Getting Happy... when you wish you were dead

"Hall. Time for court."

Again with being shackled and escorted to the courtroom. There are only two of us this time, and I also have a public defender this time. His name is William.

The process in the courtroom is swift this time. Because I wasn't able to pay the bail, William gets me released on my own recognizance. That's cool, although I'm still pretty miffed at having had to be in jail for twelve days just because no one would get my wallet.

"Hall. Time for you to go." It has been several hours since I came back from the courtroom. I never did find out why it took so long, but at least I'm free. As I'm changing back into my own clothes, one of the guards asked me about my plans.

"Do you have a place to stay?"

"No, I don't. I don't know what I'm going to do."

The guard handed me a pamphlet and explained the PADS program. "This is someplace you can stay. They'll give you supper, a place to sleep, and I think they give you breakfast, too. It's at a different church every night, so that pamphlet tells you where to go."

"Okay," I say with hesitation. Being homeless is never fun. "It's better than sleeping outside, right?"

"That's probably a good way to look at it."

"Listen. This order of protection says I can arrange to go to the house to get clothes and stuff. Do I go to the Sheriff's office to arrange that?" The Sheriff's office is across the street from the courthouse and jail.

"Yep. Just walk in, explain what you need, and they'll help you set it up."

"Okay. Thanks. Is that it? Can I leave now?"

As easily as I was arrested, I was released. Free to walk the streets and do as I please. Naturally I went straight across the street to the Sheriff's office. I only had the clothes on my back, so I needed some clean stuff from home.

There was a female sergeant who called Maria to make arrangements. She got permission for me to go out to the house the following morning, and arranged for me to meet a deputy at the office so he could drive me out there and back again. That left me a couple of hours to find the church for PADS that night.

PADS (never did know what that stands for) is an overnight shelter program. Churches around town play host each night, and most of them are within a four block area. One is in the north end of town, and another is outside town to the south. They have to arrange transportation for that one.

They give you a pad to sleep on with sheets and a blanket. Supper, breakfast and a bag lunch are provided, and the volunteers are entirely friendly. The people at the different churches were a big support for me.

The program is at the church in the north end of town Sunday and Monday nights, so I had a bit of hike to get there.

"Hi. What's your name?" she asked pleasantly.


She looked in a binder without finding my name. "Is this your first time at PADS?"


"Oh, okay. Well, there are few things we need to do for your first time. We'll get your name, a contact number if you have one, and we take your picture. That helps volunteers get to know who you are."

There are always two or three volunteers at each PADS facility, and they were all nice people. But having my picture taken, and a little card filled in, felt an awful lot like being in jail just then. I can't say I was particularly friendly or talkative that night. I even found a place away from everybody else to put my sleeping pad for the night.


Being homeless was less of a shock than you might suppose. You see, this was actually my fourth time being homeless.

The first time I was nineteen and had just left home. The parting was less than pleasant.

I had asked to use the car to go to band practice. (I was a piper in a Legion band.) My father refused, and a short argument ensued. I thought to end the argument by telling him “You are most worthless piece of human genetic material I’ve ever had the displeasure of laying my eyes on.”

Clearly, reconciliation was the last thing on my mind.

When I was part way out the front door, I hear my father get out of his chair and come charging after me. This time, instead of giving in to the beating I dropped my bagpipe case, turned, and squared off to fight.

My father stopped in the doorway.

He growled “I’d go through you like shit on a hot tin roof.”

I was afraid and just as angry as he was. “You’re welcome to try Old Man,” I said looking him straight in the eye.

That was my last day living with my parents. I was only homeless for a few hours. I asked a friend at band practice if I could stay with him until I got organised. That lasted a few months until I moved in with my future wife.

Of course, the next time I was homeless was when I got divorced from that future wife. This time, I really was homeless. I was 21. (Yes, it was a short marriage.)

It was about two weeks before I managed a bed in a Salvation Army men’s shelter. I lived there for eight months before I got a room in a hotel. It was a nice, big room on the second floor. It was directly over the stage of the strip joint downstairs.

My next bout with being homeless came at age 34. This one lasted six years and had a lot of good things going for it.

I ended up homeless because my last effort at a relationship with my father cost me most of what I owned. My parents took what I had and I was left living in my van. I had my carpenter’s tools, my van and my clothes.

The good parts are that I was working in film at the time. So it was easy for me to park my van wherever we were building sets at the time. Of course, nobody knew I was homeless at the time. I just told everyone it was easier to stay in my van during the week instead of driving an hour and a half to get home every day, and then drive back in the morning.

So, I was making good money, had a YMCA membership for showering and shaving, and wherever I was working had an ad hoc security guard at night. It was a little cold in winter, but I enjoyed the freedom.

Now, you might wonder why I would keep living in a van for six years. I’ve wondered the same thing now and again.

I think it was mostly a case of being fed up with trying to do things the way everybody says they should be done. I tried having a relationship with my parents and it got me bankrupt and homeless. Being married turned out to be a poor choice, and I just didn’t see the point of spending money on an apartment for the sake of somewhere to sleep.

I got comfortable staying in my van. I was happy being free of the crap that goes with fitting in.

I didn’t bother getting an apartment until after I got a girlfriend. She never knew I was homeless. I just told her my apartment was in another city, and I went home on weekends. When I got an apartment in Toronto, it was because we had decided to move in together.

Fast forward another six years, and we have my fourth time being homeless.

I had gone to the U.S. to work with a client and ended up meeting Maria. We got married. It lasted three years. Then we got divorced, and I was homeless again. This time, I was living in church basements in an Out of The Cold program; no van, no tools. I had a laptop and my vision for this book to keep me going.

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