London

From sleeping in a tent to a home and a job, this Londoner is thriving

Dan Turner has gone from living in a tent to having a home and a part-time job, thanks to the Wish to Be Home program, the Ark Aid Mission, and his never-give-up attitude.

Dan Turner, 48, spent many winters huddled under blankets in storefronts or in a tent

Dan Turner, 48, is the Ark Aid Mission's newest employee, working as a liaison between people experiencing homelessness and those volunteering to help. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

Dan Turner says he was on edge for about 25 years — what would he eat, where would he sleep, would his stuff get stolen?

Three months ago that stopped, in a house he shares with three roommates, a place where, for the first time, he doesn't have to worry about his belongings going missing or the mattress being lumpy and uncomfortable. 

Tuner, 48, doesn't ever want to forget where he came from, he told CBC News. 

"Some people, they try to put it behind them, if or when they can ever pull themselves off the street. I don't think you should ever do that. You should always remember where you came from and that strife that you've been through, both as an individual and as a group." 

Turner is using his experience on the streets of London, where he bounced between shelters and sleeping in a tent by the Thames River, in his new job as a liaison between those who are still experiencing homelessness and Ark Aid Mission volunteers, who serve food and help meet other needs, mainly out of the Centre Branch of the YMCA on Waterloo Street. 

Helping connect people

"Basically, I'm there to be a go-between between the people from the streets and the people that are volunteering and that have an idea but don't actually know what it's like being on the streets, because people on the streets, we've got a weird sense of humour," Turner said at the Y, where he's greeted by workers and people dropping in for a snack or other help. 

"If they need something, they have a hard time going to people that they don't know, so they can come to me and say what they need and I can go to the higher ups and we get everybody meshed all together and get it worked out and get 'er done." 

This temporary homeless shelter in McMahen Park gave people a safe and private space to sleep as well as a common area, washrooms and showers. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Although it's his first job in decades, Turner said it's like muscle memory. So is living in a place that isn't a shelter or outside. 

Turner was one of the people who lived at the Elizabeth Street temporary shelter, called the Winter Interim Solution to Homelessness (WISH). Another such shelter was set up in a parking lot near the Men's Mission, both locations a collaboration between a number of non-profits who saw a dramatic spike in the number of people sleeping rough. 

When the WISH site closed in early summer, the Ark Aid Mission was able to find a home for Turner and three friends. He began volunteering at the YMCA, where the WISH to Be Home program has continued as Dundas Street construction forced the Ark Aid Mission from its regular location. 

Recently, they've started hiring for positions called paid community members — people such as Turner who are able to link people to services, help with serving meals, and provide first aid if needed. 

'You have to stay positive'

For Turner, it's a light at the end of a very long tunnel, though he fought hard to not lose a positive outlook.

"At one point, it had been so long since I had seen the sun from the hole that I had been dug or that I dug, and I didn't know what time of day it was, or if it even was day, or what season it was, but I was still clawing away because I don't give up. That's just me and my personality," Turner said. 

"You have to stay positive because once you lose that positivity, that's when you get suicides and overdoses, when people just walk off and you never see them again." 

Seeing the prejudice on people's faces as they passed him and his friends as they tried to stay alive on the street was always difficult, Turner said. 

"If you ever want to understand homelessness, take what you got on right now and whatever money you got in your pocket and then walk into (the Salvation Army) and sign in and don't leave there for a couple of months. Don't go home. Don't don't get money out of your bank account," he said.

"Be ready for an eye opening experience because you're going to see a lot of bigotry or hatred or finger pointing and prejudice. Most people don't understand that they're only a paycheque or two away from our situation."

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