Winter Boots

 
homeless2
 

22 November 2016

“Good morning, Bernard, do you have your winter boots yet?”

“No, the guy who said he was going to get them for me didn’t show. I sat out here all day Saturday in a snowstorm, and all day Sunday. I’ve only got leather summer shoes that get wet in the snow. My feet are freezing! It really annoys me when someone says they’re going to do something and then they don’t. Better they didn’t offer, then surprise me, rather than getting my hopes up for nothing.

“There is this religious guy who comes by every day. He says to me, ‘You’ve got to get out of the cold. You’ve got to get out of the cold,’ yet he doesn’t drop any change into my cap. How does he expect I’m going to get out of the cold? I thought the idea of religion was to help people in need, not just walk by.”

“Did Outreach come by?”

“I tried to call them on the weekend and I got a recorded message saying they were closes Saturday and Sunday. What kind of emergency service is that? If I’m going to freeze to death do I have to do it on a weekday. I guess I’m a bit down today. One good thing happened on Sunday. The Santa Claus parade came by. I didn’t get anything during the parade but after the crowd started to disperse a lot of people dropped change. I made $70.00 that day.”

 

25 November 2016

“Hi Bernard, I see you have new winter boots. Are they keeping your feet warm?”

“They’re okay. I’m standing on a patch of ice. If I stay still my feet are going to get cold, so I slide from side to side. I just hope that I don’t slip and break my nose. My cane is of no use on ice. If my leg gets too sore I can sit on my backpack.

“My hands are cold. These leather gloves are wet from the rain. When I go to the bathroom I hold them under the hand dryer for a while, but since my gear is outside I don’t to risk having it stolen.

“Do you hear those sirens? It seems I only hear them on days when it’s rainy and wet. Yesterday there was a house fire where four people were forced out on the street.

“I saw two cop cars pull around the corner. They got out of their cars and walked toward me. I thought to myself, ‘Oh, oh, I wonder what’s going to happen now.’ They just walked by. One said hello and laughed at my sign.”

I said, “I’ve heard from some of my friends that unless there has been a complaint made against you by a pedestrian for harassment, or by a store owner, if you’re on their property and they think that you’re discouraging customers, the police don’t get involved. In any case they usually just ask you to move along, or if they charge you it’s a misdemeanor. The courts will throw it out.”

“I never harass people. Here, I’m standing on church property. If I was on the sidewalk it would have been a different story.”

“Have you had any complaints from the church?”

“No, they’re fine with me being here. They say hello when they pass by.

“I tried changing my sign instead of having it read BROKE AND SEXY I was going to print BROKE AND SEXY IN THE COLD, but I couldn’t remember how to spell THE. The letters were floating around in my brain but they wouldn’t come together.”



 
 
 
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26 

No Room at the Inn

 
beard
 
24 November 2016

“Hi Bruce!”

“Dennis, I hardly recognized you all bundled up like that. You look more like a homeless person than I do. Here, let me shift over, you can share my cardboard. It’ll insulate you from some of the cold of the sidewalk.”

“How is Marilyn?”

“She’s doing great. She has her own place now, but generally comes to my apartment to sleep. Now she’s off at some First Nations conference in Thunder Bay. She’s been sober for a year and no drugs, except marijuana. Did I tell you they closed my weed store, just last week. That is so stupid. I don’t know why they don’t legalize all drugs, including heroin. The people who use it are still going to use. That won’t change, but there will be a lot fewer incarcerations. They should also have free injection sites so AIDS and Hepatitis don’t spread like they do.”

I said, “I’ve read a book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addictions by Gabor Mate M.D. He ran a free injection site in Vancouver. His recommendation was that heroin and other opiates be available with a doctor’s prescription. That way addicts could be weaned off the drugs with supervision. Also there would be clean drugs available. Three addicts a day are overdosing on drugs laced with illicit fentanyl.

fentanyl_poster

A total of 433 people have died in British Columbia due to overdoses from January to July this year. A huge proportion of these deaths—62 percent—was associated with fentanyl, a powerful opiod that is mixed with drugs like heroin

Bruce continued, “The government is going to start the process of legalization this spring, but then it has to go through the Senate. Who knows how long that will take.”

I asked, “What do you think about the political situation in the US?”

