Things I’ve heard while panhandling

The majority of Haligonians have been nothing but wonderful to me. Putting yourself in a position where you panhandle for money is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

I had to reign in all my pride, and I knew there would be people who would make comments that would be hard to hear.

So I thought I would share with you some I’ve personally been subjected to.

“Why don’t you’ve get a job?” That’s an easy one to answer. I can’t legally work without my work permit being issued which I’m still waiting for. The moment I am able to apply for a job I will be. I’ll be applying for any job out there to get myself off the street panhandling.

“This used to be a nice street until the beggars arrived” I’m sorry if my presence spoils your enjoyment of Spring Garden Road, but seeing that I don’t call out “spare change please” and the most I tend to do is smile and say hello to passers by, I can’t see how my presence on Spring Garden makes it a worse experience. Maybe these people feel that panhandlers are just bums who should all just disappear from view, and then these people wouldn’t have to think of poverty and homelessness in Halifax?

“You’re a junkie”. I can assure you I’m not a junkie. I don’t take crack. I don’t bang needles. I’m not even a drinker. I know plenty of homeless people who use substances to deal with the issues in their lives, and I honestly feel for the people who are dealing with substance abuse issues, but unless people are going to judge me for my cheese or coffee addiction then I can honestly say I’m no junkie.

“Homeless people are a drain on society!” I don’t qualify for social assistance. I don’t get help to get housing. My goal is to get my work permit and use my post graduate qualification to help members of society who want to make their lives better. I can’t pay much forward at the moment but at the end of the day if I have spare food that someone has donated, or a few extra coins in my cup I’ll pass them on to other panners that I know. I believe in passing it forward and always try to help someone in any way I can.

“You’re just lazy!” Ok, this goes back to the job thing, unless I get a work permit I can’t work. I can’t get assistance. I need to make money somehow, and I can assure you that standing on your feet from 10am to 6pm every day is exhausting both physically and mentally. My feet, calves, knees and back hurt every day. My emotional health takes a hit, especially if I’ve stood for up to 10 hours a day (as I do sometimes) and I’ve managed to get less than $5 all day.

The things that keep me going though are the positive, empathetic comments that I receive. People talk to me, about the circumstances of my homelessness, they can see in my eyes in not drunk or on crack. They are amazed that someone who has such a good education is standing on the streets panning.

My whole goal of this blog is to try and change the attitudes of some of the people who walk past me, and either look at me as if I’m something they wiped off their shoe, or the people who make ignorant and uninformed comments based on their lack of understanding. I’m just a “normal” (whatever that means) person whose circumstances have brought them to this place in their lives. My life changed literally overnight, as anyone’s can.

I’d hope that the people who make negative judgements would come and spend a couple of minutes talking to me. Maybe after talking to me they could think properly about homelessness and panhandling. I never imagined I’d be homeless. I don’t think a lot of people do, until it touches their lives.

So, if you see me outside park lane and you want to come and talk to me, honestly and without judging me, I’m happy to do that. Having people talk to me makes my day so much brighter.

Sending you all love and light

namaste

 

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Immigration update

So I have an immigration medical booked for next Wednesday (28th June). I have to pay $200 for this medical, money I just don’t have. If anyone could help me out, even a small donation would be amazing, I would be so grateful. This is the first movement I’ve had regarding my immigration in 9 months. One step closer to getting my work permit, getting a job and getting a place to live.

My gofundme link is gofundme.com/2t6y7ds4 (you may need to copy and paste that). Thank you all so much for your ongoing support. Namaste

What it’s really like to panhandle.

Panhandling has become a survival tool to me.  Without my work visa, and ineligible for income assistance it is the most acceptable way for me to make some money.

It wasn’t so long ago that I would never have thought I could bring myself to beg on the streets. However this world runs on money, buying basic necessities was out of my reach and I had to do something.

I’ve found that I’m still not able to ask people for anything. I don’t say “spare change please” but I do say hello to many people walking by. I have a cardboard sign, and I let that talk for me.

I was so nervous when I first started panhandling as I wasn’t sure what reaction I would get from the public. However in the main it has been extremely positive. Apart from a couple of idiots (literally two women) who repeatedly abuse me whenever they walk past, and whose pettiness, immaturity and ignorance makes me pity them,  I’ve found that haligonians are happy to talk to me, to ask how my day is, and to offer words of support.

My confidence has grown as I stand in my regular spot. I feel safe there and I know some people who walk past now recognize me. I guess it’s not hard, as the majority of panhandlers on the streets of Halifax are men.

Apart from money, I often receive gifts of food, drinks, bus tickets and hygiene products which I’m always greatful for. People have directed me to services for homeless people in the city, and many just stop to say hi. These little things give me so much hope.

