Categories
General

X_Mas

Just a pre-holiday note to remind you what this site is for. Convenient link to the GoFundMe below.

Yes! I Will Donate!

When you’re homeless, everything is both urgent and inevitable. That contradiction is a spirit-killing moment in time, always ending and always beginning. The constant reprise feels very real.

Placeholder text. This is where I add detail on the things I will do when I have a normal life.

When you’re homeless, poverty isn’t a moment of sorrow, a day of hunger, or a week of misery.

Placeholder text. This is where I add detail on my adventures in gastronomy, education, travel, and how startlingly magnificent life can be.

When you’re homeless, panic is a close companion. It’s low-grade and slow-motion, but ever-present.

Placeholder text. This is where I add detail on my mindfulness routine, the pleasure of living every day like anything is possible, and the magic of simple pleasures.

When you’re homeless, hunger might be the thing. Or cold. Or pain. Or loneliness. They are familiar enough, features of a landscape barren of any more important landmarks.

Placeholder text. This is where I add detail on acquiring an annoyingly persistent interest in delta blues, and my assessment of the quality and value of brass (stone?) rubbings made at ancient temples.

When you’re homeless, poverty is an alarm in your head, constant. Always, it is either drowning every other thought in noise, or momentarily in the background only awaiting its return to prominence.

Placeholder text. This is where I add detail on creating a shell corporation just for fun, starting a small business, and beginning the more serious endeavour of establishing a non-profit organization for advocacy on homelessness policy.

When you’re homeless, time becomes an enemy, and the future becomes a threat. It forces itself onto you, then runs past and away. It laughs at your misery and revels in your frustration.

Placeholder text. This is where I add detail on my plans for the future, my hopes for a new generation, my goals in helping them flourish, and other grandad-type stuff.

When you’re homeless, people want a moment. People want an explanation. They want a story, a justification, an apology, a laugh. People want to see that no matter how much a fuck-up they feel, they’re not without a home, or a life. They want and want and keep on wanting more.

Placeholder text. This is where I add detail on how thrilled I am to have traveled so far, and how happy I am that homelessness is in my past.

When you’re homeless, your life happens to you. It’s not anything you’d want to call a life, and fighting to keep a whit of autonomy will cost, but you’ll do it if you want to live. You’ll fight for your dignity, and your self-respect. You’ll fight to remember who you are or you’ll disappear. You’ll fight for a reality true to those things you believe about yourself.

Placeholder text. This is where I add detail on my tips for time management, setting meaningful intentions, games which cultivate strategic thinking, personal agency as a way of living, and the new narrative series I’m working on.

When you’re homeless long enough, there is no other reality, and few real dreams. This is something I have been fighting against for so long it feels like forever. Normal people just don’t get how all-encompassing desperate poverty is. Pulling yourself out of homelessness is like eating sand for lunch — you can try it, but it’s not going to work out.

Placeholder text. This is where I add detail on my surprising successes, my favourite jokes, my favourite new movies and music, the home I am designing with my architect girlfriend, and loving having the good kinds of problems.

Categories
General

Practical Efforts

How You Can Help

Throughout my homelessness, practical help has been surprisingly hard to come by. What does that mean? It means well-intentioned people often don’t know quite how to make a positive difference for a homeless person.

There are some very simple ways you can help. Here’s a list. It’s by no means comprehensive. Below I’ll add a little detail and context.

Practical ways to help the homeless:

  • Cash, of course. (In fact, any time you give anything to a homeless person, also give cash if possible. It makes an enormous difference.)
  • Donate used tech, such as an iPhone or laptop. Access to the internet is important, even for the homeless.
  • Purchase phone time. Why not pay the next 6 months of a persons phone for them? For most, that amounts to less than $100. You can do this safely and securely.
  • Gift Cards. Clothing, grocery, liquor store, cinema, etc. Many essential items can be difficult to attain on the budget a homeless person is working with.
  • Lottery tickets. Why not buy a duplicate lotto ticket and give it to a homeless person? Imagine that win!
  • Speaking for myself, I don’t want a bottle of water from you. Water is free. Who’re you kidding?

