Harry has been desperately searching for shelter since he was released from jail three months ago. He has been squeaky clean – no drugs or alcohol since his discharge. He is pleasant, kind and often helps others with their troubles. (Oh yes, he’s still a bit rough around the edges, but we are proud and happy to see how he is managing things at this time). The one major glitch in his life right now is finding a place of his own.
I spoke with him at some length and he gave me the ‘Housing 101’ summary. I took note of his thoughts and feelings about what it is like to have your own place. Three phases: On the streets; Looking for Housing; Finding a place.
ON THE STREETS
You are nothing. Nobody wants to know you, know who you are. You’re the bottom of the shoe. You feel like a ‘low life’, limbo, and you are always wondering the ‘what if’s’: what if this, what if that. You feel like an empty shell, like you are just spinning your wheels. You feel depressed, deprived, miserable, and angry – angry at yourself. You get depressed, real depressed.
LOOKING FOR HOUSING
Agencies, housing help, your worker… it’s all the same story. It’s one long headache. Living in a bad area is worse than homelessness – people always knocking on your door, buy this/that… there’s no stopping it. So ANGRY!
Me: ‘How hard is it? One to ten?’
TEN! It’s not about money. If you’re starting over, you need money, references, someone to vouch for you. Twenty years ago, if you had the money, you were ‘in’. Not today! Used to be: “Oh, on ODSP (Ontario Disability Service Plan)? OK, just fill out this form.” Not now. It’s fill out this form, that form, get references, who will vouch for you? When something comes up, we’ll call you.’
It doesn’t happen. Not any more. Getting housing is like winning the lottery – about the same chances.
WHEN YOU FINALLY GET HOUSING
It’s about 100,000 pounds off your chest. Your mind is at ease, all the pressures are gone, complete turnaround. If you got no place, and then you get a place, you lose the anger, you can relax.
It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s yours. You go to the door. You have the key. You open the door and shut the world out behind you. Maybe you have a TV here, a bed there, a little table – it’s your place, your domain…
When you finally get your own place, you can begin to think about what to do next. You have more patience, you can start to plan. You’re not on the edge, not jumpy.
You get a place, you see things different; you answer different – there’s no more anger in your voice.
You can put your feet up and say, “I’m home and this is mine.”
Getting a place can make the difference between success in reintegration and re-offending. We’re doing what we can to make Harry’s search successful.