I can understand that some people will walk past me and presume I’m a junkie or a drinker and without them speaking to me they’ll never know that my money doesn’t go on crack or booze. I know some people will think I’m not really homeless and I can’t change that perception either. When people talk to me, though, they realize that my situation could literally happen to anyone. They are amazed that I post graduate qualifications. They can empathize with the direction my life went in. You never know when tragedy can hit and none of us are immune from tragedy.

At the end of a day I can tell you my feet and legs ache, and I feel so tired, but I always feel like I’ve had a good day. I’ve been out in the world, I’ve interacted with people. I’ve smiled and been smiled at. I can say that I’m doing my best to keep myself going. I know that in the future things will improve. I feel that it takes a lot of humility to panhandle, you have to lose your pride, but you also gain a lot from it. I feel like my self confidence and self worth have grown since I started panhandling, and my belief in the power of people has increased exponentially.

I thank all the haligonians that look out for me. You guys are the best

A real gift

Last week I had a really surreal experience. I met two of the doctors and two of the nurses who looked after me in hospital last year.

Meeting up with them, in the hospital itself was both a difficult yet cathartic experience. There is a lot about June and July last year that I don’t remember, thank goodness. There is also a lot of that time that is burned into my brain by severe PTSD. I had moments last week where I experienced strange déjà vu like feelings. Where I had to remind myself this was a year later, and not June 2016. I also remembered little memories that I hadn’t remembered before, and which the staff could confirm to me actually happened.

Being able to speak to 4 members of the staff who were primary carers for me was vitally important in trying to recognize the extent of the recovery I’ve made.

I must admit that I literally didn’t remember one doctor or nurse who looked after me after I was rushed into emerg. They were able to talk about how very seriously ill I was when I arrived there. They spoke about how worried they were about me when I first arrived and how amazed they were at how I am now.

The other doctor and nurse looked after me during my recovery. I asked the nurse what she could tell me about how different I am now to when she first met me. Her insight was invaluable. She told me “you couldn’t breathe when I first met you, our main concern was to keep you breathing. You couldn’t talk or communicate and even when you started to be able to communicate you couldn’t hold eye contact, your thoughts were very mixed up, you had to be reminded where you where and why. Your progress is remarkable. To see you smile, to see you laugh, to see the real person that we knew was in there, that’s such an amazing thing. We rarely get to see a patient a year along the road, and your recovery has been remarkable.”

It’s still hard to believe how seriously ill I was just a year ago. Not being able to remember the initial aftermath of that trauma a year ago saved my life, I believe. I don’t know if I could cope with being able to remember it all. The brain is an fascinating organ, it can protect us from memories that are too traumatic to remember.

I know I’m still recovering. I’m not fully recuperated. I’ve received therapy, including grief therapy, to get to where I am now, but it’s an ongoing process. I live each day knowing that my wife died. I live each day knowing that my life will never be the same as it was before. That there is something forever changed. I will never get over losing my wife, but I know she would want me to be the best I could be and I try so hard to fulfil that for her.

Dealing with the issue of being homeless is just one element of the many difficulties I’ve faced in the last year. Grief, trauma, serious illness, and the road to recovery have all been major factors in my life.

I’m determined to get myself fully back on my feet. To get my immigration issues completed, to get a job, a home, and be able to live independently are goals I have set myself.

I want to thank the staff at the QE2 hospital for their work. They take people who are at their most broken and piece them back together again. They are worth their weight in gold.

UPDATE: I’m still trying to raise the $200 needed to be able to have my immigration medical. If you feel you can help me out, I have a gofundme page at gofundme.com/2t6y7ds4 and any help is gratefully received. Namaste

 

 

Feeling drained

Tiredness is a big part of my life. Not the “oh I need a nap” tiredness but the bone crushing weariness that comes from not being able to sleep properly for months on end.

At the shelter it’s impossible to get a good night’s sleep. With 20 women in one house we all share a room with at least one other person, and as many as four others. Doors bang constantly, there’s shouting in the middle of the night, people coming in and out of the room, arguments. It’s like trying to sleep through a jet taking off right next to your head.

The beds are all bunks, with metal slabs and a mattress that is literally no more than an inch thick. Trying to get comfortable in them is an impossible task. After a few days all your joints ache, your back hurts and you feel like you just can’t relax.

I’m thankful for the shelter providing me with a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in, but the lack of sleep, the interrupted sleep, gets to you after a while.

My mental health becomes worse. I have severe PTSD, and ironically as my sleep quality gets less, my horrific nightmares increase. I become scared to go to sleep because of the nightmares. So I stay up for days at a time.

My mood swings when I’m tired. My ability to cope lessens. My concentration wanes. My anxiety increases. My judgement gets skewed and I make stupid decisions. I feel that my depression gets worse. And then I sleep. For anything up to 18 hours in one go. It’s as if my body can’t hold out anymore and just shuts down.