“When I saw the front page of the Sun, the day after election, I laughed my head off. This is a guy who’s going to shake things up. Nobody knows where the pieces are going to fall. Maybe we’ll have a third world war. That’s a possibility. It’s just like Brexit, that certainly shook things up. Now, Scotland is going to have the chance to hold a referendum to seek independence from Britain. That’ll be a good thing. The vote last time was within two percentage points.

“A politician that I respected was Margaret Thatcher. I didn’t agree with most of her policies, but when she said she was going to do something, she got it done, no matter how unpopular. She was honest. I admire honesty in s politician, there’s too little of that in the world.”

I said, “I talked to Bernard this morning, his sleeping bag was slashed inside and out, his rubber sleeping mat was cut in strips and his umbrella that he uses as a windbreak was broken.”

Bruce asked, “Was he there at the time?”

“No, he had his stuff stashed under a bridge. By the footprints he thought it might be construction workers, because there were some working in the area.”

“I don’t think construction workers would do that. I’ve had lots of dealings with them and had no trouble. I think it’s either personal, somebody who’s had a run in with Leonard, or someone who just doesn’t like the way he’s living. It’s probably university students, they have the reputation of hobo bashing. Leonard is lucky he wasn’t in his sleeping bag when they came. It could have been serious.

“A guy asked me today what the solution was to the homeless problem. I said, ‘More affordable housing. See those empty offices across the street — housing; empty houses and apartments — housing; empty hospital wards — housing; empty military barracks — housing. The solution is obvious, implementing the solution is what government can’t seem to come to grips with. There is a poverty industry. It cost the government $1200.00 per month to keep one man in a shelter. Do you know why I’m on the street? I broke my leg and couldn’t work. I couldn’t pay my bills so I lost my apartment. Welfare pays me $610 per month in income assistance — $375 for shelter and $235 for a support allowance that includes food. Try to find a room in this city for $375 per month, the average cost is $400-$450.

“If every one of these people passing by dropped me a nickel I’d have enough money to cover my living expenses. They don’t realize that most people are only one or two checks away from being homeless.

“The waiting list for emergency mental health care is 18 months. So, if a guy walks in saying he has suicidal thoughts. They’ll say, ‘We can schedule an appointment for you in May, 2018.’ That alone is enough to tip him over the edge. If he keeps the appointment, fine. If he tops himself off they’ll say, ‘We didn’t know that he would actually kill himself.’ Go figure!”



 
 
 
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26 

Destroyed

 
homeless2
 

23 November 2016

“Good morning, Bernard, are you enjoying your new winter boots?”

“Yeah, the boots are fine, but I had some bad luck yesterday. Remember I told you that I was sleeping under a bridge and I’d stored some of my gear there. Well, I went back there fairly early in the evening, about 6:30. I could see from the footprints in the snow that somebody had been there. They’d slashed my sleeping bag inside and out. I don’t know if anybody pissed on it. They’d cut up my rubber sleeping pad. I had a big umbrella that I used as a bit of a windbreak, they destroyed that. It won’t even open. I think it was maybe construction guys. They’ve been doing some work on the bridge. It could have been kids, but the footprints were big. If somebody had wanted me out of there they could have just left a note. I would have left. As it was I gathered up all my gear and took it under one of the downtown bridges. I had to sleep in my boots so they wouldn’t get stolen. I’ll have to find some glue that they use to mend fabric to deal with some of the rips. Duct tape wouldn’t work, it’d tear off.”

I said, “I can’t understand why anybody stoop so low. It’s would have been obvious that you didn’t have much if you were sleeping under a bridge.”

“Yeah, well it can’t be helped. I hope that Housing comes through for me. They say I’m near the top of the list, but what does that mean? I’ve heard of some people being on these lists for years. It’s going to be raining this weekend, so I’ll have to find some kind of shelter with a roof on it, even if it’s a doorway. When we get the really cold weather I’ll have to find a place near a heat exhaust vent. There are a few I know of around the city, but then I’ll be out in the open. Stuff will get stolen. I could get kicked and beaten while in my sleeping bag. That happens a lot. Cops and Security Guards will be patrolling. If the cops get me they’ll confiscate my weed and maybe lay charges.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Bernard, I hope that Housing comes through and some good luck comes your way.”