It’s important to keep a few things in mind if you’re going to approach a homeless person.

  • Being present is not the same as being available. Be sure to respect our time.
  • Take a minute to get to know the person you’re talking to, without pity, condescension, or judgement.
  • Reach out to your network of real-life contacts and find out if anyone has an opportunity a homeless person can make use of. Trust is an important part of human relationships.
  • No photos. Seriously. We’re not animals in a zoo.

There are many small ways you can help the homeless. These are simply the easiest, most obvious examples.

Now, some context.

Many things might have happened these past 15 years, things that could have resulted in my becoming housed, returning to life. Without housing, building a life is not possible.

Looking to the past for might-have-beens is not much use. I do, though, cast my mind back over the way my requests for help were received, handled, and rejected. This is especially true of my immediate family.

Remember, the life you live is made up of many small certainties. They’re a kind of insurance, really. Your certainties provide security. Security offers hope and faith. Hope and faith are the framework from which anyone sets goals for themselves. Without faith that you have control in your life there can be no hope your goals will amount to anything.

Early on, we homeless are robbed of the power to set meaningful goals. Speaking for myself, it is a mammoth task fighting that hopelessness. I don’t often succeed.

Make the time to adopt and enact the efforts I’ve listed. People like me need your help. Homelessness really is a state of permanent deprivation — unless you decide to help.

— Chris

chris@homelessunlimited.com

Categories
Uncategorized

Off Ramp

Sooner or later, a person’s homelessness reaches a point of terminal decline. The undelivered resources, the absence of opportunity, the institutional violence of coercive apathy produce a kind of stasis, a kind of non-life. Beyond survival, no outcome has meaning, no choice has value. This is the purpose of homelessness policy in the modern city.

Homelessness…is the death of a meaningful future.

Policy for homelessness is founded on the protection of property rights. The goal is to limit the homeless posing a threat to property. We, as a population, are the epitome of the words, ‘nothing to lose.’ As such we pose a very real threat. With that in mind, policy has been designed not to provide resources or housing, but to deploy force through the application of psychology. We have been turned into objects, into chattel.

The result of these efforts is to condition us for a non-threatening, controllable passivity. The overall effect on a person’s life is to put an end to anything that resembles living. We are beaten into submission. We are formed and shaped through abuse and neglect, pain and suffering. Eventually, we are all walking wounded, barely formed figures of clay.

Let there be no mistake. These policies are the result of decisions made by civil servants. These are choices made by people. This instead of funding. This instead of housing. This instead of education. This instead of a future.

Homelessness is not hunger, it is not discomfort. It is the death of a meaningful future. Eventually, if suicide is not the path you take, every future is a slow nightmare, every future is the enemy. Cold is the enemy. Hunger is the enemy. Police are the enemy. Social workers are the enemy. Time is the enemy. Boredom. Heat. Sleeplessness. Confusion. Impulse. Life itself becomes your enemy. It does not have to be this way, but it is. And everyone believes you’ve chosen it.

The problem of homelessness is one of support. It’s one of resources. It’s one of time. It’s been cured, the problem, according to the goals of homelessness policy as I have experienced it. Homelessness has been cured by grinding out the spark of life, the ambition, the will of the individual to ascend, to aspire, and to fight for their future. This system is an inhuman, vicious attack on people whose only real crime is poverty, whose status as a minority only makes them invisible to everyone else. The culmination of the efforts the city and it’s system of homelessness policy enforcement is not a humane, working set of policies. It is a prison camp. The bars are invisible, and the guards are the inmates themselves.

Categories
Uncategorized

Numbers/Cost of Living

March 2022 NOTE:

This text was written in late 2021, before inflation began to rise. My food costs have, as of March 28, 2022, increased 30%. My income, which as a homeless person is all of $343 monthly, is not sufficient to cope with these costs. Homelessness is a trap. Resources are the path out.

