Home­less man prefers out­doors to shel­ter life

‘It’s like my own apart­ment’

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - TEVIAH MORO

A home­less man whom po­lice es­corted off a city-owned brown­field last week says he’d re­turn to his camp in a heart­beat. “Oh, in a minute, in a minute,” Michael Fan­ning said out­side Mis­sion Ser­vices on James Street North on Mon­day.

Fan­ning, 54, and a few oth­ers had been liv­ing in a tent on the for­mer in­dus­trial site in the Bar­tonTif­fany cor­ri­dor near Bayfront Park, when po­lice and city work­ers broke up the camp last Wed­nes­day.

City of­fi­cials said it wasn’t safe to stay on the de­bris-strewn prop­erty that’s still un­der­go­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal test­ing be­fore it can be sold to a pri­vate de­vel­oper.

Fan­ning, how­ever, says the camp was prefer­able to the shel­ter.

“It’s not be­cause it’s out­side or any­thing like that. It’s be­cause no­body’s both­er­ing me there. It’s like my own apart­ment.”

There are many causes of home­less­ness.

Rob Mastroianni, man­ager of the city’s res­i­den­tial care fa­cil­i­ties sub­sidy pro­gram and emer­gency shel­ter ser­vice, says the rea­sons peo­ple sleep out­side “vary greatly.”

But at any given time, there are dozens of peo­ple liv­ing on Hamil­ton’s streets.

A Point in Time Count con­ducted in Fe­bru­ary 2016 of­fered a snap­shot. Of 522 peo­ple sur­veyed, about 7.6 per cent of the re­spon­dents, or 40, said they’d plan to “sleep rough” that night.

The city doesn’t yet have fig­ures to sug­gest whether that fig­ure has changed. It plans to take part in another na­tional point-in-time count next year. But it’s safe to as­sume the num­ber of rough sleep­ers is higher in sum­mer, Mastroianni says.

Fan­ning says he’d lived at the site for four years, on and off.

Adrian Mlade­n­ovic says he’d lived there about a month but po­lice forced him out a week be­fore Fan­ning was made to leave. Mlade­n­ovic, 34, says he strug­gled with drug ad­dic­tion and doesn’t want to be around the nar­cotics that tend to make their way into men’s hos­tels.

“I can’t stand be­ing around it. That’s why I choose not to be in the shel­ters.”

On Wed­nes­day, he helped Fan­ning lug his bi­cy­cle and a large re­cy­cling bin with his be­long­ings to Mis­sion Ser­vices, where they’re stay­ing for now.

Coun. Ja­son Farr said last week he’d fielded a com­plaint from an area res­i­dent a cou­ple of months ago about peo­ple liv­ing on the Bar­ton-Tif­fany prop­erty. It’s par­tially fenced off and marked with signs warn­ing against tres­pass­ing.

That prop­erty and ad­ja­cent land are eyed for thou­sands of res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial devel­op­ment.

Sgt. Gino Ciar­moli said the men were co-op­er­a­tive when po­lice asked them to leave Wed­nes­day. “I spoke to one of the gen­tle­men that was still there. He was very ap­pre­cia­tive that I went down and spoke to him and that was the end of it.”

Fan­ning agrees the of­fi­cers treated him de­cently and gave him fair warn­ing about his im­pend­ing dis­man­tling of the camp, not­ing he’d been tick­eted nu­mer­ous times for tres­pass­ing.

Ev­i­dence of peo­ple “sleep­ing rough” dots the ur­ban land­scape: shop­ping carts full of clothes and sal­vaged items stashed in the bushes; a tarp and blan­kets set up un­der a bridge.

Mastroianni doesn’t paint ev­ery home­less per­son with the same brush.

“I would be very hes­i­tant to say that ev­ery­one sleep­ing rough suf­fers from men­tal health and ad­dic­tions, al­though we know that there is a high pro­por­tion of in­di­vid­u­als that do,” he said. “I would say that a per­son’s past ex­pe­ri­ences with dif­fer­ent hous­ing sit­u­a­tions shape their choice for where they feel com­fort­able stay­ing.”

Fan­ning and Mlade­n­ovic have their rea­sons. The for­mer chokes up when he re­mem­bers how his wife and daugh­ter died of ill­ness some years ago, and the abyss that fol­lowed. The scorn is writ­ten all over Fan­ning’s face when he re­calls how some­one in a shel­ter stole his wal­let. It wasn’t the money he lost, but the photo of his wife.

Mlade­n­ovic says he was “canned” from a $130,000-a-year job with a firm in Al­berta’s oil and gas in­dus­try. He says he suf­fers from a rare ill­ness and is try­ing to get on dis­abil­ity.

Bad credit and wel­fare have made it nearly im­pos­si­ble to rent an af­ford­able apart­ment, Mlade­n­ovic says.

And if you get one, Fan­ning adds, it can be in­fested with bed bugs, lead­ing to lengthy land­lord-ten­ant board strug­gles.

Both men sort through garbage and re­cy­cling bins for items to sal­vage, such as bot­tles. “I worked harder now as a home­less man than I ever did when I was em­ployed,” Mlade­n­ovic said.

Since The Spec­ta­tor ran a story about his camp and forced de­par­ture, Fan­ning says odd, lit­tle things have hap­pened.

Some­one slipped $200 cash into his bag. He also found 13 packs of cig­a­rettes and four packs of cigars in a dump­ster, an un­usual haul.

He doesn’t know where he’ll go next, but Fan­ning’s loath to stay at the shel­ter.

“I don’t like be­ing here. It’s not the guys, it’s not the work­ers; it’s just a lit­tle of ev­ery­thing. I don’t know what to do.”

Michael Fan­ning

GARY YOKOYAMA, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Michael Fan­ning is seen at his makeshift camp be­fore po­lice asked sev­eral men to vacate the area as it was un­safe. Fan­ning, now in a shel­ter, said he prefers out­door liv­ing.

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