born in jail.

I had no respect for myself at this point in my life. Iíd lost my children. I was alone. Iíd do treatment but it never worked for me. Alcoholics Anonymous wasnít helpful either. If you slipped, all those who supported you in sobriety would turn on you. I was angry that peopleís respect for me was solely based on whether I had a drink or not. I knew in my heart that the core of me was what needed to be respected in order to move forward. The programs were superficial and I needed more.
       
I managed to keep a roof over my head even though I spent time on the streets. The streets were where others who knew the same pain I knew were found. It wasnít so lonely there.

Together weíd laugh at our lives and try to find some pleasure. Unfortunately it was all found in a bottle. Getting a drink was my first thought waking up and my last thought before sleep. I was often hungry but if there was a choice to be made between buying alcohol and food, Iíd choose the alcohol. If I had to be sober to get a meal, Iíd skip the meal. Alcohol was the driving force in my life.
I had a partner for some of those years but I canít say that he was a real partner. He and I just shared an addiction. Together weíd be able to drink more because we pooled our resources. My kids had contact with me from time to time but they were second to the addiction. One day, I woke up and told my partner that I had a strange dream. I dreamed that my son had brought his children for a visit and because I was drunk, they were scared of me. It was awful to think that my grandchildren didnít want anything to do with me. My partner corrected me. It wasnít a dream. It had happened the day before. My son had tried to visit. His children were frightened of the drunk that was me. That was the tipping point.

If I wanted to be a grandparent as my grandparents had been, I had to change. Doing the "white" programs had never worked so I thought back to when life had made sense to me. I went back to the ways of my parents and my grandparents. The elders advised me that my road back would not be easy and that there would be tragedy. But if I found my way, there would be beauty too. It was true. Two of my children have died tragically. There is no pain that is worse. My grandfather had told me that when there is a loss, to keep your heart open because another person would come to comfort you. Itís true also. Two of my grandchildren have come to live with me and they are a great joy. I love them and try to teach them what I know. They think Iím old fashioned of course but they love me so they listen and some day they will know the truth of the teachings. Until then, they will know that they are loved and I will encourage them to stand up for themselves. My generation just accepted the disrespect and we went on to live with an anger that boiled within us. I donít want it to be that way for my grandchildren. Thereís a better way-one of respect.

My grandfather was right; there has been comfort for the losses. There has been beauty between the tragedies. I live in a way that makes my children and grandchildren as proud of me as I am of them. I can never make up for what Iíve done before getting to this point, but I can live for them now. My purpose is to teach them the old ways-show them how to offer tobacco and how to talk to the grandfathers. I do both and they see how this leads me to a better way of living. My life has meaning now.

Miriam

"When we were young, my mother told us stories. There were stories of our past, of wars between tribes, of old ways, and there were stories of how we were to live. One of her favourite teaching stories was about the need to forgive. I didnít like that story and I would argue-what if someone hits you, hurts you? My mother would smile and repeat that we needed to forgive others as we live. As I lived longer, I learned that this was the most important lesson of all."

She speaks softly, but persistently. If interrupted, she will politely attend to the intrusion and then pick up her story exactly where the thread had been broken. She is patient but she is determined to be heard.

"I was the ugly duckling growing up-a tall "half-breed"--gangly and wanting to stay unnoticed because being noticed brought pain". Her graceful movements belie her remembrance of being awkward. The stature that she hated is now straight, elegant and envied. Her perceived plainness developed into an exotic beauty she doesnít see in the mirror. ""Half-breed" is an ugly word. I didnít know it when I was really young but I did know how I felt-like I belonged nowhere."

"Our family began away from others. We lived on an island when I was a child. My father was a trapper who was often away. My mother took care of the pack of us-there were 13 born. Seven of us are still alive."

During the island time, she remembers forays in the big boat to pick berries and wild rice. The family then moved closer to town when their father took up work as a guide and camp hand. Her motherís health was not good and there were episodes of placements with relatives and others.

