Photo: John Bonnar

He’s been an alcoholic since he was 13 years old. It’s cost him two families, two homes and countless jobs.

For over 30 years, he worked in sales for a major car dealership. His alcoholism was well-known but overlooked because he did his job well and made a lot of money for his employer.

So he was never offered a chance to enter a treatment program or provided any type of assistance to deal with his problems.

But when his second wife couldn’t put up with the drinking any more she left him. “She’d finally had enough of me too,” he says.

Then in 2007, after two failed marriages, he left his job as a car salesman.

Thomas Caldwell had hit rock bottom. Or so he thought.

The 53-year-old lived on his own while working menial jobs. But the alcoholism got worse. In 2008, he spent 21 days in a residential treatment centre in Toronto with 15 weeks of aftercare.

But it didn’t help. He continued his downward spiral.

He wouldn’t come out of his apartment. He wouldn’t answer his phone. His life was completely out of control.

“I was just a complete mess,” he says.

Eventually his friends intervened in the summer of 2010 and took him to Toronto East detox centre. After spending 21 days there, he found another job as an unskilled labourer in a warehouse.

But last September, he arrived for work at 9 a.m. too drunk to do his job. So he quit, went straight to the liquor store, got arrested for public intoxication and thrown in jail for 9 hours.

Upon his release, he went back to the liquor store but can’t remember what happened next. When he woke up in hospital, he had 15 staples in the back of his head.

After spending three days recuperating, he went back to a Brampton shelter where he was introduced to Downsview Dells, a 30-bed shelter for men battling alcohol and drug addiction.

That was the turning point in his life. An opportunity to spend a few months (as opposed to a few weeks) in treatment to get his life back on track.

“I’d never been homeless in my life but it’s brought me back to a faith of God,” says Caldwell, who now gets down on his knees twice a day to pray.

“I never believed in God in my life. He took my adoptive mother away when I was just a teenager and I just hated him.”

Downsview Dells and two other shelters are slated to close some time this year due to budgetary cuts.

So he’s come to the homeless memorial vigil, held outside of the Church of the Holy Trinity on the second Tuesday of every month, to speak about the Downsview Dells program and what it has done for him.

Beside the south entrance of the church is a homeless memorial board that contains over 600 names of men and women who have died as a result of homelessness in Toronto since 1985.

Today, five names are added to the list of homeless deaths for the months of November and December.

Thanks to programs like Downsview Dells, Thomas Caldwell’s name isn’t one of them.

John Bonnar

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