Feeling bone tired is, in itself, exhausting. I’ve found myself almost standing up asleep when I’m panhandling. I fall asleep on the bus regularly. I feel my joints aching and my head hurting. If I sit down for five minutes I’m likely to nod off.

The reality is the same for a lot of homeless women I’ve met. While the shelters provide for our basic needs, it’s not a home. It’s not a place equipt for long term residency. The mix of characters who reside in the shelter have different ways of living, and it can be hard to relax. Tempers fray when others don’t consider those who are trying to sleep. I’ve seen more arguments break out during the night than during the day. Obviously alcohol and drugs play a part in that, but sometimes it can be people who are being loud downstairs disturbing those trying to sleep that can be the spark that ignites the gunpowder.

It’s hard to drag yourself up when you are tired. It’s hard to be positive, to try and focus on a light at the end of the tunnel, to remember that I still have hopes and dreams that one day I’ll be able to realize. I try to stay as positive as I can, despite feeling so weary. I need to hold on to that hope and those dreams.

UPDATE: I have been asked to have my immigration medical, and need to raise around $200 as soon as possible. If you feel you can help then I have a gofundme account gofundme.com/2t6y7ds4 and would be grateful for any assistance. Namaste

 

 

I’m sorry

I’m sorry for all the hurt I caused.

I’m sorry if my actions hurt you.

I’m sorry that I’ve been distracted by anger, grief and guilt.

I’m sorry if my decision making left you confused.

I’m sorry that I gave you the impression I was motivated by anything but love.

I’m sorry that I wasn’t the best me I could have been.

I have let so many people down. I’m really sorry

 

Haligonians rock

Life has a way of hitting you when you are down. Last year, almost exactly a year ago, I lost my beloved wife tragically and unexpectedly. The trauma of losing her rocked my world. I had never felt pain like it. I literally couldn’t breathe as my chest felt crushed.

For 6 weeks I was in hospital myself, trying desperately to be well enough to leave, yet knowing that as well as losing my wife I had also lost my home. My wife’s daughters, who she was estranged from, had cancelled the lease on our apartment. I wasn’t named on the lease as I wasn’t, and still am not, a Canadian citizen.

I could have gone back to the UK, I guess, but my wife is buried here. I felt like I would be abandoning her, that I was giving up on the hopes and dreams we had shared. She desperately wanted me to get my citizenship here. She knew I had given up everything in the UK to move continents to be with her. I had no home, no job, no money to go back to the UK and start my life over again. My heart still breaks at the thought of leaving her here and moving back.

Friends here in Halifax rallied around me. They visited me in hospital, took me down to Liverpool for my wife’s funeral and made sure that I never felt alone. I moved into a room in an apartment building and found my “Halifam” next door. A family who made sure I ate, socialized, cried and talked through the early days after my wife’s death. They even threw me a little birthday party complete with a cake. I love visiting with them still.

When I moved into the homeless shelter I met the most amazing people in Halifax. These are the women who work at the shelters, who tolerate residents abusing them, who work at the shelter not for the money, but to try and really make a difference to the homeless women they work with. The staff have been my saving grace at times. They have laughed, cried and supported me through the worst year of my life. They are heroes in my book.

Then there are the haligonians. Those people who make Halifax the city I want to live in for the rest of my life. I wrote a post on a trading group, offering myself for food. I said I would do housework, yard work, dog walking, you name it in exchange for food and my Facebook exploded. So many amazing people wanted to help me. It has been overwhelming to say the least. I’ve had moments where I’ve broken down in tears at messages I’ve received.

I also panhandle in the city. Getting a smile, an acknowledgement, a “hi, how are you doing?” makes me day. I know Halifax has its own economic issues, but the generosity of haligonians to help out someone in need is amazing. Every dime I make, every food donation, every kind word means a lot to me.

Pangandling can feel so demeaning. Standing as if you are invisible can hurt your soul. You have to push any pride you have way down, and accept that this is survival.

I still have my dreams and goals. I still can see myself succeeding and I want to pay the kindness of the haligonians I’ve met forward when  I’m able to. This city is my home, and I am proud to live here and be an honourary haligonian.

I have a gofundme page at gofundme.com/2t6y7ds4 if you feel you may be able to help me. Namaste

 

 

Invisible heroes

On Monday night a suicide bomber detonated a device inside an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, UK,  packed with children, teenagers, parents and people just out to have a fun time.

As a Brit myself, I watched in shock as the news hit. To see the devastation brought by a senseless act of terrorism, targeting mainly young girls, left me sickened. I don’t want to get into debates about ISIS, religion, politics and beliefs when it comes to this tragedy. The motivations behind such senseless killings do not make this any less of a tragedy.

