A man who says he spent some time in Toronto’s homeless shelter system is praising a photo exhibit hosted by a downtown Anglican church for shining a light on what it’s like to be homeless in the city.
From June 18-20, the Church of the Holy Trinity (Trinity Square), in downtown Toronto, hosted “This Used To Be My Home,” an exhibit of photos on homelessness submitted by people who have personally experienced homelessness. The photos showed various places where they had slept over the years—a subway train, a park bench—and were accompanied by proposals—written by themselves—on what to do about homelessness.
Among those viewing the photos when the Anglican Journal visited the exhibit was Michael Mallard, who lived in the city’s shelter system for a while during the late ’90s. Mallard said he liked the exhibit for drawing attention to a number of challenges faced by the homeless that other people may not be aware of.
He cited, for example, the comment written by photo contributor Madonna Broderick, who wrote that there should be a way for people to be able to store their belongings safely at homeless shelters. (The photo shows Broderick standing by a park bench where she had lived “off and on” for 23 years.)
People who have not experienced homelessness firsthand may not be aware of the threat of theft and other challenges that face people who stay in shelters, Mallard said.
“A lot of people think they’re OK because they’ve got shelters,” he said. “A shelter’s the worst place to be because you have to watch your stuff.”
It’s also very hard to find a job if you give your address as a homeless shelter, because many employers assume homeless people won’t show up for work, he said.
He said he also liked the exhibit for drawing attention to the precariously housed, including many in Toronto who now “couch surf” because they can’t afford a place of their own.
Mallard, who grew up in Timmins, Ont., said he had no choice but to live in shelters after arriving in Toronto to wait for back surgery. He had injured his back while working, and still suffers mobility troubles because of that injury. He now lives in a rooming house, getting by on workers’ compensation and the money he is able to make collecting beer bottles and cans for deposit.
Mallard was featured in the Toronto Star in 2016 for his annual tradition of decorating a tree in a community garden every Christmas, using decorations bought at a nearby dollar store.