"One day my grandmother said to get our things packed and we went into foster care. We were split up by age. It was frightening enough to have a sick mother but to be separated was painful. My brother and sister managed to escape and made their way back to our home. It was almost a hundred miles but they walked, following the road and hiding in the ditches whenever a vehicle went by."
                  She shakes her head in amazement at their accomplishment. "I sneaked away too with a friend one afternoon. We got caught in the rain. As we huddled trying to stay warm, we talked about what we should do. I thought about my younger brother and sister whom I had left behind in another foster home and I felt bad so we sneaked back. No one seemed to notice." She laughs at her luck. "I was scared for days, waiting to be punished for running away but it didnít happen. It wasnít a bad place but it just wasnít our home. Family was everything to me and we had been split up. Finally we got to go back home."

The joy of reunion didnít last for long. With the death of her mother, she again began shuffling between relatives. Finally Miriam and her sisters formed a protective triad against the dangers of the world.
"My older sisters would take me to the streets. I was to watch out for them when they were drinking. No one judged us on the streets. We were just accepted. It felt good to belong somewhere. One day, I tried the drinking too. It seemed to make some of the pain of being unwanted go away. Pretty soon we were living on the streets."

Life on the streets meant that she could distance herself from others. Sometimes it would seem like freedom because no one had expectations of her, nobody wanted her. Sometimes it was forgetfulness she found. Sometimes, when her sisters werenít able to watch over her, there was fear.

"My sisters and I had a reputation for drinking, toughness and humour. We laughed at everything-and still do-except now we do it sober." She chuckles before continuing. "Staying warm, finding food werenít as important as getting a drink. I was an alcoholic-give me the drink and then Iíd be warm and not hungry anymore. Let me drink, give me food and keep me warm and life was good. I didnít expect much."

"Sometimes people thought they were helping but they werenít. The police gave us a choice one night because it was freezing - get a ride home with some fellows who offered or spend the night in the cells. They didnít know who the men were and neither did we. My sister and I took the ride to stay out of the drunk tank but as the car sped off with us, we realized that anything could be waiting for us when the car stopped. Without a word, we both swung open the car doors while it was driving and rolled out. We werenít hurt and we laughed and laughed at the thought of our leap to safety. It must have looked pretty funny."

Life on the streets changed gradually. Her sisters met men who they formed relationships with and moved in with them. Without their camaraderie and protection, the lifestyle was less appealing. Miriam began wanting a home and family. Soon enough, a man did come along who had a home and wanted a family with her. She married him and tried to live a Christian life, according to the teachings of her mother. Miriam was off the streets but the lifestyle was still inside her, whispering promises of freedom and pain 
       
reduction. The marriage was not good but she tried. Sometimes she slipped back into the bottle. By this time her father and many other relatives were on the same streets so she wasnít lonely there.

Tragedy hit. The death of a child is every parentís nightmare and Miriam was devastated. She was engulfed in anger and bitterness and self-blame. When things were bleakest, a light came into her life. The light was brought by a pastor who, in the midst of her nightmare, broke through her guarded nature. His belief in her faith made her feel valued. Slowly she struggled upwards towards a belief in herself. The struggle was not without setbacks. Her last suicide attempt was pivotal for her.
"I called my mother-in-law to come get the children. I had taken a bunch of pills and washed it down with alcohol. She arrived and thought that I had just been drinking so she told me to lie down. I did. She just didnít know that I was lying down to die, to end the pain of my losses." Miriamís face darkens in memory of this desperate time. "Hours later I heard the phone ringing. I could hardly make my body move but I lurched to the phone. The habit of living I guess. The next thing I knew the ambulance had arrived and were removing me. I remember the pastor looking down at me with such sadness and saying, "Why, Miriam, why?""

"Recovery took a long time. The doctor was surprised that I pulled had through the overdose. I was more than surprised by it. It was a miracle and from that day, I knew that I had been saved for a reason. I stopped looking backwards. I forgave those who had hurt me and I forgave myself. I never fell into the streets again. That lifestyle no longer called me because I knew that I had survived for a reason and I had to live for that reason."