The fundraising goal of $35,000 should be adjusted upwards to match rising costs, yet, and I’d like to emphasize this point — the goal of my fundraiser is to return to living. The specific overall amount is less important than what it buys, namely, security and a future.


(Originally Posted July 28, 2021. Minor edits for clarity, March 28, 2022.)

Note – Presenting these numbers is a bit of a challenge. Starting from nothing is expensive. The minimum cost of my return to housing as I’d like it to be starts with first and last month’s rent.

After moving in, the important factor is stability. I am terrified at the prospect of becoming housed again, only to fall back into homelessness for lack of work and income.

The cost of living numbers I’m using are from July, 2021. I’ll continue to use them for a while seeing the costs in grocery stores continue to edge upwards. Hopefully they’ll stabilize by the end of the year.

Numbers as of July, 2021 – Source: www.numbeo.com

Quick Summary:

$6,834 is my before-tax minimum cost of moving into a 1-bedroom apartment in Toronto.

$34,624 ($6,834 [start-up costs] + $27,790 [10 additional months of expenses] is the approximate minimum cost of living for one year.

My criteria for a return to housing is a one bedroom apartment, outside of downtown and near a subway station. This includes internet access, and a cell phone. It also includes a bed, a kitchen table, and a desk. These items can be sourced fairly cheaply from IKEA, or other budget retailer. Second hand furniture is out of the question due to risk of bed bugs.

Moving into an apartment in Toronto requires an up-front payment of First & Last month’s rent. Using those two months as a guide, I’ve listed the minimum base cost as two months expenses. Seeing I’m starting from nothing, that will include start-up costs for items such as utensils, dishes, pots, pans, a bed, a table, and other items.

I’ve used figures including the cost of rent, groceries, phone, etc. My aim is to balance my needs against overall costs. That’s to say I have given a lot of thought to the value and importance of the items I’ve listed.

The numbers, as I’ve written, are crowd-sourced and are averaged by numbeo.com. Fairly accurate from what I’ve seen.

*

Below I abstract the figures around moving into a 1-bedroom apartment. More detailed figures are farther down the page. Costs of bedding, pots and pans, etc, are based on low-middle range examples. Costs of miscellany include average price of condiments, spices, etc.

*

Minimum Start-Up Costs:

Rent – First & Last

2 x $1,800 – Low-Mid Average Cost of 1-bed Apartment as of July, 2021

$3,600

Groceries – (2 Months)

2 x $568 – as of July, 2021

$1,136

Utilities – (2 Months)

2 x $165 – Calculated for 85 square feet, as of July, 2021

$330

Misc. Consumables – (2 Months, Start-Up)

1 x $43 – Grooming, Hygiene, Laundry Soap, etc.

$43

Textiles – (Start-Up)

1 x $150 – Bedding, Towels, Dish Cloths, etc.

$150

Internet Access – (2 Months)

2 x $75 – Budget Network Access Provider

$150

Transit Pass – (2 Months)

2 x $156 – As of July, 2021

$312

Phone – (2 Months)

2 x $15 – Least Expensive Phone Plan

$30

Kitchenware – (Start-Up)

$575 – Coffee Maker, Pots, Pans, Dishes, Can Openers, etc.

Furniture – from IKEA

Kitchen Table – LERHAMN

$130

Twin Bed – Frame & Mattress

$79 – Frame – NEIDEN

$199 – Mattress – MORGEDAL

Writing Desk

$130 – MALM

Totalling:

$6834, before tax – this is the approximate start-up cost to move into a 1-bedroom apartment.

In calculating the ten months additional to the first two start-up months, I’ve used these same numbers, minus the start-up costs around bedding and kitchenware.

Categories
Archive

University Letter

The following is a letter I’ve written to York University. It is long, but I think it’s as long as it needs to be.

While writing this letter over the past few weeks, I was able to finally put into words some of the ideas I’ve been grappling with all summer. This version includes a minimal set of those ideas, but gets to the heart of things, in general terms. Let me know what you think.


