Homeless but not hopeless

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Continuing our series of blogs written by folks in Edmonton with lived experience, meet Clayton.  Clayton is a resident at Ambrose Place and has experienced poverty and homelessness. He shares his story of addiction and surviving living outdoors.

I grew up in Grande Cache and was forced out of my father’s home when my cousin burnt it to the ground. My cousin hurt a lot of people by doing that because so many people stayed there. My dad kept the door open for anyone who needed a place to crash. Soon after, I got in trouble with the law and was sent to jail for a year. I ended up in Calgary at Spy Hill. Once I was let out, I didn’t have a place to go and ended up living outdoors in Calgary. It wasn’t so bad there since it was so warm. I got a job at the bottle depot and managed to also get a job at a roofing company. I wish I could have kept the roofing job. One day while on site, I was feeling unwell and I asked my boss if I could go get checked out by the doctor. On my way to the doctor’s office I passed out in the middle of a crosswalk, when I woke up I was in the hospital handcuffed to the bed. The doctor told me I had suffered a heart attack. After I learned what was wrong with me, I was informed I could not keep working at the roofing company. I didn’t really understand why that was, but everyone told me I was lucky to be alive because of my thumper. I was able to keep my job at the bottle depot, however I was starting to not care if I was alive or dead anymore.

I soon made my way to Edmonton and started living at the Salvation Army for alcohol treatment. After about three months, I got the call that my father had passed away. I was able to travel to the funeral in Grande Cache but I didn’t stay long before I went back to Edmonton. It was only three weeks later that I received another call. This time, my mother had passed. That’s when I said to myself that there was nothing left for me in Grande Cache to go home to anymore. After my mom’s funeral, I went back to the Salvation Army and I only lasted four days this time. It was winter when I left there and I had to start living outside. Some people I had met on the street showed me how best to make money and where to go to get something to eat. There were times the only thing I was doing to make money was walking down to Riverdale to pick bottles. I got to know the people there and they would keep empties in their yard for me to pick up. They still do that for me.

People on the street knew I was always making money and they started waiting for me to show up either at my camp or near the Bissell - they knew if they found me we would be on our way to the liquor store. I stayed outside for quite a few years before I had any sort of place to call home. That was okay, but it was hard. I always had beer to take to my camp so that I had something to drink first thing in the morning. I never took water with me. When I went to my camp, it was always beer. I also found seven dead people, although not all at the same time. One night I sat down beside this lady who was sleeping and I drank there all night until the morning, that’s when I realized she was dead. I phoned the police and told them where the body was and they told me to go back and wait for them where I found her. They kept me 18 hours at the police station interrogating me about what happened to her. So after that, when I would find a body, I would still call the police but I would take off after that.

Ken Armstrong came and found me at my camp and told me he wanted to find a home for me. He told me to give him a call but he never heard from me because the card he gave me, I lost it the same day. So I said to myself, if he wants to see me he will come looking for me. And I was surprised when he actually did. I finally made it to his office and they found a place for me. I lasted 18 months and then I was back on the street. I soon found out my body couldn’t handle living outside like it used to. It was six weeks I lived outdoors this time before I moved into Ambrose Place and have been there ever since. I like this place cause I am able to do the things that I like doing. We will see what happens. I always say, “life is as hard as you make it.”