Her moon-face glows with pleasure as she takes up her story.

"Life didnít get easier for me, but I felt supported. I was still in a bad relationship but I knew that I would survive and live to my potential. I began to discover that I had gifts of my own. Sharing my experiences helped others. I could sing, I could dance, and I could praise the Lord. I had a purpose and I was valued." Her dark eyes flash as she recounts her achievements. "I left my husband. I went to Bible School. I got my GED. I supported my children." She hesitates slightly before continuing. "And I survived the loss of my second son. It was bad but I didnít fall. I know that I will be reunited with both of my sons in a better time. Today I have a wonderful daughter and beautiful grandchildren who give me great pleasure." Her story doesnít end here. She remembered the streets and prayed for direction.
             "I survived for a reason. As I got stronger, I waited to find my path. Finally it became clear to me-I needed to return to my home community. It was a community that remembered all that I once was. Itís a community that needed healing but would defend its own sickness. It was where I least wanted to beÖ" She laughs at her own reluctance. "Ö but it needed me. I told my family that I was returning to it. I knew that it was where I needed to be fulfilling my purpose. I went back and faced my own history. It was hard. I wouldnít preach, I would just say this was my life then and this is my life now-you make your own choices."

She began working with the street people, watching over them, guiding them, helping them but never telling them what to do. She watched her brother struggle against his own addictions and helped him as he rose and fell and tried again. Her work continues.
"How did I stay off the streets? It was one man who believed in me and saw good in me. When I didnít believe in myself, he believed in me. He didnít want anything of me. All he wanted was for me to know a better life."




HOPE

With a single beat, the drum falls into silence. The elder moves forward into the circle, head bowed in thought. The diminutive figure raises the eagle feather and those in the room edge forward. The sharing is about to begin.

"When I was very young, my grandmother taught me the ways of our people. When I went to residential school, I was taught to be ashamed-ashamed of my people and ashamed of our ways. I was beaten when I spoke of my grandmotherís teachings. I was punished when I spoke our language. I tried to be white like the Jesus on the wall. It was a bad time and trying to walk on someone elseís path just gets you lost."
                        Her story voice rolls out, increasing in strength as the words flow. Many in the audience identify with her pain. They also were in residential school. Others have heard the stories from their parents and grandparents. The impact of the colonial system traumatized generation after generation-an entire culture sharing one pain.

"I was lost. I had a home and a husband to love me but the pain of the past pulled me into the bottle. I turned my back on those who loved me because nothing could numb me like liquor. I lived on the streets because I was ashamed."
Tears trail down her softly weathered cheeks. She wipes them away with the back of her hand and then pauses to look at them shimmering against her dark skin.

"When I was at residential school we were told never to cry. I got caught crying once. I was a little child and I missed my family. I cried out of loneliness. The punishment for being a cry baby was to have to kneel in front of the other students with cut onions placed under your eyes. I knelt there feeling the burning in my eyes and the public humiliation of the punishment. I didnít get caught crying again." She falls silent, taking measured breaths, and then gathering her resolve, she begins again.

"I am telling you to cry for your pain. My grandmother taught me that tears wash pain away. You need to cry to begin healing."

Around the room, others bow their heads to quietly wipe away their own tears. It is pain shared, healing beginning.

"My grandmother also taught me that there is no such thing as hopelessness in life. There is an end to hope only when you are put into the ground." Her message is a call to hopefulness and her people hold tightly to her words.

"When I was a street person, there was pain but the worst for me was when I heard that my own brother said that I was hopeless. He had given up on me. Later, when my life had changed, I told him how much that had hurt and how that went against our grandmotherís teaching. He explained to me that he has said it out of his own pain. His pain was caused by his inability to help me. He tried to push away the pain of his caring by giving up on me. He didnít know what else to do."