To whom it may concern,

I’m writing to enquire about attending York as a mature student. My situation is unusual. I am in my mid-forties, and I am homeless. As of October 2021, I will have been homeless fourteen years.

I’ve no intention of attempting university while I am homeless. My plans to attend university are contingent on a secure return to housing. I’ve been raising funds to that end, though with uneven success. To date, I’ve raised a little more than $1,000. My fundraising goal is based on one year’s cost of living in Toronto, approximately $35,000. That number does not include costs related to schooling.

The program I am interested in is ‘Business and Society.’ My interests and experiences match well with the program’s area of focus. The problem of homelessness is closely linked with current thinking in law and social and economic policy. My homelessness has provided me insight that I want to use to reshape that experience for others.

I am confident that I meet the criteria for a mature student. The worrying questions are all financial. It is unlikely that I will qualify for a loan from OSAP for reasons I describe below. With that as a starting point, my questions are:

  • Is there anyone I might speak with about the unique characteristics of my situation?
  • Where might I find information about financial help connected to York?
  • What financial aid resources might be available to a person in my position?
  • Are there bursaries, grants, or loans I can be made aware of?
  • What supports exist to help mature students polish their academic skills?
  • Can you offer any advice apart from what answers I’ve asked for here?

My post-graduation goals include founding a new non-profit advocacy organization for the homeless. My experiences have taught me a lot about myself, the world, and the dimensions of the problems of poverty, marginalization, and homelessness. Advocacy and policy around homelessness needs an entirely new direction. I want a university education to be a part of my effort in bringing that to life.

Advocacy as I’ve witnessed it these past fourteen years has focused primarily on maintaining the illusion that homelessness is best dealt with at the municipal level, in emergency shelters. This approach to the problem of homelessness is one which accepts a rather low ceiling of possibility for the majority of those who have become homeless. It is, in effect, a policy of abandonment.

Most people never see the reality of homelessness. The reality is an absence of all hope. It is the utter lack of resources. It is persistent anxiety. It is every sort of deprivation, and endless time. It is life without any meaningful future. Homelessness begins with fear and instability, and becomes perpetual, directionless uncertainty. Homelessness is, at root, the destruction of human potential in all who live it.

The existing framework for managing homelessness can be, most generously, described as inadequate. As a result of historical decisions in policy and thinking, the resources made available to homeless people are fundamentally insufficient. This is a problem system-wide.

The working poor, the vulnerable, the homeless and marginalized are more visible than they have been since the Great Depression. Food insecurity, housing instability, stagnant wages, and the absence of disposable income threaten the future of the working public. These problems are the result of trends and behaviours which need addressing.

Focused and divisive propaganda, unaccountable corporate power, the intemperate pursuit of short-term profit-centric goals, and outsized concentration of wealth endanger the future of Western societies. Globally, beyond the realm of governance and economics, our challenges are more serious.

We face, as a species, a number of imminent threats. Long-term consequences of climate change, immediate-term disasters in the natural world, and disruption to global logistics and support systems are only some of the problems we will be coping with for the foreseeable future. These problems are rooted in the same ground. Unaddressed, they will continue to flourish.

The consequences of orthodox thought on business, economics, and working politics are evident on every city street. Homeless men and women, shuttered businesses, impoverished, unhealthy elderly, and the mentally ill are present in every neighbourhood. Addicts, professional charity fundraisers, protesters, used needles, trash, human waste, expensive condominiums and their accompanying ‘poor doors,’ are all commonplace. Yet people wander along the sidewalk chattering and gawping as if the devastation evident, a human devastation, is not connected to the reality they live in.

The need for a more stable social and economic base is clear, and it is urgent. By turning my experiences of the past fourteen years to work on helping shape policy and thought on homelessness and poverty in Canada, I want to disassemble the anti-human policies and norms which exist today. Policy and thought on homelessness is only a small part of a big picture, but it is a vitally important one.

