Tommy's story

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I spent 6 years on the streets when I lived in Toronto. It was the most violent time of my life. I was the witness, victim and perpetrator of many brutal acts. I just didn’t care about myself. Life on the streets is a vicious cycle, it’s like being a gerbil on a wheel of perpetual uncertainty. Of course you can get shoes for free from places like Goodwill, but sometimes you have to steal someone else’s shoes because yours are stolen the night before at the homeless shelter. If the opportunity arises then the decision is simple. There is a very hazy line between needs and wants on the streets. For me, I just wanted to stay upright, I didn’t want to die.

A couple of years ago I came into the Streetlife Awareness Program which was organized by a couple local church groups. They helped me get back on my feet and changed my life forever. As part of a personal healing and community education processes the program facilitated a series of public speaking engagements with schools, church groups and other organizations. I spent four years talking to tens of thousands of people. I described how I got to be on the streets, what life was like, and how I got off the streets.

Early on in these engagements a young girl asked me; what is the worst thing you have ever done? I thought about it, and went down a stairwell of many memory, deep down into places that I had never been or had blocked out. And I realized that I still was not adding anything to the world because I still didn’t care about myself. So I answered her question honestly, which was hard to say for myself and hard to hear for the class of children that I was speaking to. But after that happened, I started to care about myself because for the first time I was being honest with myself and to the people around me. I believe that is the first genuine step in helping other people.