"There was nothing that he could do. I had to live it until the time came for change. I was tough but for a woman on the streets, thereís always someone bigger, meaner and tougher. There was one thing that I knew for sure-there would always be hope for as long as I lived. There was one thing I felt for sure-there was something unseen supporting me in surviving the streets. I didnít know what it was but I did know that I was brought safely out of too many dangerous situations for it to be a coincidence. I didnít understand it but I felt it. Years later I read a poem called Footprints. It was about how we are carried through our troubled times by God. Now I say Meegwitch to the Creator every day and every night before I sleep."
                       
"The Creator gave me a good man. I will always be grateful for my husbandís patience. No matter what I did, he said that my home would be waiting for me. Time and time again he held out his hand without judgement. One thing a drunk can never say is never. The pull is always there. I tried and fell and tried and fell. I couldnít do it on my own and Iím telling you, none of you can do it on your own. You can call on God or Jesus or Allah or the Creator, it is all about the strength of a greater being. It is about believing in something bigger than you."
"It changed for me when I realized that. I knew I couldnít do it. I knew the love of my family wasnít enough. I finally said quite simply, I need help and put it into the Creatorís hands. When I returned to my husband something was different. My sister-in-law looked at me and said youíve changed. There is something I see in your eyes that reassures me that you wonít drink again. Of course I reminded her to never say never to a drunk but she was right. Something was different this time."

Her eyes still shine with resolve forty years later. Her husband is gone now. Her voice chokes as she shares the love between them during her years of sobriety.

"One day I noticed that my husband was staring at me so I asked him about it. He said to me- Iím not really staring at you but at what you have become-youíre a walking miracle."

She wipes another tear that is sliding down and reminds everyone again that tears are for healing.

"I was at home with the husband I loved but I felt pulled back to the streets. It was a different pull this time. Because of my experiences I knew what they were feeling. I knew how crucial hope was in their lives. My husband told me to go. He trusted me. He supported the work that I felt compelled to do."
She smiles wistfully and continues.

"Itís been many years and I have worked on many projects. I have received honours that I didnít want and recognition that I didnít need. What I have to say to you is this-As long as you live there is hope."

As she moves through the throng, the soft tones of the Anishinabee call out to her. Hands reach towards the frail figure and she pulls them closer, wrapping them in the warmth of her wisdom.
                   

                     
As long as you live there is hope


Alvin

"I was six years old when I had my first taste of alcohol." He recounts his story slowly, his low voice laden with sadness. "My father was an abusive alcoholic. We moved around a lot because of his work. He always held a responsible job even though there wasnít a day that he didnít drink. Iím not quite sure how he did it."

"Moving around meant that we were alone; we didnít have family or friends to run to when things were bad. At home, it was bad. My mom and me got the worst of the abuse. Heíd come home and start drinking. Then the hitting would start."
                 
He falls silent and then slowly exhales the pain. "That first night I tasted alcohol, it was to survive. My father was on a tear. My mom ran outside to the shed, carrying me with her for safety. It was winter and so very cold. We knew we couldnít go back in until he passed out and there was no place to go for help. My mom was scared that we would freeze to death. She wasnít a drinker but she pulled out a Mickey. She carefully measured out a capful and gave it to me. I still remember the heat of the alcohol going down my throat, spreading warmth through my chilled body. First the warmth came and then a feeling of being so relaxed. It got me through the night."
"The alcohol brought me warmth, and comfort and a feeling of well-being. I wanted that feeling and the bottle was the only place that I could find it. Home stayed the same. Dad drinking. Mom and me being batted around. Pretty soon I was drinking on my own." He shakes his head regretfully.

"Of course I was always in trouble. By the time I was thirteen years old, I was sent to reform school. It was over a thousand miles away from my mother." He shrugs and continues. "When I got back home, my dad stopped beating on me. I donít know why. We drank together and got along. Maybe it was because I was bigger, maybe because we had something in common. When I was little, I swore that when I got bigger, I would lay a beating on him. When I did get bigger, I just felt sorry for him. I guess I found out what booze does to a person. Itís not the person anymore; itís the alcohol taking over."

