Down and Out in Toronto for 48 hours
Saved under Featured, Social Issues, Toronto
Tags: homeless, toronto, Ve'ahavta
KJ Mullins-Toronto: Homelessness could happen to anyone, including you. For 48 hours Jennifer Gilroy and Mark Fox (who is spending 36 hours) are living the live of a street person as part of Street Days with Ve’ahavta.
Ve’ahavta is motivated by the value of tikun olam (to repair the world)
One of the most surprising things that Jennifer and Mark found was that there is plenty of food for those living on the streets, if they can get to it. Dressed in clothes that came that came from mission bins the two were not sure of what to expect completely when they ventured onto the street with no money and no place to sleep.
“The food is very good, which surprised me,” Mark Fox, a volunteer who is a professor at University of Toronto when not volunteering, “It’s just being able to get to the locations when you don’t have transportation.”
Jennifer Gilroy has been hanging out with Mark since yesterday. Yesterday they ate at St. Stephens for breakfast and for lunch had roast beef at Scott Mission. The pair spent much of the day trying to beat the heat. One way was staying close to Metro Hall where a cooling station is during extreme heat days. In between times at the cooling station Mark and Jennifer were panhandling for change hoping to get an ice cream.
The realization that the heat was a factor for those who live on the streets. Within hours Mark was feeling the effects of the heat, admitting it was wearing him out.
The two went to a park by the lake to beat the heat and take a nap. That nap was not successful as red ants and black flies attacked them. By 5:00 p.m. they had made about $6 for the day before they went to Osgoode Hall for dinner for veal sandwiches.
Their first night was spent between two locations. Jennifer experienced a ‘prank’ that others who live on the street have had to deal with. Her shoes and water bottle was taken while she tried to sleep at City Hall on a bench, a painful experience for Mark, 60. The prank over she and Mark moved onto University Avenue which has softer benches to get a few more hours of sleep before going back to Osgoode Hall for breakfast. Both found that it got very cold in the early hours.
Today the pair had a better time when it came to panhandling. They were able to make enough for lunch at A & W with change to spare. After our interview at Richmond and Queen they moved on to find a spot to nap before they went to dinner. Only once have the two been asked to move while panhandling, not by a police officer but by a security officer.
“We haven’t really seen any police while out so far,” Mark said. They had been given tips by others who panhandle on how to get more money, including having a sign. When Jennifer told the young man who suggested a sign they didn’t have the materials for one he left and returned with a piece of cardboard.
At 6:00 p.m. Mark will be on his way home but Jennifer will have one more night living on the streets.
Asked why they would want to be Street Day ambassadors both smiled, saying that they wanted to experience what it was like for their clients everyday. Jennifer said that when this experience is over she will be better suited when it comes to volunteering on the nightly van visits.
That van runs Sunday-Thursday every week providing clients with food, drink, clothing and basic living supplies in the evening hours. Some of the clients Mark said are known to the group while others come up to the van when they see it parked. Along with the food and supplies the van is driven by a social worker.
“One of the key things about the van is we stay at one location as long as we are needed,” Mark
While the group is funded by the Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee religion is not mentioned during outreach.
“We do give out bagels, but that’s about as ‘Jewish’ as it gets for our clients,” Mark laughed. The mission isn’t to save anyone, it’s to help those who need a hand up. One of those hands up is through a program with George Brown College that offers free education programs for clients.
Nearing the end of his time on the street Mark reflected at the kindness he found while on the street. Meal times are quieter than he thought they would be.