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This could be you…

To be healthy individuals we need to take care of our physical, emotional, social, vocational and spiritual needs. Take any one or two of these away and most of us can cope. But we all have a breaking point and if our loss is too much to bear it can lead to a cascading effect. All can be lost.

Jeff (not his real name) lives in a tent in the middle of Ottawa. I have known him now for 2 years. He has shared his story with me, and it truly shook me to the core.

Jeff had a wife, two children. a good paying job, a house, cottage and all the toys that go with a good middle class life. Unfortunately, Jeff had suffered a brain injury as a youth, nothing specular, just being hit in the head a few times playing different sports. He was able to manage until his mid-40s, when he began to experience confusion and memory issues which led to anger issues but was able to fiercely hide the reality that he needed help.

Eventually he was no longer able to function at work and he was let go. With the loss of his job, money became tight, and his marriage began to break down. Once he lost his marriage, he lost his house, cottage and toys. His children started coming around less and less often. It was too hard to watch their once successful father descend into a shell of himself.

Jeff does not drink or do drugs, and he has managed to navigate the social service network to the point that he does technically have a home. But his home is a room in a house that has several other tenants, many of whom are suffering from mental issues like him and also suffering from drug and alcohol addictions. Home is a very loud and dangerous place so it has become only an address. For the two years that I have known him, he has been off the street for only 3 nights, two of which he spent in an emergency room due to exposure and one in a hotel as we tried to get him into a new place.

When we thought he had made a breakthrough and had a place to go, Jeff just looked down at the floor and said, “my tent is warm enough, I just want to go home (his tent)”.

The lesson learned from Jeff's story: I need to be kind and not to judge or make assumptions; I need to be more sensitive about mental health issues and the stigma attached. I need to remember that it is so much easier to keep someone from the street than to get him or her off once it becomes home.

~Brian – Volunteer Coordinator

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