The Exposure Project is a community development initiative that was founded through Waterloo Region Community Legal Services. Its goal is to break the stigma around poverty and homelessness by providing a space to share those experiences. The project hopes that by increasing the exposure of marginalized voices in the wider community, it can raise awareness of the realities that low-income populations experience.
The stories you’re about to hear come directly from local community members of Waterloo region.
“It was a registered nurse who gave me the name. I had the quirks and the personalities of a cricket. I was 14-years-old.”
“I found myself on the streets after I had gotten into an injury. An accident happened in 2010. I ended up having to quit my job. I’ve been coming to homeless shelters and places that help the needy ever since my accident.” The accident caused injury to Krikket’s stomach, skull, and back. But he did not receive compensation for his injuries until this year – 11 years later. “I couldn’t pay rent or anything like that after I quit my job. I started couch surfing and then being out on the streets.”
It was hard for Krikket to find a job after the accident because of his injuries. He still has mobility issues, which has exacerbated his struggles on the streets. When asked how it has been for him living on the streets, Krikket replied, “Stressful. Strenuous. It has been a lot of arguments. There’s been couch surfing. I’ve been kicked out of different locations. And then being in tent city… but then being asked to move along. And there’s not a lot of room for my belongings. I had everything packed in a backpack and that was about it.”
Krikket talked about how the police would come to tent city regularly to break up the encampment. “There was a lot of people there who were my street family. Not only did I have street family, but I had biological family on the street.”
When asked what kinds of barriers and obstacles he has faced in obtaining services and supports, Krikket replied, “I’m not sure. I signed up for all kinds of housing programs, but they said I was not that much of a risk, even though I was staying at overflows in the shelters. On the list of at-risk needy for housing, I’m still on the wait list for 3-4 years. It’s not a matter of weeks or months. It’s a matter of years. I’ve been on OW this whole time. They were saying to me – when I was put on OW (Ontario Works) – that this is not long term. It’s supposed to be short term. But it took 11 years on OW to get on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program). So low income assistance…it doesn’t give much for places I can rent. The cost of living was way more than I could afford. OW gives you $636 a month.”
Recently, the hospital found Krikket a room to rent. But this room has taken a long time to secure. Krikket has been on the streets for nine and a half years.
“It’s only been this year since things have been solidified. I’m off the streets. Getting hospital care. I finally got my ODSP after 11 years of applications for brain injury and back problems. I had been admitted into hospital – the psychiatric ward – to get the ODSP. They wouldn’t let me out of the hospital until I got stable housing and financial assistance. That happened this past winter. Finally I won’t be staying at Tim Hortons during the winter time. I will have my own apartment.”
“I started certain successes this past year. I’ve been an electrical technician engineer. I was hoping to get back to working full-time with ODSP helping me out. It’s a new year for me. It’s a very different year. I won’t be getting frost bite this year or out in the rainstorms as much as I was in the past. I used to get caught sleeping in Tim Hortons quite often, and night shift would threaten to kick me out because I was sleeping. It’s been a lot of hardships. But I don’t want to share all that. I want to share the positives.”
John has lived in Kitchener his entire life. His dad passed away when he was 15-years-old. After his dad’s passing, he lived with his mom and siblings, and he took care of his mom until she passed away in 2014.
In around 2010, John lost his job of 32 years. After losing his job, John worked as a taxi driver for about two years. After the family home was sold, he moved into an apartment and used the money he received from his mother’s will. “But because of a situation with my mom, I ended up with some mental instability problems. So through KW hospital, they set me up with Threshold Homeless Supports because they kept telling me I would be out on the streets soon. So I got into their housing and I’ve been there ever since. It’s been five years.”
John shared that a good thing that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic for him is he has lost 55 lbs. “Because I had health problems from being overweight, I was able to get on a weight loss program to treat me.” John has been biking, jogging, and walking over 300 km a month. His physical health has improved significantly since beginning his weight loss journey.
John also shared that he was just hired for a new job at the airport this morning. “I feel like I’m getting the opportunity to have a revival of my life, I guess. I’m changing the directions of my circumstances and things are opening up.”
“Tried to kill myself three times. The last time I almost succeeded.”
“I had a rough life. I was sitting at home when my mom died. It was me, my dad, and sister. And my mom goes to my dad… and boom she died right there. I seen her die. I seen my brother die. I seen my sister die. I seen my brother-in-law die. I seen a few people die and I don’t want to see no more die.”
“Last couple days I haven’t eaten none. Not hungry. Drink lots of coffee.”
“I’ve been here [in Kitchener] all my life. Actually, end of this month, it will be 61 years. Born in 1960. People say ‘You don’t look it” and I say “I sure don’t f— act it.”
When asked where he is staying now, Bill replied “On the street.” “But too much bulls— down there. People owe money and don’t want to pay it. I had to get out of there before I end up in jail. I’m staying at my friend’s gazebo. She got a mattress, heater, and blankets. Yea, but last night was really cold and I didn’t stay there. I was at my buddy’s. I haven’t slept in two days. I drink a lot of coffee and try to stay awake. There’s too much s— on my mind. Yesterday was 39 years since my mom’s been dead. I stayed up and it kept going through my head. This month…my dad died on the 13th. My brother died… and on the 28th died on my uncle died. That’s my birthday. Happy birthday.”
“He [dad] only had one arm. He had one blown off at 21. Shotgun. Blew it off right here. He was 21 when he lost his arm.”
“I used to work. And now I’m on disability and CPP (Canadian Pension Plan) for the last 5 years. I was doing construction, jack hammering, Costco meat packer – all kinds of jobs. I would work 16 or 18 hours a day, go back home, get a couple hours of sleep, and back at my shift again. I screwed my back up. I got 4-6 vertebrae screwed up, and 19 concussions. I broke my nose about 13 times. Broke this hand twice.”
“I just hope to find a place soon. I’ve been on the streets a couple years on and off. I moved in with my ex-girlfriend at Holiday Inn Express in Guelph. Stupid mistake. It got to be too much and I moved back out.”
“I found one place… they want $875. For a room. You share the house. The price of a room is sky high man. That’s $1750 for first month and last month. Now I only get $1100 a month on CPP and disability. That covers first month…not last month.”
“I would go back to work, but my back can’t take it man. Doc telling me ‘If you did surgery, there’s a 40 per cent chance you’d be in a wheelchair.’ Well then I say ‘There’s a 60 per cent chance you’ll fix my back so leave it alone. I’ll be in a wheel chair when I’m in a wheel chair.’ I’m in a lot of pain sometimes.”
You can read more stories at The Exposure Project, hosted on the Waterloo Region Community Legal Services website.
Evangelynn Chee is an intern at Waterloo Region Community Legal Services, a non-profit organization that provides legal assistance, public legal education, and community advocacy to low income residents of the Waterloo region. Her experience in the social work field involves supporting low-income and marginalized communities, specifically folks experiencing homelessness, mental health issues, and conflict with the law.
She obtained an Honors Bachelor of Social Work from Lakehead University and is currently pursuing a Master of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University. Outside of social work, Evangelynn loves pugs, cheese, and crime documentaries – in that order.
If you would like to share your story or if you would like to find out more about The Exposure Project, contact Evangelynn at [email protected]
You can also reach her through Instagram and Facebook @TheExposureProjectKW