"I returned to school and was doing pretty good despite the drinking. I wanted an education. I still believe in getting your schooling. You need it to get ahead. I pushed my kids to get educations but my own luck was bad. My girlfriend got pregnant. I stepped up to take care of my family, just as my dad did - drinking but working and keeping a place."

With a rueful grin, he recites his own history directly, taking accountability for himself. "I was always pretty good at getting a job - not so good at keeping it! Like my dad, I had some pretty responsible positions, then my drinking would interfere and Iíd be out of work again. My marriage went down the tubes. My kids kept going in and out of foster care. Around and around I went. When my father died, I stood beside his body with my mother and swore that I wouldnít drink again. One week later I caved in to the craving."

"Life on the streets is hard. I have to admire those who have survived for any length of time. I wouldnít be on the streets for very long before my health brought me into the hospital and then on to treatment which never worked for more than a short time."

"Some of the people on the streets have nice homes elsewhere. People have trouble understanding this. Itís just that when youíre drinking, you want to keep that separate from your home and family. You act in ways that you are ashamed of. On the streets no one judges you. Sometimes the only control a drinker has is where he lets his demons out."
                       "I donít know what makes a person ready to quit. I think itís different for everyone and it has to be on their own time. For me, it seemed to come from nowhere. I had been beaten up pretty bad and was in Detox again. I could hear the staff at their station, laughing and telling jokes. I wanted to live like them, to have a life with good things in it. I remember falling on my knees and praying like I never had before, asking God for help. From that day, it felt different, I felt different."

"I went into treatment yet again. At the half-way house I met a pastor who supported me. He included me in his church and in his prayers. It was a struggle at times but that was where I wanted to be.
Every so often, the craving would come on me. I still wanted to drink and Iíd test myself. I would try it. Iíd meet with old friends and join them for a night of drinking. They were good buddies and I enjoyed their company but I couldnít seem to sink into the bottle anymore. Unfortunately my buddies couldnít seem to get together to have a good time without that bottle. I miss them and have good memories of them. It can be lonely when you give up drinking."

"I was so lonely one time that I decided I had to return to drinking. I got myself four big bottles of beer and lined them up in front of me. It was a night long battle. The devil was on one side of me urging me to drink and as Iíd lift the bottle to my mouth, an angel intervened. It was a messy intervention. Iíd swallow the beer and it would come right back up and shoot out of my mouth. Thatís how I spent the night-trying to take a swallow and immediately throwing up into a bucket. I came through it and itís been about five years since that night."

A gentle man, he speaks of the wonder of his life without addiction. "I have a full time job now. Everyone thinks Iím doing community service hours or some sort of job grant program but itís a real job and its mine for a lifetime if I want it. It feels good to pull up with the big truck onto the reserve. They tease me about being allowed to drive that truck and we laugh. I guess that I finally am joking and laughing with others like those workers at Detox that I heard on the night I cried out to the Lord. I made it - not on my own but with the help of my Saviour."
                       
"I also work part-time with the Street Patrol, reaching out to those still on the streets. I wish that I could bring that moment to them when they decide enough is enough but you canít rush it-it has to come from inside them. At first when I went out to talk with them they would invite me to share a drink. Iíd laugh and say no thanks. It was a long time before they quit offering. Now I think that they just respect me for it and they will tell me that they wish that they could do it too. I feel for them because I remember feeling that I wanted to quit but failing over and over again. I canít even remember how many times I did treatment programs. Iím not judging them, just wishing them a life like I have found."
"Itís a good life I have. I go to sporting events like hockey. I help out at the church. I socialize with my new friends. I attend AA meetings once in awhile. I feel good about myself and thankful for all that I have now. I have hope now and I can love." He laughs good naturedly. "I just need to find someone to love me back."


Leah

I feel like a fraud talking about being homeless because I did have a home. I just ran away from it. My colleagues donít know about this time in my life, and my family is gracious enough not to remind me, but there was a time when I did live on the streets and my experience does speak to a small unexpected corner of street life that most people donít understand. Living on the streets isnít always about a lack of opportunities.

