Homeless man prefers outdoors to shelter life
‘It’s like my own apartment’
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 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.