· Città del Vaticano ·

At night there is no place to hide

 At night  there is no place  to hide  ODS-018
03 febbraio 2024

We could say that part of our community’s soul wanders on the streets at night. Starting at 5:00 am we welcome people within the community, most homeless. We heard many stories and saw many things early in the morning when the solitary street life meets the community life. Stories are as diverse as people are. One thing is for sure, living on the streets leaves a mark on the soul and body. The street is the place where some find meaning and change, while others are perishing, being deeply wounded.

In 2022, 92 homeless people died in Toronto. In 2023, 79 deaths were confirmed. We knew some of these people and welcomed them within the community throughout the year…

* * *

Tony has just had a surgery intervention (cholecystectomy) on December 6, on St. Nicolas Day. After two weeks he returns to the community: “It’s my first trip after the surgery. I still have pain but I cannot stay away for too long”.

Antonio has been a faithful volunteer for more than one year. He is now doing orientation for others and he brings people with him who are in recovery from addictions. “Work and community help. I tell people and I bring them with me here…”

Did you use to live on the street, Tony?

“Yes, I did. For a year and one month, from 2021 to 2022.”

What is your most vivid memory of that experience?

“Fear. I was afraid all the time. And the cold, in the winter. The cold was very hard. I lived in a tent by myself, with blankets and stuff…” (The average winter temperature in Toronto is -9°, without the wind factor. Sometimes temperature could go as low as -20°, and even -30° with the wind chill factor).

“I ended up on the street because I was upset with life and, I have to admit it, I have a problem with addictions.”

You said you were afraid?

“Oh, yes… I was scared. I felt I was going to die. I would wake up every hour thinking I was going to die. I was afraid I would not wake up or somebody would get me. You see and hear many things on the street…”.

What did you see?

“What did I see? Mice, a lot of mice at night. You could not imagine how many… I hate mice. And people yelling or screaming… girls running away… once I heard a shotgun… I was so scared, I thought I would be next”.

Why didn’t you go to a shelter?

“You know why? That was even more scary … People steal stuff there and you are threatened all the time… I stayed alone…”.

Do you remember anything nice from the street?

“On the street?... Hmm… Oh yes, the sky… It was beautiful. Yes, the sky, every night that’s how I would fall asleep. I remember watching the sky every night until I fell asleep. The only thing that would help me sleep”.

And how did you get out of the streets?

“You know, I was so afraid that I started to pray. I did not pray much before… But I prayed because I was so afraid… I prayed that God would take me from the street or let me die. I was so scared”.

And what happened?

“It worked… After I prayed for the first time, somebody came and asked me if I could go to rehab, because I had this problem with addictions. And I went. He took me from the streets and took me to rehab. Since then, I started praying regularly. I know now that it’s real”.

* * *

Hector is on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to living on the streets. His life is a mystery that is slowly being revealed to us. In the beginning, Hector did not talk to anybody, for almost a couple of years. He would just come to rest and leave. He is a real solitary creative spirit who prefers the night. He has no problem with addictions or even with people. Even in winter, he wears running shoes he collects from us or other drop-in centers. He wears them until they are completely run down. Everybody knows that the most difficult thing on the street, especially at night, is the rain. Everything is wet. Snow is much more preferred in winter.

“Rain does not bother me”, says Hector.

How come, Hector?

“If I get wet, I keep walking. The heat of the body dries up the clothes eventually”.

Even at night, when it’s colder?

“Yeah, oh yeah. Just keep walking”.

He confessed to a brother how he looks for things at night on the streets, which he can redesign afterward. Hector was impressing him with his talent: juggling 3 balls at once in the air. When asked how he had come across this new hobby he stopped and showed him his juggling balls: “They are made of old chocolate box liners. Feel them”, Hector said.

He had picked up juggling during his lonely walks around the city at night. According to him, the constant pace of his walking and the constant pace of juggling would clear his mind.

“I would pick up things that no one else would pick up”, he said.

What do you see at night in the city Hector?

“Hmm…. It is not so much about seeing. What you see… What you hear… Silence… It is silent. I prefer the night because of the silence. The quiet place is on the Lake Shore, by the lake. I go there and I feel it cleanses me”.

He makes a gesture to show how the silence washes and cleanses his senses. The way native people would receive incense. Like washing the face.

“The silence of the city is different from the silence of the forest”, he continues.

How come, Hector?

“In the city, it looks like a person who does not have much hair… In the forest, it is like plenty of hair. But it is still silent. The same. It is good”.

Hector would not live anywhere else but on the street where he discovered his creative nature and the love for silence and peace. When he comes in the morning, he always has something new in his pocket. Pieces of wire he works on or a light or a ball. All combined with a joyful desire to play. He is the most free spirit we met at the mission. We all agree with that. His freedom is coming from the streets where his soul is cleansed by silence at night.

* * *

In Toronto, the street is the place where violence and kindness fight within the souls of those whom life has brought to a deserted space.

At night, the screaming and the silence come to you upfront, and there is no place to hide.

by Nicolaie Atitienei *

* St. John The Compassionate Mission - Toronto