I was one of those Childfind poster kids. I ran from Kenora as a teenager and the real story isnít what you would expect. I ran from a good home. I wasnít in trouble with the law. I hadnít been traumatized. I didnít have an addiction. I just ran. In my adolescent mind, I had decided that my family would be better off without me, or at least that was the excuse I made to justify my dash to freedom. Everyone tries to find the root cause, the explanation, but sometimes there really isnít one. Sometimes itís just about impulsiveness and the struggle for independence and opportunity.
                       
I had played with the idea (of running) as most teens do. Life without parents and school and rules was appealing. An opportunity presented itself and I took it. I took it without thinking about the impact on my family. I thought that it was just all about me.

Iíve got excellent instincts and was born with a horseshoe up my butt so my time on the streets was not the tragedy it could have been. At the time, the bodies of girls my age were piling up from the Bernardo murders but I had no awareness of it. After all, I knew I was fine because I was in control. I was too young to know any different.
I hit the streets of Toronto and made friends quickly. I am naturally a social person so this was not a challenge. Quick enough, I had a network of people watching out for me and at night I had the emergency shelters. "Stop 86" was my favourite. I have to admit for the most part I had a good time. I never went hungry. I was never assaulted. I never slept on the streets. This is why I hesitate to tell my story but my story is also is a cautionary tale. What would have happened if the emergency shelters had not provided for me? I wouldnít have gone home sooner; I just would have been more vulnerable. Cold or hungry or scared, I would have eventually been victimized.

My cover story was good. I always could spin a good tale. My mother was dead. I was alone. I had no home. I filled in the details so well that the street workers had no reason to doubt my story. It wasnít that they were naÔve - it was just that I was convincing.

My uncle showed up at the shelter one night. I could hear his voice and hid at the top of the stairs. He was showing staff my picture and trying to find anyone who might have seen me. No one gave him information and finally he left. Because it was an old picture
               and my hair was dyed, no one had recognized me from the photo anyways. Because pimps sometimes send seekers to locate their girls, staff never gives out information unless they know for sure who the person is. Itís a safety thing but it bothered me. He had come 1200 miles from home and was walking the Yonge Street circuit, one shelter at a time, trying to find me.

It was guilt over conning everyone that finally ended it. I would hear the real stories of the other attendees at the shelter, of the other panhandlers on the streets and of the workers. I knew that they were real and I was living a lie just to have freedom. One day I just sat up and realized that most of the people I knew could only dream about what I had had tossed away.  I called home and that was it. I was off the streets.
My story isnít about a downward spiral into tragedy or an upward climb into societal reintegration. Itís about how kids make foolish choices and how a safety network minimizes the consequences of those choices. At this point in my life I am well educated, a contributing member of society and considered a community leader. I am all of these things, not just because of choices I made, but rather in spite of some of the choices I made. If supports had not been in place, my story might have ended in that downward spiral that grinds people into street dust. Safe shelters are not an option. They are a necessity to preserve human life and potential.

                          

TELLING MY STORY IS HARD

THEN
Reliving memories
Ė of my life
Ė of long ago
Ė of how long it took to be joyful
AGAIN.
Telling my story is hard.

I no longer live the one-way street life
Now I can look forward and
I have moved forward.
But telling my story is hard

NOW
NowĖ I am grateful to be alive.
NowĖ I try to give back.
NowĖ I thank God for what he has given.
But telling my story is hard.

I donít need a drink to be happy.
I can remember what I did yesterday.
I do need to remember the life I lived before
But telling my story is hard.

People along the way
Ė gave of their time
Ė gave of their friendship.
Now I can do the same Ė
But telling my story is hard

Now I give my time
Now I give my friendship.
Perhaps others will learn to trust
SO ONE DAY
they can tell their story
But telling ones story is hard.

Author: M.McPherson Morrison