Roy Brown’s story is not much different from that of his peers. Not much different from people who are homeless in communities around the world. Communities like Calgary, San Francisco and Adelaide. For three years, Roy Brown, age 84, was sleeping rough in Norwich, all the while he would have relied on rifling through waste bins if it wasn’t for drop-in centres or soup kitchens.
“I used to go down the bins for food.”
In Roy's community, three soup kitchens operate daily. The centres help people like Brown, who became homeless after a divorce. Roy has now found accommodations but still comes to the soup kitchen occasionally as the 84 year old struggles to cook for himself.
“I used to go down the bins for food,” he said. “There are lots of people still sleeping rough and they need a meal. I couldn’t beg for money - it isn’t in me to beg. I would rather people give it to me than I take it.’’
Homelessness can happen to anyone. A volunteer at one of the soup kitchens often visited by Brown found himself on the streets in 2011. It began with a tragedy in the family, after which he started drinking and his relationship broke down.
“It is a very familiar story,” the man said. “It happens all the time.” What people need in this situation, he adds, “is counselling, a housing officer and people who can deal with mental health issues.”
Another man, Dan, was homeless for a month-and-a-half. Homeless for six weeks would be considered a short time by industry standards but that doesn’t make it any better.
“Until you have been in that situation, nobody knows what being homeless is like,” Dan said. “To come to the soup kitchen is a social thing too. The majority who come here want to talk to people and get advice.”
Donations to centres like Haven Toronto, and those visited on a daily basis by Roy Brown and tens-of-thousands like him, allow hot meals to be served and toiletries to be handed out, along with emergency clothing, sleeping bags and more.
At Haven Toronto, the environment - inviting, safe and social - affords clients the opportunity to access onsite support including crisis and housing counsellors, social workers, nurses and dental hygienists.
Today, Roy Brown can be seen tossing crumbs to the birds. “I feed the pigeons now because I know what it’s like to be hungry.”