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Arthur speaks with the homeless: a continuing conversation

Pictured: Erin

Erin is a lady that has been struggling with mental illness for the better part of 20 years. As a result of that and other intersectional factors, Erin is homeless. Her story consists of a broken housing- system, an indifferent government, and loads of judgment, all within the city of Peterborough. I was lucky enough to sit down with Erin recently, and chat about her life. This is her story.

So, do you have a story? How did all of this happen to you?

It probably happened around 97’. I got diagnosed with Schizophrenia. I got a big dose of, um, I don’t know if you call it music coming at me or… I think it was going on before I noticed it, but it got brought to my attention in about 97’. And I basically lost…Like I, I have education, two years college, and I had been working all my life.

And um, I ended up in a mental institution, over the course of 11 years squished into 8. When I got back, there was no help …and the help that there is… it doesn’t work.  It doesn’t work for a lot of us. Even now, I’m fighting to get the right medication. It’s just one hassle after another. Right doctor… Right medication…

What happens with medication? Do you have to pay for that?

Some do, some don’t. But if I don’t get the right doctor, yes, I will have to pay. Rent is covered if I can find a place to rent. But when you’re in a town like this, they don’t want you renting everywhere. There’s a lot of places you don’t want to be. You know, like, uh, there’s a lot of place that aren’t safe.

That’s what has been brought to our attention. A lot of the housing developments in town, be it for students or what not, are beside drug houses.

Yeah, when I was a kid growing up, there wasn’t this. But in the last, what, 12, 15 years, it’s everywhere. It’s everywhere, It’s out of control. It’s out of control, and it’s scary. It’s scary. Back in the day, there was weed…but now, it’s constant… Not only am I worrying about my own housing…but…my only hope is the next generation…coming in the system…


That’s our only hope…

Well, I can only vouch for myself, and say that hopefully, most people have compassion, but I know of, and have seen many others that don’t care.

Yeah, and when you walk into a church, and they’re judging you too. And you’re thinking, this is where I learned how to read sir (laughs) You know, really, this is where I learned how to read, sir, and you’re judging me?

That’s crazy. They are supposed to have the most compassion.

Yeah, it’s been 4 & ½ years on the streets.

Where did you live before that? In community housing? Or?

It was subsidized. But as you said, they were cracker huts…You can’t sleep in those places, you can’t…you can’t sleep in those places because people are coming through the windows. All night, every night, they’re coming through the windows, and it’s scary. It’s scary.

Did you always live in Peterborough?

Except when I did my two years in Barrie. But ya know, us downtown, we look to each other, we look to each other for help.

Well, only you guys truly understand what is like.

Yeah. When one of us has a little bit of money, we share with each other. And it’s the only way we’re gonna get by. It’s scary, but at least summer’s here.

Yeah, I can’t imagine how hard the winter must be. What do you do in the wintertime?

Sometimes sleep right on the streets. Sometimes couch-surfin’. Sometimes I’ll go to the shelters, but even there, like, it has gotten to the point where ya can’t even trust them. And going to the women’s shelter, you get hen syndrome, ya know…*bok bok bok bok*. Doing 8 years, over the course of 11 in a mental institution, you get more coherent sentences out of these guys, than you do those hens… It’s pretty scary.

Do you find students to be helpful?

Yeah, The Trent students are good, the Fleming students aren’t so…But the Trent students seem to get it… I also find the Christians help. The Trent students are good though

That’s good. I’m happy to hear that.

And the majority of it is the government not wanting to tell the truth of the problem.

It’s an overlooked problem. Almost, as if, they don’t want to admit that this is going on.
There is an issue. But the government doesn’t want, not so much admit it, but like, uh…it’s not like they can’t deal with it. Like, the government has been cleaned up over the years. But um…Hell’s Angels, and Satan’s Choice used to be running the city. The municipality, police, but not so much anymore. It’s really cleaned up. Even in the mental system, they overdosed me over 5 times. So, they’re probably trying to shut me up. But just put me on the backburner, ya know…Just shut up and go away.

They probably don’t want the whole story out there

Because they don’t want the story of them overdosing me like five times. Exactly. They do want to deal with. They probably don’t know how. But this next generation. From Trent, in this psychology, or whatever it is. I think they are our only hope.

That’s what I want to do. Help the homeless, or kids with special needs.

Well, I’ve always been diagnosed with a learning disability, and Epilepsy, and when I got older, it was Schizophrenia. But um, I‘ve always struggled. But I’ve always had friends and everything. But um, it’s out of hand. And I think our only hope is the students from Trent and psych, and the others. For Peterborough, I think that’s out hope. Really do, I really do. I think that’s our hope for the future… cause they’re consistent, and they stop…and listen. “I’m hungry” * Laughs* But some are out there with their cameras taking pictures…I’m Schizophrenic…that’s one of my triggers…But you know, we help eachother… and our only help is the Trent students for the future.

I think that’s a good thing to put in the Trent Newspaper. They’ll like that.

Because there’s a lot of quacks…They don’t understand…

Well, some people think, that mental illness is a choice… but…

There must be something in the water.

You’ve heard that song?

Yeah, so, yeah…

Well, thank you…

Erin is only one example of the problems that Peterborough faces in regards to our homeless, and housing situation.

Yet, she represents much of the problem. Underfunded, and unsafe housing developments, and shelters force the homeless out unto the streets. The streets, however, can be just as unsafe, especially in the wintertime, when warmth is an issue.

Erin has also told me many times that she has been hit, and beaten up, solely due to the fact that she is homeless, and her story gets disregarded by the police.

Well, Erin, I hope this story is noticed. You, and the rest of the strong people that find themselves out on the streets deserve all the help possible.

Unfortunately, until society can collectively acknowledge the problem, human beings will continue to suffer without adequate care, food, housing, and services.

Maybe Trent is our hope for the future; I really hope that Trent can make a difference. It is not really that hard. Spend a minute talking to one of these people, acknowledge them, offer them a smoke, or some change, or even give them some food that is just sitting around your house.

Whatever you can do is appreciated tenfold by them. We have so much, yet they struggle, for every bit that they have.

Acknowledgement is the first step to overcoming this issue, so please, if you see Erin, or any other homeless folks in the streets, take a minute, a dollar, or a cigarette, and place it into their hands.

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