In the midst of all the brutality a story broke. A story involving two homeless men, who had been begging for change from those leaving the venue. These men were doing what many homeless need to do to get by. Asking for spare change.

I wonder how often these men have stood in public, asking for help, and had people walk past them as if they don’t exist. I know how that feels. When I go panhandling in Halifax it often feels as if I’m invisible. As if acknowledging my presence will somehow harm that person. It’s an awful feeling. To be stood begging takes all the self pride you have and stamps all over it anyway. To know that people would rather not see you, would rather not acknowledge the problem in their city, hurts.

Steve and Chris are heroes.

Pictured: The two homeless heroes who helped Manchester attack victims

They ran into the arena and helped those who were injured and dying. They comforted lost children, tried to provide first aid, comforted those who were taking their final breath. These homeless men showed compassion and bravery in the face of senseless violence and cowardice.

Since the news broke there have been funds raised for these heroes. Funds that mean that they have somewhere safe to sleep tonight, food, money to pay for necessities in life. It warms my heart to see these men getting rewarded, when they acted, not thinking what would they get from this, but out of sheer humanitarian purposes.

Its often said that those with the least often give the most. It’s evident in the shelter that, although we all live in poverty, we will have the backs of our fellow residents. Sharing what we have, the little we have, comes naturally. We know what it’s like to have nothing.

I have a daughter back in the UK, who is at university. One of the girls still missing after the bombing went to college with her and was in her class. I hope that Steve and Chris were with her at some point, so she knew she wasn’t alone.

I hope that people can look at homeless people now, see that we are still human, we still exist, we aren’t invisible. We will be there if you need help. We are not devoid of human emotion, we know that you have a tough life too. A kind word can make my day when I’m panhandling. Just knowing someone stopped to say hi to me makes me smile.

I wish Chris and Steve all the best. You guys are heroes. Invisible, amazing heroes.

Mental health and homelessness

20% of all Canadians will suffer at one time or another with mental health issues. These issues include depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar, schizophrenia and obsessive, compulsive and addictive behaviours.

For homeless people that figure is believed to be around 35%, and its estimated 75% of homeless women are affected by mental health issues.

The vast majority of women I’ve met in the shelter since being homeless have had some sort of mental health issues. Many of the women are taking medication to cope. In the shelter all medications are locked away, and must be signed out by a member of staff and the resident. We aren’t even allowed to have Tylenol or Advil on our person, a woman can be dismissed from the shelter if they are found with medications that they haven’t turned in.

At the shelter we have access to medical help. An organization calls in at least once a week to take care of any medical needs we have. Since becoming homeless I’ve had a series of health problems, from a broken arm, to pneumonia, to gynecologic problems which they have helped me with. The nurses also check up on the resident’s mental health.

I don’t have an MSI card yet and I have to pay for prescription medications. This presents me with issues at times as I don’t have access to money to pay for them. I also get billed from the hospital if I attend emergency. I’ve gone from using mood stabilizers and lorazepam to just using anti-depressants as I can’t afford to pay for all my medications. I do get help from charitable organizations sometimes to help pay for my medications, but it’s hard to ask for help. It takes a lot from your own self worth, and when you are struggling with self doubt and depression that just makes you feel worse.

At the shelter I’ve seen all sorts of people who are trying to live with mental health issues. Many stem from childhood abuse and neglect, some are illnesses such as personality disorders, many women have suicidal ideation, and others live with addiction. Some women stop caring about issues such as personal hygiene, others eat compulsively or starve themselves, some women have paranoia and trust issues.

Being homeless is in itself a stressful situation. I have issues with noise sensitivity, being around a lot of people and an increased startle reaction. I’ve had panic attacks at the shelter and I’ve felt suicidal at times. Not being able to plan a life is hard. I don’t know when I’ll get out of my homeless situation. That impacts on the depression I live with, as sometimes I can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve also been struggling with grief after losing my wife, and have been able to access grief counselling thanks to the staff at the shelter.

The staff try so hard to boost the confidence of the residents. Many women are left in disbelief that they are in the shelter when they first come. As someone who has been in this situation for over 7 months now I’ve seen a lot of women who walk into the shelter looking crushed and defeated, and walk out into a new apartment with the belief that they can succeed. Having staff on hand who will listen, who will try and give us a positive perspective or who simply make us believe that someone cares is priceless.

Living with mental health issues is hard enough when you have a stable environment to lean on. Dealing with these issues when you are homeless makes everything so much harder. A shelter is not conducive to promoting mental wellbeing due to so many people all struggling at once. However, now that I have the support from the staff and other organizatons I’ve found that I’m mentally stronger than the day I first accessed the shelter.