Jeffrey Lennon was back on the streets.

“I see nothing but misery,” he said. “Homelessness. Violence. Fear. Drug use.”

He knows it all too well. He struggled through addiction. Struggled through homelessness for over a decade.

“I didn’t really care about nothing or anybody,” said Lennon. “Nobody really gave a crap about me.”

But he managed to pull himself out. Learned along the way how much some people care about others. 

After 12 years on the streets of Toronto, he’s now living with his girlfriend, attending George Brown College in the Community Worker Program and completing a work placement at Sanctuary Ministries.

“I didn’t panhandle or anything,” he said, referring to the time when he was on the streets. 

“I was too proud. Don’t get me wrong. I shouldn’t have been proud. But that was just kind of my way of thought.”

Lennon grew up small town Ontario. 

“Where I’m from we were taught you don’t ask anybody for nothing,” said Lennon. “You make it yourself. So unfortunately, I struggled pretty much that whole 12 years.”

With the constant fear of being attacked. Racism in the shelters. Being dirty all the time.

“Trying to find that place to shower to take care of yourself,” he said. “Most shelters, I know they’re there to help but at the same time they don’t make it easy.”

Though the streets aren’t easy either. 

“Just a big war on the street in itself,” said Lennon. 

“You’re at war with yourself when you’re on the street. You’ve got to find your inner being of who you are, where you want to be and how you’re going to get there.”

When Lennon finally did, things began to change.

He started to heal. Returned to school. But not without the help of a College sponsor.

“I’m doing it slowly but surely,” he said. “I’ve got ADD and a few small disabilities so it’s really hard for me to speak on a professional level. There’s too much street in my bones.”

And that’s what makes him the ideal outreach worker. 

On Tuesday, the 32-year-old came to the monthly homeless memorial vigil outside of the Church of Holy Trinity, wearing a large blue backpack loaded with clean socks, underwear and other necessities homeless people need to get by on the street. 

Items the rest of us take for granted.

“I have to give Toronto credit,” he said. “We do look after our own. But the homelessness situation will never change.”

Especially when governments keep telling us the money isn’t there. Keep telling us we need to cut services in order to balance budgets.

“When that can’t be farther from the truth,” he said. 

“People need to open up their eyes and take a look around. It’s a system to keep you in. And to pull yourself out of it is damn near impossible.”

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.