 
 
 
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26 

Led Astray

 
homeless2
 

18 November 2016

I was bundled up in my winter coat, scarf over my face waiting for my bus. I was approached by a woman with long blond hair. She asked, “I know you don’t I?. Pull your scarf down so I can see you. I’m grieving now. My family was recently killed in a car accident. I only had one mother and one father, they were with the underground. I was led astray. Perhaps you’ll pray for me.” I said I would. She walked away from the bus stop, but ran to catch the bus at the next stop. She paid her fare in small change, rode for about six blocks then got off the bus. It’s a mystery.

When I arrived at Bernard’s spot he asked, “Have you got a minute to sit here while I go to the bathroom. I won’t be long.”

“Sure,” I said, “I’ll get to be BROKE AND SEXY.”

“Yeah, that’s right. I’ll be back soon.”

While I was waiting his little French woman stopped by. She said hello and asked, “Are you holding Bernard’s place for him?”

“Yes, he’s gone to the bathroom.” Bernard returned shortly after. The woman commented, “Look at all those empty coffee cups. No wonder you had to go to the bathroom.” She laughed, put some change in his cap then said goodbye. Bernard collected the cups and walked them to the trash container.

He said, “You did a good job, but you have to smile more.”

I replied, “Perhaps I should also have been waving my arms.”

“Well, Housing visited me and told me that my name was near the top of their list. They asked if I’d consider staying at a shelter. I said, ‘I’d rather freeze to death under the bridge, than stay at one of those noisy, dirty, bed bug bug infested places. I’ve got enough problems without adding bed bugs to the list.’ ‘In that case,’ they said, ‘we’d better find you a place fast.’ I don’t know how long it will be, hopefully soon. Tomorrow, a guy promised to bring me a pair of winter boots. I’m looking forward to that. Right now I’m sitting on both of my blankets, but with my feet on the concrete they get cold fast. Soon I’ll have to wrap them in one of the blankets.”



 
 
 
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26 

Sleeping in the Cold

 
homeless2
 

16 November 2016

“Good morning, Bernard, how did you sleep.”

“Oh, it was okay. There was a bit of wind, but the temperature wasn’t too bad. Next Monday we’re going to have snow. I usually go to sleep at about 8:00. I wake up at 10:00 to go to the bathroom and again at 12:00 and 1:00. When 3:00 rolls around I’m so sore from sleeping on the hard concrete that I say. ‘To hell with it.’ and walk down to McDonald’s for my first coffee. Tim Horton’s isn’t open that early.

“A guy came by this morning and said that he’s got a really, really thick blanket for me and some fleece pajama bottoms. I’ll wear those all winter. He couldn’t believe that I was still sleeping outside. Saturday a guy is going to bring me a pair of winter boots. He came by today to check my size.

“Another guy said, ‘I nearly didn’t see you in this doorway, usually you’re farther down the wall.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m so sweet that if I stood out in the rain I’d melt. He asked me why I was so happy I said, ‘It’s raining, not snowing, so I don’t have to shovel.’

A woman walked past then came back. She said, “I love your sign, BROKE AND SEXY, it made me laugh.” She dropped $5.00 into the upturned cap. Leonard quickly pocketed the bill saying, “I’m putting this away for socks. At Giant Tiger they have 10 pairs for $8.00 or is that at Walmart. I’ll have to check. A man on a bicycle stopped and said, “A woman asked me to give you this.” He dropped $20.00 into the cap.

Bernard said, “This is my lucky day. It’s probably from a woman who didn’t want anyone to see her giving me money. Probably works for the government. They’re the worst. I can always identify them because of the white, plastic security passes dangling from their belts.

“My friend came out of court and was so happy because her case had been dropped. Then she said, ‘I’m going to pan to get enough money for smokes and some weed.’ I said, ‘I’ll get it for you.’ For both of us it cost $80.00. I said to her, ‘You’re expensive.’

“I’m going to have to stretch my legs. I can only sit so long before my hips stiffen. It’s from arthritis. I have it in my fingers as well and have degeneration in my lower spine I usually wrap my hands in those tensor wraps. I like the ones with the hole for your thumb, but I haven’t been able to find those lately. .

