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Here are three true stories of homelessness in Peel

Mark, 17, sits in the large sunlit common room of the new Mavis shelter on Dundas and drums his hands on the table. He loves music and has a part-time job selling CDs. He has another part-time job in a factory. Neither job pays enough to put together first and last month's rent. All Mark has at the moment are two plastic bags with some personal belongings, and bus tickets provided by the shelter staff so that he can get to work. He doesn't have an education, having dropped out of school in Grade 10. He doesn't have a relationship with his mother. She asked him to leave the house three days ago. He came straight here, and is eager to leave, but not because he doesn't like it. He just thinks there are people who need his bed more.

"I thank the government for building this place," he says. "I was out in the cold for a while, and that's not something I would wish upon anyone else. I know there are people out there now, and I want to get out of here as soon as I can to give someone else the chance to get it together."

Mark is negotiating with some of the other shelter residents to pool resources to obtain a permanent place to live. In the meantime, he's grateful for three meals a day, a clean place to sleep, the companionship of others in his situation, and the support of staff who care. "This place is amazing," he says. "It is safe here. There are rules, you have to be respectful and you don't swear. That's good. It's important to be polite."

Sarah, who lives at the Salvation Life Family Resource Centre in Brampton, has to make a life for herself and her 13-month old daughter Samantha. The baby's father abandoned them both and does not pay support, and Sarah's relationship with her own family was plagued with harship. Sarah decided to leave. She wants independence, and responsibility. This is her first week in the Salvation Army shelter, and she appreciates the help she gets here, including counselling and the access to agencies that can help her complete her education, find a job and a place of her own.

"I want my daughter to see me succeed," says Sarah. She says she wants to be a paralegal, to help other single mothers obtain child support from dads who abandon their responsibilities. For now, Sarah is taking one day at a time, coping with the stress of being alone in the world with her daughter. "She was given to me by God for a reason," says Sarah. "My father left, and her father left, but we'll always have each other."

Steven is 30 years older than Sarah but he too is anxious to begin life outside of a shelter. He came to Canada from Jamaica as a teenager, and, eager to begin earning a living, lied about his citizenship status. He worked as a counsellor, helping homeless people, and after years of service to the community he grew increasingly uncomfortable living a lie. He turned himself into the authorities, and now, as he waits to become an official Canadian citizen, he finds peace and comfort in the Rutherford Road shelter. He talks to other residents, giving them encouragement and support. He reads from his Bible, which he keeps at hand.

"I've worked in other shelters across Ontario," he says, "so I know how lucky I am to be in this one. The staff from the Region and from the Salvation Army treat us as people, not as numbers. I can't say enough about how good they are to us. A lot of people are here because they lost their jobs, or suffered a misfortune. When they come here, they are treated with love."

(Please note that all the above are true stories. We have, however, changed the individuals' names as they are all in the process of seeking to build a life outside of a shelter.)

Revised: Wednesday August 01 2007


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