My own homelessness began as the result of a lack of income. Part of that outcome developed after a failed attempt to complete the Computer Programming stream at the private college formerly known as CDI. I had taken part-time shifts at my job with the aim of scraping by for my time at school. It would have been a total of eleven months, if I remember correctly. It was a calculated risk.

My failure came about when I ran afoul of OSAP rules for absence written specifically for private colleges; three absences per semester disqualify a student. After losing my place at school, I went back to work, though with too little income to match my expenses and my debt. I lost my housing in October, 2007. I’ve been homeless ever since.

It took me about two years to unlearn the biases and preconceptions I’d been raised with about desperate poverty and homelessness. After the shock of my own homelessness wore off, I began to understand how deeply those preconceptions are set in the minds of the average Canadian.

There exist a set of rationalizations around healthy adult homeless men. It’s understood that we are homeless either because of defects in character, or that we ought to be able to struggle our way back to normalcy, dollar by dollar, job by job. It’s an attitude rooted in concepts of work ethic which have no basis in the realities of any modern labour or housing market.

It’s taken me more than a decade to learn there is no existing pathway out of homelessness. In that time I’ve seen most of what is available to help the homeless achieve a return to housing. The shelter-centered approach has never produced sustainable results. For all of these reasons, I decided to crowdsource my way back to housing. There is a bitter (and funny) irony at work here. Homelessness is isolating. Crowdsourcing requires a network of contacts. It’s a conundrum.

With the help of a friend I had known in high school, I was able to take my fundraising efforts to my blog, Homeless Unlimited. I encourage you to visit. There are a number of written pieces I’m (mildly) proud of, as well as videos and an archive of posts originally made to Facebook. Of course, my homelessness determines every aspect of my life, including how I spend my time, so there isn’t as much there as I would like and what is there is not of a quality I am entirely satisfied with. Overall, it’s an effort to introduce myself to people, and connect with them as they learn about the real issues of homelessness. In that, I’ve had some success.

It’s been hard work, connecting with strangers. People carry with them a lot of unexamined beliefs about the homeless. They regularly respond to conversations we’ve had, or posts I’ve made about homelessness by telling me, in a tone meant to indicate I’m doing myself a disservice, that I talk as if there is no hope. Truly, there isn’t. People I’ve spoken to seem shocked to learn that.

There’s a subtle and invidious set of beliefs at work, well-tended by the City of Toronto. The broad public perception of the homeless is that we are wrong-headed, if not outright mentally ill. They believe help is available, and that it’s sufficient to lead to housing and a future. The thinking, if conversations I’ve had over the past fourteen years are representative, is that the homeless who sleep on the street simply do not know where their interests lie. To many people, we are criminal, or stubborn, or broken, or irrationally independent. Challenging those beliefs almost always meets strong resistance. That resistance manifests as an attitude that the homeless ought to be happy to be granted any help at all. Worse, we have no right to refuse anything offered to us. These beliefs are the product of cultural messaging and are reinforced by government policy.

A life homeless is not a life. It is grinding misery, a constant, quiet despair. Time-scale shrinks and narrows to the immediate. Hungry, cold, wet–these are the inputs, the problems which need solving. Dealing with those becomes the breadth and depth of achievable goals. After living that way for a couple of years, it is the universe a homeless person exists in.

I have fought anguish and hopelessness to reach this moment in time. Every day homeless is a defeat. Every day homeless is a day without purpose, without hope, and without a future. Every day homeless for a person is another day of quiet, stagnant, decay. The effect of all that loss on wider society can be difficult to see. With every person entering homelessness, worlds of possibility are lost.

My homelessness has given me the experience and the confidence to take on these challenges. There are no magic bullets, and no Utopia. The structures around poverty and homelessness are broken and must be cleared away. What they will be replaced with is unknown. The alternative, more of the same, is not acceptable.

This is very long for a letter of enquiry. Thank you for your time.

Chris Leach

Additional URLs:

Blog:

www.homelessunlimited.com

Instagram:

www.instagram.com/thiswholethingislame