“Sometimes people ask me, ‘Why do you keep saying ‘Good morning’ to people when they hardly ever say it back?’ I say, ‘I figure I’ll wear them down eventually. After they start saying, ‘Good morning’ it may take them a couple of weeks to decide to give me money. It starts with them looking at me and acknowledging me. That’s the hook.’ ”



 
 
 
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26 

Doing Time

 
homeless2
 

15 November 2016

“Good morning, Bernard.

“Good morning. I had a good day yesterday, $70.00. I bought a fleece hoodie, the one I’m wearing now. When I woke up this morning I was too hot. With my winter coat, my sleeping bag then I’d pulled my leather over top of me. It was quite a job to fight my way out. The next thing I need is winter boots.”

I said, “I’ve found that Goodwill or Value Village has good prices on used boots and clothing.”

“Yeah, Value Village is good. I’ve bought a few things there.

“You know, when I leave here to go to the bathroom, my backpack, sleeping bag, even my cap with some change in it stays here. I take out the big coins, all that remains are dimes and nickels. People ask me why I don’t take everything with me. I figure if somebody needs a sleeping bag that bad they can have it. I can always get another.”

“Yesterday we were talking about prisons. Do you mind talking about that?”

“No, I’ve been in a lot of them: Joyceville, Millhaven, Collins Bay and I finished out at Drumheller. They gave me early parole. I was supposed to go to a halfway house, but as soon as I got out of the prison I just kept walking. They caught up with me in Calgary. I had to go back for five months to finish off my sentence.”

“What kind of things were you charged with?”

“Well, I was a pretty rowdy kid. I pulled a string of b & e’s (breaking and entering) and car theft. When I was in prison I got into a fight and hit another inmate with a weight bar. Back then, in the 70’s, when you got in a fight you had to make sure the guy wouldn’t get up, otherwise he’d come after you. I wore a pair of cowboy boots with steel toes. A swift kick in the ankle would put a guy out of commision for quite a while and he’d always have a weak ankle. Another time, I threw a guy over a four story balcony inside a fridge.”

“How did that come about?”

“Well, I had a can of pop in the fridge and I’d put my initials BT on the can. Later, when I came to get the coke it was gone. There was only one guy sitting at a table and he was drinking a coke. I walked over to him and asked, ‘Is this yours?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I picked up the can and showed him my initials on it. When you’re in prison you have to protect what’s yours or you’re really in trouble. I pulled everything out of the fridge, stuffed the guy in and pushed it over the balcony. That added five years to my sentence.”

I said, “The guy must have been in rough condition.”

“Yeah he was, he was in hospital when I was charged. He died later. If he died earlier I would have been charged with murder instead of assault and battery. That was a long time ago. I learned a lot in prison. I even got my cook’s papers. If I’d stayed in longer I could have qualified as a chef.”

“Did you work as a cook?”

“Yeah, I did, until the first heart attack. You’ve heard the phrase ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.’ That’s what I did.



 
 
 
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26 

Prisons

 
homeless2
 

14 November 2016

“Good morning, Bernard. How was it sleeping under the bridge last night?”

“Not too bad. It’s been worse. Now the sun is shining and we’re expecting a warm day.”

“Have you heard from Welfare yet?”

“Yeah, everything is set up. I’m on the list for housing. I just have to wait for the Outreach people to come visit me.”

“Do they come by on a regular basis?”

“No, I’ve only seen them once in this month, but they know I’m here. I’ll just have to wait.”

“Trump was elected President, just like you predicted and they’ve legalized marijuana for recreational use in California, Nevada, and Massachusetts. That should send a message to the Canadian government to go ahead with the legalization that they’ve planned for next spring.”

“That’s a good thing. The American prisons are full of people convicted because of drugs. I wonder if in the states where it’s become legal they’ll release the prisoners that have been convicted of minor marijuana offences? It’s the same case in Canada. That’s why we have so many prisons in Ontario. There’s Joyceville, Collins Bay, Millhaven, Kingston and the Prison for Women…”

“I think the POW is now closed and has been turned into a museum. Joy told me that. She’d served time there. Inmates were moved to the Bath Institution and the Grand Valley Institution for Women.”

“Yes, I think that the Kingston Pen. has been turned into a museum as well. It was falling apart. They now give tours there, but I’ll bet they don’t show people the dungeon in the basement where they had the torture chambers.”

I said, “It costs taxpayers a lot of money to incarcerate people.”

“Yeah, it would be far better to put some of that money toward affordable housing.”



 
 
 
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